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Kosovo: Is EU Set To Recognize Independence?

Graffiti in Pristina that says: 'No Negotiations -- Self-Determination' (epa) October 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Some recent German media reports suggest that Germany and a critical mass of countries within the European Union are prepared to recognize an independent Kosovo if the current round of Belgrade-Pristina negotiations do not produce an agreement. The talks end on December 10, after which the Kosovar leadership has said it will declare independence if no deal is reached.

In fact, no breakthrough is generally expected in the latest negotiations, which the EU and Russia insisted on having despite U.S. and Kosovar Albanian objections that further talks are just a waste of time. During the summer, Washington made the concession to Brussels over negotiations but stressed that this was the last extension. The United States supports the demand by Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority for independence, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear on September 24. The United States, like UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari and UN diplomat Kai Eide before him, argues that independence is the best way to bring stability to the region. According to this view, insecurity and a lack of clarity regarding the province's political status led to unrest in March 2004 and could lead to violence again.

Washington and Pristina fear that Moscow and Belgrade want to prolong talks indefinitely in the hope that the Western countries will lose interest in the region and that Serbia can then try to reassert the control it lost over Kosovo in 1999. In June of that year, NATO forces occupied the province after former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown of 1998-99 forced several hundred thousand Kosovars to flee their homes.

In the run-up to the December 10 deadline, NATO and Russian defense ministers discussed Kosovo on October 25, and EU leaders exchanged views with Russian President Vladimir Putin at their twice-yearly summit on October 26. Shortly before those meetings, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear that NATO is determined to carry out its mission to provide security in Kosova. This, of course, includes its deterrent role in preventing any return of Serbian forces.

The positions of Russia, the United States, NATO, Belgrade, and Pristina on Kosovo's future have, in fact, never been in doubt. The real question is whether the EU, which together with Russia and the United States makes up the international "troika" mediating the talks, will be able to overcome its internal divisions and formulate and stick to a coherent policy. This will be particularly important if the Kosovars declare independence soon after December 10, presumably with U.S. and British backing.

Signs Of Growing EU Unity

In recent months, there have been signs that a critical mass is emerging within the EU to support Kosovar independence if the latest talks lead nowhere. One important development during this time was the replacement of Jacques Chirac by Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France. As Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner recently put it, France's foreign policy is no longer determined by reflexive anti-Americanism. In just a few short months, Sarkozy has reaffirmed internationally his reputation as a dynamic and determined leader who does not hesitate to break with old policies that no longer work. Perhaps more importantly, Kouchner himself is highly familiar with the situation in Kosova, having served as the UN's special representative there from 1999-2001. In short, France now seems likely to join the United States and Britain in recognizing an independent Kosova.

A second development that might have contributed to a growing support within the EU for Kosovar independence was the rejection by Russia and Serbia of the plan proposed by Ahtisaari, which calls for carefully supervised independence. In most of Europe, Ahtisaari's work was regarded as balanced, thorough, and worthy of the best diplomatic traditions of the UN. Moscow's and Belgrade's decision to reject it met with little understanding within the EU, particularly in the Nordic and those other countries where a UN label almost automatically commands respect.

A third factor is the apparent growing awareness within the EU that because Kosovo is part of Europe, its future is primarily a European matter, and that a failure to form a unified EU policy on Kosovo will mean that the bloc is incapable of speaking with one voice on anything in international affairs. In other words, Kosovo is increasingly regarded by many as the make-or-break issue for a unified EU foreign policy.

On October 24, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" published an interview with German Ambassador to Britain Wolfgang Ischinger, who represents the EU in the troika. He strongly defended holding the current round of talks, arguing that they have proved more innovative and fruitful than most observers expected. He noted that one approach to resolving the dispute over Kosovo that has received attention recently is the model of the 1972 agreement between East and West Germany. On the basis of that treaty, Bonn and East Berlin established what in practice were diplomatic relations without, however, West Germany being forced to compromise its political and legal principles on the subject of German unity. Ischinger suggested that such creative statecraft might have its applications in the Balkans today.

But the most important aspect of Ischinger's interview was his insistence that the EU has moved in recent months towards a unified policy on Kosova. He argued that "for the first time in the history of the Kosovo conflict, the EU has become an actor in its own right and even the one with the most responsibility." Many would argue that Washington and Moscow will have the final say, as did the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" itself on October 18. But Ischinger stressed in his interview that Europeans increasingly believe that it is not acceptable that "in 2007, European crises are resolved in the United States."

The reasons for this belief are rooted in years of frustration since 1991 over the failure of the EU to help manage the breakup of former Yugoslavia without the political and military leadership of the United States. This frustration might be called a "Jacques Poos complex" after the foreign minister of Luxembourg who made the erroneous prediction in 1991 that the dissolution of Yugoslavia would be the "hour of Europe."

If Ischinger argued that the EU will take a unified approach to Kosova, some persistent but unconfirmed German media reports during the same week as his interview indicated that Berlin has already decided to join Washington, London, Paris, the Nordic capitals, and several others in recognizing an independent Kosova. If such statements attributed to unnamed German government officials by public broadcasters Deutschlandfunk and Deutsche Welle are true, it would mean that there is now a critical mass in the EU in support of such a step, despite the continuing objections of some smaller states like Greece and Cyprus, which are traditional supporters of Serbia.

Gert Weisskirchen, the parliamentary spokesman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), which controls the Foreign Ministry, denied on October 24 in an interview with Deutschlandfunk that Berlin has already made its decision. Instead, he said, "let's give diplomacy time." But as one German Balkan expert said to RFE/RL, "what would you expect [the government] to do? They obviously made the leaks but then denied them when confronted with a direct question."

See also: Kosovo: Former U.S. Envoy Says It's Decision Time For Europe, Serbs

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