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Balkan Report: April 11, 2008

Kosovo: Envoy Says New Constitution For All Communities

Pieter Feith

On April 7, Pieter Feith, who is the international civilian representative in Kosovo, spoke to Arbana Vidishiqi of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

RFE/RL: One of your first projects, the constitution of Kosovo, has just been signed. It is slated to come into effect on June 15. Does this date also mark the end of the transition period from the UN administration to that of the EU?

Pieter Feith: Please ask Mr. [Joachim] Ruecker [who heads the UN Mission In Kosovo, UNMIK], but in my view, it does, yes.

RFE/RL: How will the transfer of competencies be determined, in view of the fact that the EU's legal framework is UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which is the same as UNMIK's?

Feith: Well, the modalities of the transition are a matter that is to be decided by the United Nations.

RFE/RL: There is still some confusion in regard to the UN's presence after the transition period. How do you see this issue, which some consider to be a dual authority? Can it interfere with your mission?

Feith: Well, I hope not. Again, it is up to the United Nations to decide about which residual authorities and powers they want to continue to exercise under Resolution 1244.

RFE/RL: Your mission faces strong objections by Kosovar Serbs, who are encouraged by Belgrade and Moscow alike. How do you intend to overcome these obstacles?

Feith: We will try to convince the Serb community in Kosova about the benefits that [UN envoy Martti] Ahtisaari's [constitutional legislation] package will bring them. We think this is very significant, and we need to give them the confidence that with these provisions they can have a better future, better economic opportunities, and that their way of life will be fully respected.

RFE/RL: Are you still functioning in the Serbian-dominated north?

Feith: Yes, we are still functioning in the north.

RFE/RL: Do you need NATO protection to function there?

Feith: NATO has its main task to provide a safe and secure environment throughout Kosova, and of course we as a mission stand to benefit from it.

RFE/RL: While we're on the subject of the north, some Belgrade officials have come up with a proposal on, as they've put it, a "functional division" between the Albanians and the Serbs, which many consider to be a de facto partition. What is your response?

It is up to the special representative of the UN secretary-general to take a [position] on this. For me, this proposal would not be a good way forward and would not be beneficial.

You have also emphasized the importance of multiethnic integration. What can your mission do to convince Serbs to orient themselves towards Pristina rather then towards Belgrade?

Feith: We are working on the basis of the relevant provisions of the comprehensive settlement package. I have an office here with the necessary expertise to work on decentralization [and] on the protection of the cultural and religious heritage....

As you've said yourself, on April 7 a significant step was taken in moving the draft constitution to full adoption by [Kosova's parliament on April 9]. This constitution embodies all the provisions that we consider important and necessary for minority communities. And if we're given the necessary opportunities to have access to people, then I hope we can explain [matters to them] and give [them] confidence [about the matters] that I mentioned earlier.

RFE/RL: When do you expect for your mission to be fully functional?

Feith: You should rephrase this matter, because we are still in a build-up phase. I mean, under the Ahtisaari package, this is called a transition period. In fact, we do not have in many ways the authority that we will have after the June 15. We hope that by that time we will have built up this organization so we can [take on] more tasks.

RFE/RL: Many have seen economic incentives as a way of reaching a stabile environment in what is often described as an economically depressed country. What are your plans in this regard?

Feith: There will be an important donor conference in June, which will be under the authority of the [EU] and the World Bank. We look for an early decision to admit Kosovo into the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. I'm working with my colleagues on possibilities to attract private investment in order to restore growth in the Kosovar economy. But I must also say that the government has to [carry out] its responsibilities in this regard and make Kosovo an attractive country for direct private investments.

RFE/RL: Finally, Mr. Feith, you're also empowered to dismiss elected officials in Kosovo. Do you intend to use these powers, and under what circumstances?

These powers are there, although the main emphasis of my work is to advise and assist the government. I don't think it is very likely, but if there [are any serious deviations from the Ahtisaari guidelines], then certainly I will use my powers.

Serbia: So Close, Yet So Far For Belgrade's EU Dreams

By Ahto Lobjakas

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic at a press conference in Brussels earlier this year

BRUSSELS -- The European Union is racing against time -- and some of its own member states -- to create incentives for Serbian voters to choose a Western future when they go to the polls for parliamentary elections on May 11.

