Kosovo: Towards Final Status

28 January 2005

In his opening remarks, Fabrice de Kerchove said that time was running out in defining a final status for Kosovo and that the status quo was untenable. Almost a year after the riots in March 2004, the situation was still volatile and prone to a further outbreak of violence. At the same time, there were budding signs of democracy taking hold in Kosovo following the recent elections, which saw the emergence of an opposition party in the Kosovo Assembly. There was a narrow margin for manoeuvre in Kosovo but the international community had to engage, as the threat of partition and the transfer of sovereignty to Kosovo authorities bore risks. The KBF would be particularly engaged in facilitating dialogue toward achieving guaranteed minority rights and creating a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

Lord Patten of Barnes praised EU enlargement as one of Europe’s foreign policy success stories. The strategy employed in the Balkans also had the makings of a success story. Croatia was now well en route toward becoming an EU Member State and civil war had successfully been prevented in Macedonia. The Stability and Association process was moving things in the right direction, though relations with Serbia and Montenegro were still difficult as were the unanswered questions surrounding the final status of Kosovo - two areas which were intimately related. He agreed with Mr. de Kerchove that there was a real danger of the process unravelling unless difficult decisions were tackled head-on. The international community had a tendency to focus on one “headline” crisis at a time, and right now energies were focussed on Iraq and Ukraine. Nevertheless, the international community had made sustained efforts to alleviate the potential for crisis in the Balkans and one had to build of these efforts. He praised the report by the Crisis Group as an “action oriented way to break new ground for governments.” He also cautioned against the dangers of “sitting on the fence.” The political issues needed to be addressed before the economic situation could stabilise. While the proposals made in the report were neither “perfect nor water-tight” they were the best set of ideas he had seen to move the process forward.

Kosovo: toward final status

Gareth Evans agreed with Lord Patten that much of the economic stagnation Kosovo and the region suffered from was linked to the inadequate solution of a lack in permanent political status. The status quo could not continue. Spates of violence were also a sign of the inability of the international community to lead Kosovo toward a viable solution. Cross-border incursion from Belgrade was possible if new violence occurred, resulting in a “fantastically destabilised region.” He acknowledged that even if the political process was launched it might be impossible to reach an agreement with Serbia and Russia. The latter could chose not to participate in endorsing a resolution devised by other partners in the process. “We must make judgements based on the possibility of this reality,” he said. He said that in this situation “neither side had the monopoly of vice or virtue.” The Serbs had to recognised that past actions implied that Belgrade could never rule Kosovo. At the same time, Kosovo Albanians had to commit themselves to the protection of ethnic minorities, which was the absolute sine qua non. The Kosovo Albanians would have to accept monitoring as a curtailment of their sovereignty. The international community would not allow the creation of a “greater Albania.” And the partition of Kosovo could not be “remotely acceptable.”

The report by the Crisis Group suggested that the Contact Group - hopefully with Russia - spell out a timeline along with the constraints it could foresee regarding final status (e.g. no support for Belgrade rule of Kosovo, institutional guarantees of minority rights; excluding the possibility of creating a greater Albania, etc.). This would be helpful for creating momentum. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan should then identify a Special Envoy to draft a comprehensive settlement agreement, and set the modalities for a conference based on this agreement to be held at the end of 2005. The Kosovo Assembly should draft its constitution, including an explicit mention of minority rights. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Søren Jessen-Petersen, should then be charged with conducting a complete review of the PISG’s commitment to meeting standards. By October 2005 the Special Envoy should have completed his draft settlement text and the details of an international conference to endorse and finalise both it and the Kosovo constitution. Mr. Evans foresaw a package of papers with three basic limitations to Kosovo’s freedom of action:

1. a ban to unification with Albania;

2. internationally appointed judges integrated into Kosovo’s high courts to ensure the adequate enforcement of minority rights;

3. a guaranteed international presence through a monitoring mission with the remit to Kosovo courts.

The direction of progress should be clear by the end of that year to avoid negotiation marathons. By early 2006, Kosovo should be ready to conduct a referendum on its new constitution and the ‘Kosovo Accord’ put to the UN Security Council for approval.
Russian and Serbian collaboration in the preparation of this plan would be helpful, but if this was not the case, there was still a clear message to Belgrade: “The train is leaving the station with or without you and the status quo is not acceptable.” The negative attitude harboured by the Serbian side was draining on Serbian policy. The clear message had to be that Serbs would be better off engaging in open talks with the international community.

Regarding sovereignty, Mr. Evans said that the UN Security Council could formally transfer sovereignty but of course, this might be stymied by a Russian or even Chinese veto. Nevertheless, Kosovo would be recognised as a sovereign entity by the overwhelming majority of the Security Council, which would, for most practical purposes in international relations, be sufficient. Mr. Evans concluded that if this positive approach toward Kosovo’s future was not taken, “we fear for the future of the entire region.”

