Kosovo's man in Brussels sets out priorities
The main tasks of Kosovo's new embassy in Brussels will be to lobby the EU for wider recognition of the country's independence and to raise awareness of Serbia's attempts to sabotage the young state, Kosovo envoy Ilir Dugolli told EUobserver.
"Negotiating the question for more recognition of Kosovo is the absolute priority. In the case of the EU, all the other steps go through this step. You cannot really make much progress in negotiating with the EU unless this hurdle is overcome," Mr Dugolli said. "That for some time will continue to exhaust a considerable part of our energies."
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The Balkan country proclaimed independence from Serbia in February and has been recognised by 21 out of 27 EU members, with Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Slovakia holding out for now.
The partial recognition means that Kosovo cannot establish formal legal relations with the EU or launch a feasibility study for a future Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
When Mr Dugolli arrives in Brussels in mid-October, his official title will be charge d'affaires to the Kingdom of Belgium, as Kosovo cannot formally open a mission to the EU. The basis of his work with the EU institutions is still under negotiation, with meetings to take place initially on a goodwill, ad hoc basis.
"I'm hopeful the commitment the EU has expressed many times about the Balkans including Kosovo will be the guiding principle, so that representatives of Kosovo are provided access and given an opportunity to hear views from the EU and present the views of Kosovo institutions to the EU," Mr Dugolli explained.
His work will not be made easier by limited financial and human resources. Mr Dugolli will start his mission as half of a two-man team, working out of hotels in the EU capital as he tries to identify temporary premises for the future embassy. Kosovo plans to make its Belgium mission one of its biggest foreign representations in future. But the embassy will not be in full swing until next year. Consular services are likely to follow even later.
"I wish I had [a big team]. But being a country with limited capacities and a ministry that was just established a few months ago, we don't have many staff we can rely on," Mr Dugolli said.
The diplomat - an anti-Milosevic student activist in the 1990s who helped set up and worked for the KIPRED think-tank in Pristina until his present appointment - is optimistic that full EU recognition will follow. With Spain, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus worried that agreement to the partitioning of Serbia would encourage their own separatist minorities, Mr Dugolli rejected any comparisons with Kosovo.
"Deep in my heart I'm convinced that if any of those countries would have treated a part of the population in the way the majority of Kosovars were treated in the past two decades, most of the population of those countries would have supported independence for those parts," the charge d'affaires said. "Luckily we don't have such policies in Slovakia or Spain or in any other country. There may be issues but they are completely incomparable to what has happened here."
Black hole scenario
Mr Dugolli also plans to keep the EU institutions informed about Serbian attempts to sow division in Kosovo. Belgrade is currently opening new "Co-ordination Centres" in ethnic Serb enclaves that could act as rallying points for anti-government opposition.
"We will push EU officials to make sure [Serbia] is more constructive when it comes to Kosovo. It aspires to make Kosovo a black hole, divided internally and then maybe to call us a black hole as a [legal] entity. This is not something the EU would look forward to," he said. "We will try to raise awareness of any destructive steps that are interfering with our path to the EU."
The EU's new police and civilian administration mission to Kosovo, EULEX, has itself stayed out of the largest Serb enclave in North Mitrovica so far for fear of aggravating tension.
EULEX is gradually taking over from the UN mission to Kosovo, which was set up in 1999 following a NATO bombing campaign to stop a Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority. Some 1,000 out of 2,000 planned EULEX staff are already on the ground. But the EU mission has no UN mandate and is seen by ethnic Serbs as a de facto guarantor of Kosovo statehood.
EULEX clock ticking
Mr Dugolli says the EULEX caution on North Mitrovica does not undermine Kosovo's territorial integrity. But he warned that the status quo cannot continue for long.
"Lots of efforts are being done now in really trying to explain to Serbs in that part of Kosovo and others what EULEX is, what its mandate is to be and to find some arrangements for EULEX deployment in that part of the country," he said.
Full deployment in North Mitrovica will take place "this year for sure," he added. "We can't afford ourselves the luxury of getting into the New Year without deployment."