The Role of EU in Peace Building and Peace Mediation in Kosovo

Photo: Presseurop
Lukuaika: 10 min. 

Almost five years since the initial deployment of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) on February 4, 2008 and Kosovo’s declaration of independence two weeks after that, the mission has still work to do – especially regarding components of the rule of law, justice and community dialogue. All these aspects fall under the executive competences of the mission and the EU has been criticized for not achieving to build the local rule of law capacities despite the fact that its missions on the ground are assigned to executive powers. In contrast, the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been perceived mostly as a success. Nevertheless, one could still question the implementation of the agreements that are reached between the parties on the ground, writes Bujar Berisha.

European Union (EU) is a global actor in conflict prevention, peace building, and mediation in the world ‒ focused closely through its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions as well as European External Action Service (EEAS). The EU’s aim is to “promote peace, its values, and the well-being of its peoples”. In the case of Kosovo, the EU’s peace building effort should be seen as an instrument which prevents any kind of resumption of violent conflicts between ethnic communities. These efforts are part of the EU’s preventive diplomacy and comprehensive toolbox in peace building.

According to the European Union Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts adopted in 2001, the EU is responsible for the early identification of the violent conflicts as well as the range of options for EU action. Furthermore, the Concept of Strengthening the EU Mediation and Dialogue capacities adopted in 2009 emphasizes that the EU has established its own mediation capacities. The EU Special Representatives, EU Delegations, and CSDP missions are engaged in facilitation and mediation efforts in conflict zones. In 2007 EU launched the Instrument for Stability (IfS), through which the Union has intensified its efforts in the area of conflict prevention, crisis management and peace building. Following the establishment of the IfS, the European Commission has also established the Peace-building Partnership (PbP) in order to develop necessary capacities for responding crisis situations worldwide.

EU and peace building in Kosovo

The Balkans in general, and Bosnia and Kosovo in particular, are generally viewed as laboratories where the effectiveness of EU foreign policy has been tested. Outcomes of the EU’s foreign policy in the Balkans will have a major impact on developing foreign policy instruments in the future. Almost five years since the initial deployment of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) on February 4, 2008 and Kosovo’s declaration of independence two weeks after that, the mission has still work to do – especially regarding components of the rule of law, justice and community dialogue. All these aspects fall under the executive competences of the mission and the EU has been criticized for not achieving to build the local rule of law capacities despite the fact that its missions on the ground are assigned to executive powers. In contrast, the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been perceived mostly as a success. Nevertheless, one could still question the implementation of the agreements that are reached between the parties on the ground (Tzifakis 2013; Fagan 2011; Hoogenboom 2011; Barnett et.al. 2007; Derks and Price 2010).

The mandate of EULEX Kosovo

The Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement of February 2007 (hereinafter Ahtisaari Plan) proposed internationally supervised independence for Kosovo. Kosovo’s independence was declared in the line with the Ahtisaari Plan. Its provisions have been included in the Constitution. Therefore it requires all authorities in Kosovo to abide by the Ahtisaari Plan and take action for its implementation (Muharremi 2010). The Ahtisaari Plan calls for the Kosovo authorities to invite a civilian mission. Thus EULEX was established. EULEX is the biggest CSDP mission EU has undertaken both in terms of manpower and budget, working in the area of rule of law, primarily in the fields of justice, police and customs. The mission operates under the status-neutral framework of UN Security Council resolution 1244, adopted in June 1999, and authorizes an international civilian and military presence in Kosovo.

The executive competences granted to the EULEX raised serious legal concerns regarding the accountability of the mission to the Kosovon citizens and authorities, leading to a perception of the EU as a “quasi-colonial occupier”. EULEX can investigate, prosecute and adjudicate cases relating to war crimes, terrorism, organized crime and high level corruption, property and privatization cases and other serious crimes. The mission consists of judges, prosecutors, police officers and customs officers. Its competences include the possibility of reversion and annulment of decisions taken by the legitimate institutions of Kosovo. Its mandate allows the mission to also assume additional responsibilities in maintenance of the rule of law. The mission is also meant to support, mentor, and advice Kosovo institutions, judicial authorities, and law enforcement agencies. In the summer of 2012 the Council of the European Union announced that EULEX’s mandate will be extended for another two years, until mid-June 2014. Buy so far only 23 out of 28 EU members have recognized Kosovo. Besides revealing the incapacity of the Union to act as a cohesive body, the resulting fact that the EU as a “body” still does not recognize Kosovo also imposes serious political constraints on the EULEX mission (Tamminen 2010).

