Europe's big four raise stakes on Kosovo

Posted in Europe | 14-Dec-07 | Author: Ian Traynor| Source: Guardian

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, center left, shares a word with Finnish President Tarja Halonen during a group photo at an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Dec. 14, 2007.

· EU summit urged to agree to independence plan
· Fear that Russia would oppose new UN mandate

The EU's biggest four countries are pushing to impose and oversee independence in Kosovo without a fresh UN mandate, risking a showdown with a resurgent Russia and fierce resistance from Serbia, which vows no surrender of Kosovo.

In a letter to European leaders at today's EU summit in Brussels, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and his counterparts from Germany, France and Italy, have demanded that the 27 EU governments "send a clear message on Kosovo" by agreeing to dispatch an 1,800-strong EU nation-building mission to implement the independence plan drafted this year by the Finnish UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari.

The letter, obtained by the Guardian, despaired of Russia assenting to the plan by backing a new mandate at the UN security council. It called on the EU to proceed on the basis of the security council resolution governing the UN protectorate in Kosovo since Nato drove out Serbian forces there in 1999.

Preparations for the EU mission to Kosovo, replacing the UN, are far advanced within the office of Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy coordinator. EU officials say the mission could be dispatched "tomorrow" if a political green light were given. But the 27 member states remain divided over Kosovo despite months of attempts to reach consensus.

The EU's big four, who along with the US and Russia comprise the "contact group" that sets international policy on the Balkans, will be the first, along with the Americans, to recognise Kosovo statehood after its ethnic Albanian leadership issues a declaration of independence, expected within weeks.

The letter, addressed to the Portuguese government, asked today's summit to pave the way for imposing the independence plan early next year by declaring that negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo are finished, that Kosovo's status has to be decided "urgently", and that the EU will play a "leading role in implementing a settlement".

The Ahtisaari plan has been rejected by Serbia and effectively vetoed by Russia. There are to be further talks at the security council next week, with Moscow and Belgrade demanding more time for negotiations between the Serbian and Kosovan Albanian leaderships.

But the quartet foreign ministers said: "We need to be realistic about the slim prospects of securing the necessary level of consensus in the security council."

Today's summit is to devote at least two hours to wrangling over Kosovo. Several EU states, notably Cyprus, Greece, and Slovakia, remain opposed to recognising Kosovo statehood without an agreement with Serbia. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are worried about the international legal basis for the plan outlined by the four governments. A meeting of EU ambassadors last week in Brussels showed a consensus behind the plan of only around 16 out of 27, sources said.

There is general agreement that the EU mission could be deployed on the basis of security council resolution 1244 that set the terms for Kosovo at the end of the Nato-Serbia war in 1999. But although the Serbs have not controlled Kosovo since then, that resolution also acknowledged Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo.

The legal dispute would be over enforcing Ahtisaari's independence plan on the basis of 1244, with Serbia and Russia insisting on a new UN mandate, which Russia can veto, and some EU states sharing the doubts.

John Sawers, the British ambassador to the UN in New York, pointed to the EU plan being debated today. "I don't think the security council ... will be able to reach agreement on the way forward, in which case other organisations will have to take the responsibilities," he said.