Independent Kosovo? The ‘ICO’ Takes Shape

Michael Martens, reporting from Pristina in Tuesday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, writes the following on the International Civilian Office (ICO) with which the EU is hoping to replace the current U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK):

It will be the task of the office to oversee the implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan for Kosovo independence, even if Western diplomats are attempting to minimize the significance of the ICO: the time of the international protectorate is supposed to be past and, according to the official interpretation in Brussels, the Kosovars are supposed to govern alone. In fact, however, the head of the ICO . . . will have broad powers. One can find out how his role is to be defined from the Ahtisaari Plan. In Pristina, almost all diplomats walk around with a copy of this booklet [i.e. the Ahtisaari Plan], in order to be able cite passages from it — like students used to wander around with a copy of the collected sayings of Chairman Mao. The head of the international office is described in the document as the “final authority” in overseeing the independence plan and he is empowered to take “corrective measures” if the agreement should be violated by local politicians. Among these correctives measures are included the cancellation of laws or the firing of government officials. Appointments to important posts — for instance, in the customs and tax authorities and in the Kosovo Central Bank — must likewise be approved by the ICO head.

As Martens points out, the broad powers with which the head of the ICO is to be invested resemble those of the High Representative in Bosnia, on whose office the ICO has obviously been modeled. It is odd, however, that Martens writes of what the ICO head may do in the event of violations of the “the agreement” [das Abkommen]. What agreement? The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia is a creation of the famous Dayton Accords of 1995. The Ahtisaari Plan, however, was rejected by Serbian authorities. Its implementation will not be the result of any international agreement. Nor indeed does it have the backing of a U.N. mandate.

Unlike the more highly publicized EU police and judiciary “mission” to Kosovo, the ICO has not been conceived as a “purely” European affair. According to Martens, the head of the ICO is supposed to have an American deputy: this presumably according to the same sort of informal arrangement that has resulted in the High Representative in Bosnia having an American deputy. But like the High Representative in Bosnia, the International Civilian Representative in Kosovo will be appointed directly by the EU and he will serve simultaneously as the EU’s “Special Representative.” Indeed, the EU has not wasted any time in the matter: it has already named the Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith to the post.

(For more on the EU’s plans for Kosovo, see my December report “Ahtisaari or Bust: the Coming EU Protectorate in Kosovo.” And for the full text of the Ahtisaari Plan, see here.)