Achievements vs. perceived failure

Bearing in mind the size and scope of EULEX in terms of the financial and human resources deployed for the mission, there were high expectations regarding its capabilities to fight corruption and organized crime in Kosovo. Although the mission has achieved some improvements, the expectations have not been met and the organized crime and corruption continue to be present in worrisome levels. In particular, the political pressure on the judiciary is still present.

Perhaps the most problematic issue that EULEX had to deal with in the beginning of its mandate was the deployment of forces in Serb majority populated areas. Opposed by the Serbian sponsored parallel structures, EULEX’s success was seriously questioned in those regions. Certainly, the extension of the rule of law in the northern part of Kosovo [1] has gained additional attention in the EU facilitated dialogue.

Without going into details on the cases, so far the list of “high profile” indicted officials by EULEX has ranged from members of the Parliament, former Chair of the Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers and former Ministers, Mayors, Ambassadors, CEO’s of socially owned enterprises, various government officials, representatives of foreign companies, and municipal judges mainly on charges of corruption and war crimes. Of them, many cases are still ongoing and some individuals have also been acquitted.

EULEX has played a major role especially in managing problematic border crossings with Serbia (Gates 1 and 31) [2] in the north of Kosovo. Although the agreement on Integrated Border Management (IBM) has started to be implemented, EULEX forces do not operate in all border crossings but only those where Kosovo’s government cannot. Nevertheless, despite the presence of EULEX, cross-border smuggling and organized crime remains at high levels. By 2008, especially after the destruction of Gates 1 and 31 by the local Serbs, smuggling activities increased, causing financial losses to the government since taxes could not be collected.

In sum, EULEX has achieved to prevent ethnically motivated widespread outbreaks of violence and deal with corruption through “high profile” cases (Kursani 2013). The EU should be credited for its role in securing peace and stability. So far EU has also been able to “lure” both Kosovo and Serbia into the negotiations through European integration process. Both parties in the dispute are aware that they need to reach an agreement which would guarantee lasting peace in the region, although it is clear that the road to accession is a long one (Ingravallo 2012).

EU facilitation on Pristina-Belgrade dialogue

The EU sponsored Pristina-Belgrade dialogue is mediated by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR), Catherine Ashton. The dialogue has progressed from the initial “technical level” of working groups of respective government to “political level” of Prime Ministers. The latter has been widely seen as a way to ensure reconciliation between the parties, whereas EU has put in place certain integration conditions which both Kosovo and Serbia have to fulfill before they are ready to start accession negotiations.

In 2012 the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize for long time engagement in peace reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The negotiations are seen as a way to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia and a direct EU effort on peace mediation in the Balkans. Having taken an important global role in promoting mediation and dialogue in the last 20 years, the Union’s ability to bring peace in the conflict zones is a determinant of its international success. Additionally, in peace mediation, the EU closely cooperates with the UN and the US as well as other regional actors, thus success and failure is also reliant on how well these actors work together.

The “milestone” in Kosovo-Serbia relations was reached in April 2013 with the so called “Brussels Agreement”. Signed on 19 April 2013, the agreement was presented as a diplomatic success for the EU and a major step in ending the violence in the Balkans. Bringing Ivica Dačić, PM of Serbia and a former spokesman of Slobodan Milošević, and Hashim Thaçi, PM of Kosovo and former political director of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to the same table was in itself a diplomatic achievement.

Since the beginning of the dialogue in March 2011, in a technical level a number of agreements have been concluded: return to Kosovo the civil registry, freedom of movement, mutual acceptance of university and school diplomas, customs stamps, cadastral records, IBM as well as on the denomination of the state of Kosovo (UN’s SC 1244 resolution is used as a footnote when represented in regional meetings). Additionally, Kosovo and Serbia agreed on exchanging liaison officials to respective capital cities (stationed in respective EU delegations).

In the Brussels Agreement, among others, it was decided to establish an Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo which works under the jurisdiction of Kosovo law, exerting its authority on the areas of economic development, education, health and so on. Additionally a regional police commander, acting under the authority of Kosovo Police, is appointed for four Serb majority municipalities in the northern part of Kosovo. The judicial authorities in the north are integrated into the Kosovo legal framework and have already organized local elections in northern municipalities last November.

These developments show that the EU can play a key role in ensuring a good neighborhood while simultaneously employing its influence to push forward the implementation of the agreements. The last November local elections in Kosovo were considered as a test for the efficiency of above-mentioned agreements. On the plus side, for the first time in Kosovo’s post-war history, Serbia did not oppose to the elections organized by the Kosovo’s Central Election Commission (CEC). However, the voting procedure in the north was disrupted by attacks at several polling stations thought to be instigated by Serbian men in masks. Respective Prime Ministers expressed their commitment to the deal and the CEC decided for a repeated voting at those stations. Although the election rerun passed without any violence, the turnout was disappointing. Most worryingly, Krstimir Pantic from the Civic Initiative Serbia (CIS) – a party backed directly by Belgrade and won in nine small Serbian-majority municipalities – declared that they aim “to preserve Kosovo in Serbia” and urged all CIS mayors not to recognize the independence of Kosovo. These declarations are seriously undermining the implementation of the agreements as well as the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo. However, Pantic, has since resigned from the position of Mayor of the Northern Mitrovica.

