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Ahtisaari or Bust: the Coming EU Protectorate in Kosovo

Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

The words are remarkable, above all, for the self-assurance they express: "Mr. Ahtisaari and I completed the intellectual part of our assignment when we presented our plan in the spring. Nothing more should be changed in this proposal. It is a complicated work. We only have to accompany the plan and explain it." The speaker is Albert Rohan: the Austrian diplomat and deputy to the U.N. special envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari. The plan in question is the "Ahtisaari Plan" for a "supervised independence" of Kosovo. It was the rejection of that plan by Serbia that precipitated the 130 days of whirlwind negotiations that concluded last month in the Austrian resort of Baden: predictably without any agreement. But despite the failure of the status negotiations, Rohan is apparently confident that the Ahtisaari Plan will be implemented anyway. Not even the obvious prospect of a Russian veto of any U.N. Security Council Resolution endorsing the plan can diminish Rohan's sense of certainty. "The Security Council is blocked," Rohan said in an interview last week with the Swiss daily Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), "One can only solve the problem without it."

Albert Rohan's confidence is by no means the product of delusions. For the signs coming out of the European institutions and from the major European powers suggest that the EU will indeed go ahead and implement the Ahtisaari Plan of its own accord: with or without Serbian agreement, with or without U.N. Security Council backing -- and even with or without the unanimous agreement of the EU member states themselves. The latest reports in the European press create the impression that only the small Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus opposes the planned EU initiative: the Cypriot leadership having openly voiced its concern that European support for a unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo could set a dangerous precedent vis-à-vis the Turkish occupied northern half of the island. But, in fact, even such reports minimizing the degree of dissension within the EU can be presumed to be the result of a modus vivendi reached between the established EU powers, which are pushing the Kosovo independence agenda, and the generally smaller, weaker and newer EU states that are opposed. Thus, as reported in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung following a Nov. 19 meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels, the dissenting states are supposed to have agreed to show "constructive restraint" and quietly permit a "coalition of the willing" EU states to proceed with their Kosovo plans.

In reality, several Eastern European member states are either on record as being opposed to Kosovo independence or can be safely presumed to be so to greater or lesser degrees. These include not only Cyprus, but also Romania, Greece, and Slovakia. Like Albert Rohan in his interview with the NZZ, commentators in the European media in general tend to explain the reluctance of these countries by their own fears of ethnic separatist movements. But while such considerations have undoubtedly played an important role, public opinion in countries with large Orthodox Christian majorities like Romania and Greece has in fact been heavily "pro-Serb" from the very start of the Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s.

Just which EU states support Kosovo independence and which continue to harbor reservations should, of course, become clearer once the Kosovo Albanian authorities declare independence and countries are thus faced with the option of recognizing an independent Kosovo or not. But even if the EU states have not achieved unanimity on the matter, the EU as such can be expected to go forward and unilaterally implement the Ahtisaari Plan. Only the threat of drastic retaliatory measures on the part of Russia could prevent it from doing so.

The fact that the EU will be able thus unilaterally to implement the Ahtisaari Plan is, moreover, a function of the details of the plan itself. For while the plan does indeed consecrate the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, it does not, at least for the foreseeable future, establish anything that could meaningfully be called the independence of Kosovo as such. Under the terms of the plan, the region would continue to be occupied by the troops of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), and while Kosovo would have its own political institutions -- as it does already -- these would be clearly subordinate to the authority of an "International Civilian Representative" or "ICR." The ICR will be appointed de facto by the EU and is to serve simultaneously as the EU "Special Representative" in Kosovo. (Officially, the ICR is supposed to be appointed by an "International Steering Group." But six of the nine prospective members of this "steering group" are in fact EU states or institutions -- and one of the others, Russia, will presumably want nothing to do with it.)

As noted in the Executive Summary of the Ahtisaari Plan -- or, as it is officially known, the "Kosovo Status Settlement" -- the powers of the ICR will "include the authority to annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction or remove public officials whose actions are determined by the ICR to be inconsistent with the letter or spirit of the Settlement." In addition to naming the ICR, the EU will dispatch a "European Security and Defense Policy" (ESDP) Mission to Kosovo. Whereas this mission is commonly described as having merely advisory or "mentoring" functions, a glance at the details of the plan (Annex IX, Article 2.3) makes abundantly clear that it will in fact assume the ultimate operational responsibility for a wide range of essential police and judicial matters in Kosovo. In short, the Ahtisaari Plan does not foresee the independence of Kosovo, but rather its definitive separation from Serbia and the establishment of an EU protectorate over the territory.

Asked by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung when the plan will be implemented, Albert Rohan responded, "We had anticipated a transitional phase of three months. In the meanwhile, however, the logistical preparations have been made, and the new laws required, including the Constitution, can be passed by the parliament in Pristina anytime. So, a longer transitional phase is not necessary. Also, an EU preliminary mission has been present in the country since last winter." According to two separate reports in the NZZ on Tuesday (Dec. 11), some dozen functionaries are already at work in Kosovo developing the foundations of the Office of the ICR and EU Foreign Policy Representative Javier Solana has been tasked by the EU Council of Ministers with preparing the ESDP mission. In a presumably related development, Germany last month dispatched a reserve battalion of some 550 soldiers to Kosovo, bringing the total number of German troops in the region to nearly 3,000.

John Rosenthal is World Politics Review's translations editor. He writes on European politics and transatlantic relations.

Photo: Martti Ahtisaari in Brussels, Nov. 4, 2006 (EU photo)