23rd Jan 2020

EU warned against turning Kosovo into a 'protectorate'

  • Around 2 million people live in Kosovo, the vast majority of them support independence from Serbia (Photo: UNMIK)

With Kosovo set to declare independence on Sunday (17 February) and the EU expected to send a police and civilian mission there shortly, a well-known Balkans analyst has warned the 27-nation bloc against turning the province into an EU "protectorate", whose self-governing powers would be almost non-existent.

While the number of statements indicating that Kosovo will declare independence on Sunday has been steadily increasing, Kosovar newspapers have reported extensively how this is expected to happen.

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The province's independence will come in two stages, local media reported on Monday (11 February).

First, Kosovo's parliament will on Sunday afternoon adopt a declaration of its intent to proclaim independence.

The declaration will only enter into force in March – after Kosovo adopts more than 30 laws, as well as a constitution, based on the plan for Pristina's supervised independence put forward last year by former UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

According to Kosovo daily Koha Ditore, after the declaration is adopted by Kosovo's assembly on Sunday, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci will address the media, and the speech will be followed by fireworks late into the evening.

A concert by Kosovo's philharmonic orchestra, which will play Beethoven's Ode to joy – the EU's anthem – is set to be one of the highlights of the celebrations, Bulgarian national TV reports.

EU mission to be given final authorisation

Meanwhile, by Monday (18 February) at the latest, the EU is expected to give its final "operational" green light to a 1,800-strong EU police and civilian mission to Kosovo – composed of policemen, judges and prosecutors whose task will be to strengthen stability in Kosovo and to ensure that democratic standards are observed there.

The decision may be taken earlier however, before the expected declaration of independence.

Diplomatic sources have told Reuters that the 27-nation bloc will use a low-profile procedure to approve the operations plan this week.

It "will be adopted this week by written procedure", one official has said.

But the EU mission – opposed by Serbia as well as Russia – has already been criticised by some analysts.

Kosovo-an EU protectorate?

According to Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative – a non-profit policy institute known for its analyses and research work on South East Europe, the EU's mission is flawed.

Blind implementation of Mr Ahtisaari plan together with the presence of the EU mission could eventually result in Kosovo becoming a "failed EU protectorate", Mr Knaus argued at a conference organised by the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies on Monday (11 February).

The EU mission will have the power to reverse operational decisions taken by the local authorities and to assume other responsibilities independently or in support of the Kosovo authorities, the researcher explained.

In the end, the mission "can basically do what it defines is needed in terms of defending the rule of law in its own understanding," he said.

It is also unclear at this stage how long its mandate would last, as it is has not been agreed what the length of mandate should be based upon.

Ultimately, between the EU mission and the International Civilian Office foreseen by the Ahtisaari plan, which would dispose of important executive powers, "post-status Kosovo will not be independent in any sense," Mr Knaus argued.

"International officials are there to stay in the long term," he said, adding that the whole situation is unlikely to be beneficial for Kosovo's weak economy.

It will be up to the EU - which "is going to be responsible, it's assuming an immense amount of executive authority, it is going to be the real authority in this society in term of its powers" – to prevent Kosovo from becoming "one of the most isolated places in the world," the analyst concluded.

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