In spite of the perceived progress, the perception of public in Kosovo is that the agreements are not being implemented. In the political discourse Kosovo and Serbia are blaming each other every time there is a report the agreements are not being respected in practice. Both parties accuse each other for breaching the agreements. Yet, it must be said that it is too early to reach a conclusion, we must at least wait until the process of EU-facilitated dialogue has come to an end. Putting it in the way that “less is more” then definitely moving from “nothing” to the “normalization” of relations is a good achievement.

The EU’s success in Kosovo is evident. On the one hand, the EU mission has successfully eliminated political pressure put on the independent institutions and has been able to ease the tensions in the North, although it has not been accepted by the parallel structures. In practice, it will be hard for EULEX to realize its mandate till 2014. The question that is often raised “what will Kosovo do when EULEX leaves?” is hard to answer. However, a successful transfer of all EULEX competences to the local authorities while the EU simultaneously keeps exerting pressure on them might provide the answer. Additionally, EU has been successful in bringing to the negotiating table Pristina and Belgrade and pushing them to reach agreements.

On the other hand, the extension of EULEX’s mandate till 2014 was not received with joy by some politicians in Kosovo. The members of the ruling party, who hold important executive and legislative positions, have openly spoken against the extension of the EULEX’s mandate. Opposition parties, namely VETEVENDOSJE! (Self-determination movement) has continuously criticized EULEX’s mandate for its perceived failure to stretch the rule of law in the Serb-controlled areas. In addition, the veterans of the former KLA have recently protested against the mission, especially after EULEX began prosecuting the war crimes allegedly committed by former KLA commanders. Furthermore, EU has taken no obvious practical measure to prevent Serbia from interfering with Kosovo’s internal affairs, although Serbia has been conditioned on its aspirations to join EU thus facing the dilemma “Kosovo or EU”.

Meanwhile, following the Brussels Agreement the Commission has recommended that negotiations be opened with Serbia on the EU accession, whereas with Kosovo on the Stabilization and Association Agreement. Nevertheless, Kosovo remains the only state in the region that has not yet joined the “white list” of countries whose nationals are not requiredvisas to enter the Schengen Area. Latest EU Commission Progress Report is not so promising either. There are areas where there is no obvious progress, thus the future of EU integration remains uncertain.

Finally, at its door step the EU has managed to bring about peace. It must be said that the Union has been so deeply involved in Kosovo in both economic and political components that it simply cannot afford a possible failure. The EU’s growing role in peace building shows its potential to act as a global actor.

Sources

Barnett, M., Hunjoon, K., O’Donnell, M., and Sitea, L., 2007. “Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?” Global Governance 13, pp.35–58.

Derks, M., Price, M., 2010. The EU and Rule of Law Reform in Kosovo. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Affairs.

Fagan, A., 2011. EU assistance for civil society in Kosovo: a step too far for democracy promotion? Democratization, 18(3), 707-730.

Hoogenboom, J., 2011. “Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding.” Paper presented during CSDN Member State Meeting. Available at: http://www.eplo.org/search.html.

Ingravallo, I., 2012. “Kosovo after the ICJ Advisory Opinion: Towards a European Perspective?” International Community Law Review, 14, pp.219–241.

Kursani, Sh., 2013. A Comprehensive Analysis of EULEX: What next? Pristina: Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED).

Muharremi, R., 2010. The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) from the Perspective of Kosovo Constitutional Law. Heidelberg Journal of International Law, 70, pp. 357-379.

Tamminen, T., 2010. High Expectations, Limited Resources: The Bottlenecks of EU Civilian Crisis Management in Kosovo. Helsinki: The Finnish Institute of International Affairs  (FIIA, Briefing Paper 70).

Tzifakis, N., 2013. The European Union in Kosovo: Reflecting on the Credibility and Efficiency Deficit. Problems of Post-Communism, 60(1), 43-54.

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[1] “Northern part of Kosovo” refers to northern Kosovo, which is inhabited with an ethnic Serb majority.

[2] Here is what Belgian office in Prishtina recommends its nationals travelling to that part: “The security situation in Kosovo can still be qualified as unpredictable, especially at the Northern Border Gates – Gates 1, Jarinje and 31, Brnjak. Tensions remain high” (Belgian Liaison Office in Prishtina).

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