Kosovo: Can the EU be status neutral in the North?
Although it seems that the EU has decided to leave aside the EUSR’s northern strategy, everything it does in the north potentially raises status issues.
(Gerard Gallucci, Outside The Walls) Thursday, March 25, 2010
I've noted the interview given by the Italian Ambassador to Pristina, who also functions as EU envoy to the north. He emphasized a less confrontational approach to the north focusing on improving the daily lives of the people. The Ambassador will reportedly open the Europe House someplace in north Mitrovica on March 26. (Its location seems not entirely clear to the locals but the common suspicion is apparently that it may be co-located with the police.) Finding ways to help the locals in an ethnically divided environment, without running into political issues related to status and the desire of each community to gain or hold their ground, will be a challenge. But the effort is worth making and hopefully he will draw on the expertise and connections of the local UNMIK office to navigate the difficult waters without provoking further conflict (such as over renewed construction in Brdjani).
The question facing the EU in the north is, however, much broader. Although it seems that the EU has decided to leave aside the EUSR's northern strategy, everything it does in the north potentially raises status issues. This is especially true of EULEX. WAZ quotes an unnamed Brussels source saying that it is not enough for EULEX "to have just a symbolic presence in the north as it was until now. All 27 EU member countries support EULEX and there shouldn't be difference in the work of EULEX between the north and south banks of the River Ibar." But there is a difference. As the locals see it, on one side of the River it is independent Kosovo and on the other it remains Serbia.
EULEX officials reportedly have decided to take a higher profile at the two boundary crossings in the north with "checks ... to secure the highest level of security and to make sure that materials that could pose threat to security in Kosovo are not brought in at these crossings." These checks would be carried out by "EULEX, KPS, and customs officials." Two potential issues here: 1. Whose customs regulations and officials would be used - Kosovo government personnel and law or internationals using UNMIK regulations? 2. Would the personnel sent to the Gates include Kosovo Albanians? Use of Kosovo Customs regulations or officials at the Gates would not be status neutral. And it was the appearance of Kosovo Albanian police at the Gates on February 19, 2008 that was the proximate cause for their being attacked.
Any progress on the courts would also require decisions on which law and what court to use. Allowing time for Ambassador Giffoni to try his approach without the complications of further one-sided actions from EULEX might make most sense. This goes as well for how the new construction season is handled in Brdjani.
The WAZ sources apparently suggested that "several important EU capitals still fear that Serbia is intent on creating problems in Kosovo rather than looking for pragmatic solutions." But perhaps it is this impatience with Belgrade's understandable defense of its position on Kosovo, and the resultant wish to somehow force events, that remains the greatest threat to peace and order in Kosovo and to the EU's own efforts to win hearts and minds.