Monday

5th Dec 2022

Opinion

Eulex report exposes EU failure in Kosovo

  • Bill Clinton statue in Pristina: the West needs Kosovo to be a 'success' to justify its 1999 military campaign (Photo: Marco Fieber)

The EU has just published an independent report on its rule of law mission in Kosovo, Eulex.

It concerns a scandal which erupted last year, when an official of the mission publicly accused it of having covered up a case of judicial corruption within its ranks.

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  • Eulex is the largest, costliest, and most ambitious mission ever deployed by the Union (Photo: EULEX, Enisa Kasemi)

The report points to several weaknesses in the mission’s management, but convincingly dismisses the main charge.

This, however, is not the reason why the report is interesting. As I have argued elsewhere, that scandal was a distraction from the real problems.

To their credit, the author of the report - Jean-Paul Jacque, a French law professor - has chosen to confront those problems, reaching damning conclusions, and the EU has chosen to publish his report in full.

The largest mission

Eulex is the largest, costliest, and most ambitious mission ever deployed by the Union. At peak, it employed three times as many officials as the 11 other ongoing missions combined.

It was also given an unprecedented mandate: besides monitoring and advising domestic authorities, its investigators, judges, and prosecutors have the power to confront serious crime.

The rationale of these choices is that political corruption, organised crime, and poor governance are so pervasive in Kosovo that they threaten the stability of the Balkans and Europe’s internal security.

In 2008, when Kosovo became independent and the EU deployed Eulex, the new state risked being captured by a largely unaccountable political-economic elite, which partly overlaps with Kosovo’s criminal elite.

To avert this outcome and to allow reform, the administration of justice in the most delicate sectors was entrusted to Eulex.

But , as I argue in a book which came out just a couple of weeks ago, the international community has failed to prevent this state capture.

Eulex’s poor performance and grave mistakes, in particular, confirmed the untouchbale status of the criminal segments of Kosovo’s elite, and, thereby, indirectly assisted them in strengthening their control over the country.

In stark contrast with the line followed by most Western powers, and some analysts, Jacque’s report corroborates this analysis.

He notes that corruption remains “omnipresent” in Kosovo, adding that, while Eulex could not have been expected to root it out completely “it should, nevertheless, have been possible to lay the foundations of a system capable of fighting corruption”.

As no such foundations have been laid, Jacque, rightly, concludes the mission ought to be either reformed or withdrawn.

The need for success

His reform proposals are less persuasive, however, because his analysis largely neglects Eulex’s structural defects: a visibly irrational allocation of resources; poor internal accountability and external oversight; and weak judicial independence.

One of Jacque’s suggestions - reducing the autonomy of the prosecutors - might actually exacerbate the last problem, as it could expose them to even greater influence by Eulex management.

This was always a serious impediment to fighting high-level corruption because Eulex management is politically vulnerable to manipulation by Kosovo’s elite.

This, I suppose, is the main reason why the mission disregarded several well-documented cases of alleged corruption involving the elite (a paper accompanying my book describes the seven cases of which I have direct information).

Such vulnerability is not just due to the management’s weak accountability, but also to the West’s approach to state-building in Kosovo.

The political repercussions of their decisions to intervene militarily, in 1999, and then to support Kosovo’s unilateral secession from Serbia, led those powers to be less interested in achieving real progress in the new state than in pretending that it is a state-building “success story”.

They need Kosovo to succeed, or to appear to succeed, in order to justify their past, controversial actions.

This is one important reason why Eulex - a promising and well-conceived form of intervention - achieved such unsatisfactory results.

The Jacque report is important, therefore, because it contradicts the false narrative of the “success story” and sheds some light on Kosovo’s real problems. But does its publication, admirable though it is, mark a policy shift on the part of the EU?

The credibility of the EU, Europe’s internal security, the stability of the Balkans, Kosovo’s development, and the practice of state-building would all benefit from such a shift.

New teeth?

But I wonder whether Washington is ready to support it, and whether the EU can make the shift, because if Eulex is to be given real teeth, it would require a change of approach at the highest levels in Brussels and because Kosovo’s elite will fiercely resist a new Eulex mandate in order to protect its criminal interests.

Whether Eulex will be reformed or withdrawn, its overall performance over the past seven years ought to be rigorously audited.

Drawing lessons from the Kosovo precedent and holding those responsible for its failure to account are the necessary first steps to equip the EU with the capacity to deal with other weak and failing states near its borders.

If the Russian aggression ceases in Ukraine, it, like Kosovo, will require outside help to reform its political-economic system. The stakes in Ukraine are even higher and the EU can scarcely afford to repeat the mistakes which Eulex made.

Andrea Capussela is an Italian former official in the International Civilian Office, which supervised Kosovo until 2012, whose book, State-Building in Kosovo: Democracy, Corruption and the EU in the Balkans, came out earlier this month

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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