EU divided over future status of Kosovo
EU member states are signalling disagreement on the final status of Kosovo, just as UN-led talks on the future of the territory get under way.
Diplomats indicate that several states - including the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Greece and Italy - are publicly or privately promoting their own ideas, which in some cases go beyond the EU's common position.
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EU member states in June agreed that the exact future status of Kosovo should be decided in UN-led negotiations between Serbs and Kosovan Albanians, while setting out some clear EU principles that any outcome must meet.
The EU conditions include the protection of the Serb minority, no return to the pre-March 1999 status (when Kosovo was directly governed from Belgrade), and, notably, no partitioning of the territory.
However, just after UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari started his initial talks with Belgrade and Pristina last week, Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek suggested that partitioning Kosovo could be the best solution.
"A solution could be dividing the territory on ethnic lines. The northern part of the region would belong to Serbia, and the majority of the southern part could be given the status of an independent nation", the Czech politician said, according to press reports.
Cacophony of opinions
The Czech move - clearly in breach of EU principles - ran contrary to a previous initiative by Slovene president Janez Drnovsek, who presented earlier this month a plan promoting full independence for an unpartitioned Kosovo.
Mr Drnovsek's plan caused a row in Slovenia itself, with the country's foreign ministry publicly declaring that the president's action did "not reflect" the Slovenian government's position.
An EU diplomat said the Czech and Slovene moves were "worrying", as the EU seemed "incapable of sticking to a common position" over the issue.
Another diplomat described the Czech plea for a partition as "very dangerous".
On top of this, the president of EU candidate state Romania, Traian Basescu, last week while visiting Paris presented a proposal pleading for a type of Kosovan autonomy that falls short of independence from Serbia, which was well received in Belgrade but not in Pristina.
An EU source described the different statements coming out of European capitals as a "cacaphony of opinions."
Wariness about independence
Although most other member states have so far cautiously stuck to the EU's guiding principles, in public at least, they have privately voiced their own views over the issue.
Italy, Spain and Greece in particular are said to be worried about what will happen if the territory is given fully-fledged independence, having been under the administration of the United Nations since the 1999 war.
Sources said Spain is "nervous" about an independent Kosovo setting a precedent for its own autonomous Basque region, something a Spanish spokesman did not want to comment on.
Both Italy and Greece are reportedly wary about endangering their close political and economic ties with Serbia, with Rome particularly fearful of a future "failed" state in Kosovo which could produce large numbers of refugees.
A Greek spokesman did not confirm Athens' particular worry about Kosovo's independence, but did highlight that Athens as a "powerful" player in the region would play an active "mediating role" between Belgrade and Pristina.
The EU has to pay the bill
The direct influence of the EU on the final status talks is likely to be limited, though not irrelevant.
UN envoy Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, will lead the talks, probably assisted by diplomats of the Kosovo Contact Group, which is viewed by diplomats as being very influential.
A representative from the EU has a seat in this group, but its six-nation core consists of the US and Russia as well as the UK, France, Germany and Italy.
"EU members who do not have a seat in the contact group are envious about those who do", one insider said.
But an EU diplomat argued that in the end, the view of the EU as a whole can hardly be ignored, as "we will have to pay the bill", referring to a probable Brussels role in administration and military stabilisation of the territory.
Mr Ahtisaari's efforts to broker a deal will initially be limited to shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina, with direct talks between Serbs and Kosovan Albanians not expected to start before February.
Diplomats estimate that the negotiations will last at least six months, possibly more than a year.
Politicians representing the Kosovan Albanian majority have pleaded for full independence for Kosovo, but Serbia is opposed to granting Kosovo sovereign nation status.