The UN perspective

Kim Freidberg agreed with much of Mr. Evans’ assessment. While the collaboration between UNMIK police forces and KFOR and the recent visit by Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica had been positive developments for the security climate, many minorities still perceived the security situation as negative. There was an important role for Kosovo Albanian leaders and society to make them feel more safe. Reconstruction had also progressed, with many schools and houses having been rebuilt and cash grants from the Kosovo Government available to returning families. Priorities among the standards to be achieved had been set following the March riots, which were all focused on minorities, including security, rule of law, protection of minorities (freedom of movement), return of displaced persons and decentralization. These were defined in a way that they could be realistic, achievable goals. Progress by the PISG on these priority standards was seen as a pre-condition for opening status talks. On the issue of authority, he said that competences should be transferred to the PISG, with exception of those touching on sovereignty. At the same time the Special Representative was demanding more accountability from leaders at central and municipal level for their actions – or their failure to act. On the economic front, many advances had already been made: there was a new accountability policy in place and concerned parties were close to a resolution on the difficult privatisation issue. The democratic institutions were functioning, with Ibrahim Rugova having rightly pledge to lay down his party leadership in line with the Constitutional framework. The newly elected Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj had high credentials in Kosovo, despite international concerns about his past and speculation on the possibility that he might be indicted by the ICTY.

Kosovo Serbs had only recently begun participating in the Pristina-based working group on decentralisation and he hoped that this would continue. They had largely stayed away from the polls in October, and had refused to enter the government and be actively engaged with the Assembly. They also did not take part in the Kosovo Security Advisory Group designed to address their concerns.

To make progress in the process leading to eventual status talks, he agreed with Mr. Evans, a positive standards assessment would have to be achieved. The last quarterly review issued in November had been mixed - while there was an obvious positive trend, much still needed to be implemented on the ground. The assessment of the quarter from November onward had just been completed and would be presented to the Security Council in February. Progress needed to be made on freedom of movement – hopefully by spring 2005 - and returns. 

For UNMIK, the way forward also included the formulation of a clear approach and timetable to move toward a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo. The majority community had already realised that the “road to status resolution leads through consolidation of minority rights.” Also, there was rapid movement on decentralisation. Nevertheless, the risk of blockage of the joint UNMIK and Kosovo Albanian efforts to create a multi-ethnic society also existed. He agreed with the findings of the Crisis Group report in that territorial division was not a desirable option in practice, nor was it possible in practice. Overall, an improved dialogue with local authorities and Serbs from Belgrade was of the essence – too often these talks were derailed by pressing issues, such as the issue of electricity most recently, and thus evaded the wider, more sensitive issues. The question was if Belgrade would be willing and prepared enough to focus on the issues at hand. He welcomed the impetus given by the report to move “into uncharted territory.” Agreeing with Mr. Evans’ outlines on the balance between status talks and the preservation of minority rights, he added that even after the conclusion of talks, a civilian and security presence would still be needed.

The political and economic future of Kosovo

Erhard Busek shared the other panellists’ assessment that Belgrade’s involvement thus far had had a negative impact on the efforts toward finding a permanent solution for Kosovo. The Contact Group had to be seen as support, not as competition. If Kosovo “goes wrong again then we are going to be the first to feel the negative impact,” he warned. He suggested EU Member States develop a common position on how to move ahead and then get the UN Contact Group on board. He agreed in principle with the drafting of a basic framework on which to build negotiations with both sides and the international community, which respected the volatile security situation and the need for minority protection. Full-fledged independence was as little an option as partition, which meant that conditional independence increasingly seemed the most likely result. Economic stability would also play a key part in assuring security and reining in violent tendencies. In the age group under thirty, 50% of the population in Kosovo was unemployed. This was a “time bomb in the making.” The Stability Pact was committed to improving the economic situation and living standards. The free trade agreement with Bosnia and Serbia on Kosovo would help integrate it into a trade and energy network and eventually bring in more potential investors. To increase investments in Kosovo, the Kosovo Trust Agency had to devise more attractive proposals.

Organised crime in the region was still a huge factor curtailing the creation of a positive investment climate in the region. Cross-border crime fighting needed to be enhanced and a greater information exchange organised with Belgrade. While this had just been finally agreed, the flow of Serbian police forces into Kosovo was meagre. Other aspects were limiting Kosovo’s economic recovery, including the fact that some EU Member States did not recognise the UNMIK issued passports as legal travel documentation. Additionally, with the airspace over Kosovo closed, airlines operating in the region were paying €1.2 million a day in kerosene costs - money that could well be pumped into the Kosovo economy.

Offering his final comments, Fraser Cameron noted that the audience had heard much about trains leaving stations in the Balkans. The question was if these were moving in the right direction. Europe had to be the final goal for the countries in the region, which needed a clear roadmap to achieve this goal. Kosovo was primarily a European responsibility and the ICG report offered a sound basis for necessary forward thinking on Kosovo’s future. The EPC would continue its Balkan activities in the course of 2005.