The EU, whose image was tarnished in the eyes of many Serbs when most members backed Kosovo's independence, is dangling the prospect of future membership to Serbia. But Brussels is struggling to give the offer a definitive shape.

The main problems boil down to two names and one abbreviation -- Kosovo, Mladic, and an SAA.

The EU is asking Serbia to forget Kosovo and to deliver war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic. In return, Brussels is offering to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Belgrade and to begin talks on abolishing EU visas for Serbian citizens.

But there may not be enough time for all of this before parliamentary elections on May 11. Addressing the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on April 7, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana urged everyone in the bloc to be welcoming.

"We have to make all the effort to extend our hand to the Serbian people, to continue telling them clearly -- not only with words but with facts -- that we want them to be a part of the European family of nations," Solana said.

Wish List

The speaker of the Serbian parliament, Oliver Dulic, who was in Brussels last week, handed the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee a detailed wish list. The pro-European politicians whom Dulic represents want the EU to sign an SAA with Serbia by the end of this month, give it candidate status by the end of the year, ease visa restrictions by early 2009, and launch accession talks with Serbia in the second half of 2009.

Dulic says such tangible offers could sway Serbian voters on May 11. He said the EU must err on the side of generosity, if anything, to compensate for a feeling in Serbia that the country is always fated to get the sharp end of the stick.

"We need the EU to put tangible content into the phrase 'EU integration,' content that will be both realistic and attractive to our citizens," Dulic said. "We applaud EU leaders repeating that citizens of Serbia have their place in the EU family, but this is simply not enough, especially now when the nationalists point out that the EU is treating Serbia differently from any other postcommunist country."

Solana and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn agree, to a point. Both say they work day and night to deliver an SAA and a "road map" to a visa deal.

No EU Consensus

But there are problems -- and not in Belgrade so much as in some EU capitals. The Netherlands wields a veto over the SAA. It refuses to allow the EU to sign the agreement with Serbia before it delivers Mladic, who commanded Bosnian Serb troops who killed up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Belgium also has misgivings.

In addition, a number of member states are wary about handing Serbia an easy visa deal. Immigration pressure and the threat of terrorism have caused the EU to up the ante for countries wanting to ease their visa regimes with the bloc. Dulic complained last week that the conditions being imposed on Serbia are tougher than those faced by other countries. And there was some sympathy among his audience. Elmar Brok, a senior German deputy, noted that Serbia is faced with a "painful historical irony," given that Yugoslav citizens were free to travel in Europe during the Cold War.

In the short term, however, signing the SAA appears to be the most tangible reward the EU has to offer.

Solana said on April 7 he had addressed the Dutch parliament on the issue. He made another impassioned appeal at the European Parliament, arguing that the Dutch wish to see Mladic in court may be thwarted forever should anti-EU nationalists come to power in Serbia.

"My appeal is for everybody to think about [this]: those -- who are many, all of us -- who do want cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal, who would like to have Mladic in front of the international community, having a fair trial. They know very well that at the end of the day if [Tomislav] Nikolic wins the elections, [that] will never take place," Solana said.

Solana said Serbia was in an "exceptional situation," adding it needs "exceptional solutions."

Dulic issued a similar warning last week, saying Mladic and other war crimes suspects might well "die free men" if pro-European forces lose the May 11 elections.

Dulic argues that, because the SAA is a technical agreement with little political content, linking it to the handover of war criminals makes little sense. He also points out that Croatia, an EU-candidate country, was allowed to sign its SAA with its most notorious suspect, Ante Gotovina, still on the loose.

Kosovo Bug

But the EU's biggest problem is that it is able to engage in dialogue with only one part of Serbia's political spectrum -- a part, moreover, whose relative strength it cannot gauge with any reliability.

Nationalist elements, meanwhile, reject cooperation with the EU as long as it is seen as favoring Kosovo's independence and gives support to authorities in Pristina.

And even many relative moderates are in stark opposition to the West on the issue of Kosovo. Dulic, for example, used his address at the European Parliament to say that Kosovo's independence was "deeply illegal."

Perhaps the best that Serbia's pro-European forces can do under the circumstances would be to say in unison with Dulic that they consider integration with the EU "as important as Kosovo."

Events in and around Kosovo may yet overwhelm the EU's cautious attempts to reach out to Serbia. Solana said the crucial test for the relationship will come between the May 11 elections and June 15 -- when Kosovo's first constitution is expected to come into force.