Italian Foreign Minster Franco Frattini said in Brussels on May 26 that EU's EULEX mission of up to 2,200 police, judges, and advisers will "be operative in the field [only] after the summer, [namely in] September and October." Slovenian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, stressed that there "might be some little delays, but nothing dramatic." The men spoke after EU foreign ministers discussed the future of EULEX. During its presidency, which ends on June 30, Slovenia has placed special stress on the EU's role in the western Balkans.
In keeping with the plan put forward by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who was UN special envoy for Kosovo from 2005-07, Kosovo's independence is under international supervision, particularly where minority rights, security, and the judiciary are concerned. Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith heads the International Civilian Office, as well as the EU's Office of the Special Representative. EULEX, which is the most important component of the EU mission, is headed by Yves de Kermabon, a French former commander of NATO's KFOR peacekeepers.
Although June 15 is fast approaching, the EU currently has only about 300 people on the ground in Kosovo, many of whom are undergoing training in Pristina. EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on May 26 that deployment of EU personnel is continuing as planned but noted that he wants to discuss the future of the operation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the margins of a conference on Iraq in Stockholm on May 29.
Logistical and recruitment delays are only part of the reason for EULEX's slow start; problems in securing a broader international mandate are another. The current international civilian brief for Kosovo is vested in the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. Accordingly, some diplomatic formula must be found to transfer at least part of UNMIK's mandate to the EU and EULEX.
Until recently, that did not appear to pose much of a problem. Ban said on January 28 that Kosovo is a "European issue" and primarily a responsibility of the EU. But as Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on May 21, the UN is no longer accommodating the EU in its wish for a transfer of mandates on June 15 because Ban has become "more reserved." UNMIK, for example, has become reluctant to hand over cars, equipment, and offices to the EU, which the two sides had previously discussed informally. The EU meanwhile hopes at least for an official letter from Ban inviting EULEX to take up its mission. The UN might insist, however, on a more formal agreement.
Ban has reportedly become more restrained out of deference to the wishes of Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council and whose support he needs if he decides to seek a second term in office. Russia maintains that only 1244 provides a legal basis for Kosovo. Moscow also argues that Kosovo's declaration of independence is illegal, and that the EU's planned mission has no legal basis because it is linked to Kosovar independence and lacks a Security Council mandate. Russian diplomats argue that they have no objection to an EU mission in principle, but stress that it must be approved by the UN.
To complicate matters further, on March 11, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin called for new negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo's status, a proposal that is regarded as a nonstarter in Pristina and most Western capitals. On May 15, the foreign ministers of Russia, China, and India issued a call for new talks between Belgrade and Pristina "within the framework of international laws to seek a solution for the Serbian territory." Nor does Moscow miss an opportunity to link the question of Kosovo's independence to some issues outside the Balkans, namely to the status of the so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union.
In fact, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the State Duma on April 2 that "we have done all we could to disrupt plans to achieve quick and broad international recognition of Kosovo." He added that "we are not allowing the Kosovo issue to be taken outside the United Nations and have prevented the UN secretary-general from consecrating the European Union's mission to Kosovo, which does not have a UN mandate." A few days before Lavrov spoke, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who was one of the Soviet Union's top Middle East experts and the first director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" that the only practical solution for Kosovo is a partition along ethnic lines, which would include population transfers. It is not clear whether Primakov was speaking for anyone but himself. The UN, the EU, the United States, and the Kosovo government all support a multiethnic Kosovo and reject partition.
Besides Russian objections to the EU mission, there are other reasons for UNMIK to plan on staying beyond June 15, although it has no desire to remain in Kosovo at its present strength. The most important is that the EU needs the UN as a partner in northern Kosovo, where the Serbs have organized structures that recognize UNMIK but not EULEX. In other words, the EU will have to work through UNMIK if it is to play any role at all in the north, where 40 percent of the Serbian minority lives and violent protests took place in the spring.
Much remains to be clarified in the run-up to June 15. Speaking in Vienna on April 17, Feith nonetheless declined to specify any time frame for transferring UNMIK's mandate to EULEX, saying that "it is a matter for the EU and UN to take this further." He added that nobody should be "hung up" about the lack of a specific date for the transfer. But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on May 26 that the EU mission could be delayed if no agreement is reached with the UN by June 15.
Joachim Ruecker, who heads UNMIK, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service on May 23 that the UN will remain present in Kosovo after June 15 and as long as Resolution 1244 remains in force. He stressed that there must not be any duplication of missions between UNMIK and EULEX, because that would not be fair to the taxpayers who fund them.
There is also the matter of protection for the civilian missions by the 16,000-strong KFOR. Its spokesman, French Colonel Jean-Luc Cotard, said on March 27 that KFOR has no orders to support the deployment of EU staff. He stressed that "we are aware of the situation, but in fact it's a political issue. Before doing anything, the politicians have to deal with it at the EU, UN, and NATO level." On May 23, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Sofia that KFOR will remain after June 15 and stressed that the UN and EU must determine what their respective responsibilities will be after that date.
Britain's "The Times" argued on May 26 that unnamed NATO sources believe that Kosovo's Albanians have been "remarkably restrained" when confronted by violence from within the Serbian community in recent months. Those same sources warned, however, that "the political stability of Kosovo is being undermined by the failure of the United Nations and the European Community to clarify their roles and responsibilities.... '[The] key is for the EU police mission fully to take responsibility for policing Kosovo, but there seems to be some hesitation over this, which puts the NATO troops...in a difficult position. KFOR is not supposed to be a police force but is there to maintain a safe and secure environment,' one NATO diplomatic source said." The daily stressed that failure to define and clarify the respective roles of UNMIK and EULEX could "provoke potential problems" after June 15.