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What the EU should do for Kosovo

By Dick Leonard. Source: European Voice, 13 January 2005

Last month, the EU quietly took over from NATO responsibility for maintaining law and order in Bosnia-Herzogovina. Should it now prepare also to replace NATO's K-For in Kosovo, or even – as German Christian Democratic MEP Doris Pack recently suggested – assume a protectorate for the territory in place of UNMIK (the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo)?

Certainly, UNMIK's record in Kosovo is distinctly mixed, as was spelled out by Kai Eide, Norway's Ambassador to NATO, who last July produced a devastating report, at the request of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. During the course of UNMIK's stewardship, Kosovo's economy has shrunk alarmingly, while the organisation was totally unprepared for last March's outbreak of inter-ethnic violence, which led to the death of 19 Serbs, with hundreds injured and thousands driven from their homes.

This is not the time, however, to consider a new protectorate. The election, in October, of a new parliament and provisional government for Kosovo, has already led to the handover of some of UNMIK's responsibilities, and more are likely to follow.

Yet the authority of the provisional government is distinctly fragile. Only some 300 Kosovo Serbs actually cast their votes in the election, which was boycotted by most of the Serb parties, which meant that they won none of the 100 seats up for general election, and their representation is restricted to the ten seats specifically reserved for Serbs. Another 10 seats are reserved for other minorities, which means that the Albanian Kosovars control about five-sixths of the 120-seat Parliament.

Nor does the composition of the new government do much to reassure the Serbs. President Ibrahim Rugova's moderate LDK party won the most seats, but without an overall majority. They chose to form a government with the more hard-line AAK party of Ramush Haradinaj, rather than with Hasim Thaci's PDK, which is seen as less hostile to the Serbs,

Haradinaj has become Prime Minister, but his tenure may not be long, as there are persistent rumours that he will soon be indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

If so, he is likely to be charged in connection with the killing of 40 Serb and Albanian civilians near his home village of Giodjane in the summer of 1998, when he was the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Haradinaj's indictment would cause a major political crisis in Kosovo, which many fear could spark off further violence. Meanwhile, Haradinaj has shown himself very conciliatory towards the Serbs since he became Premier, but neither the Kosovo Serbs nor the Serbian government in Belgrade have shown any willingness to have dealings with him.

Haradinaj, together with Rugova and most of his ministers, met with the United Nations Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia (UK, US, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) in Pristina on 16 December, and pledged the closest co-operation with UNMIK in the run-up to the Final Status talks due next summer.

Haradinaj's team declared their "immediate priorities" to be "reformation of local power, increase of dialogue between communities, security for minorities, the return of internally displaced persons and the completion of reconstruction", while it asked from UNMIK the "successful transfer of competences".

The European Commission was not represented at this meeting, though its help, financially and otherwise, will be an essential ingredient of a successful implementation of these policies. Even so, it will require a larger and much better focused contribution than in the past.

A recent report, by Professor John Bradley and Mr Gerald Knaus for the Berlin-based think tank, The European Stability Initiative*, pays the EU a backhanded compliment. It suggests that the very success of its efforts in helping to improve the economies of eastern European countries which have been candidates for EU membership, through pre-accession aid, has made life more difficult for Kosovo.

It has increasingly become a less attractive proposition for foreign direct investment than near neighbours whose economies are rapidly expanding. By contrast, Kosovo, where a high proportion of the population is dependent on remittances and subsistence agriculture, is caught in a downward spiral.

The IMF, which in December 2001 had estimated Kosovo's GDP at 1.85 billion, reduced its estimate to 1.57 billion in June 2003. Six months later, UNMIK and various financial institutions, put it at 1.34 billion.

The key priority for the new Kosovo government and its successors, Bradley and Knaus argue, is to identify ways in which Kosovo can catch up with the rest of Europe. The overriding goal of their economic policy must be to bring about a substantial process of convergence towards European living standards within the next generation.

The first step, they argue, must be the drawing up, with the co-operation and material assistence of the EU, of a National Development Plan comparable to those adopted by the former candidate states of central and eastern Europe. The EU contribution would not only consist of the provision of pre-accession-style funds, but the close monitoring to which the candidate states submitted during the long process leading up to their admittance as full members last May, or, in the case of Romania and Bulgaria, until the newly confirmed target date of 2007.

If help was given on an equivalent scale, the cost to the EU would not be enormous, given that the population of the territory is not much more than two million, compared to 22 million for Romania and 8 million for Bulgaria. The cost to Europe of letting the territory collapse into an economic 'black hole' would be far greater.

Whatever decision is taken over the Final Status, the chances for Albanians and Serbs to live peaceably together can only be improved if the future economic prospects for the territory are put on a firmer footing.

*Towards a Kosovo Development Plan (www.esiweb.org).