On 14 June 2018, EULEX Kosovo the largest EU civilian mission to date officially came to an end. With the stakes set high, the failure to protect civilian lives in Bosnia still painfully looming in the background, EULEX severely put to test the principles agreed upon in the CSDP. Looking ahead, however, 2018 has brought a new momentum for the cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans region as very concrete strategies and flagship initiatives emerge.
A Comment by Frauke Seebass
The rocky road to Pristina
When Kosovo’s independence was declared unilaterally on 17 February 2008, the EU increased its efforts through the launch of a civilian mission for the support of reforming and establishing judicial and policing structures and fostering the rule of law. EULEX Kosovo has been the largest and most ambitious CSDP operation to date, and it presented a major challenge not least for participating member states. Moreover, it was linked to the ongoing UNMIK mission, as well as supporting NATO’s KFOR offensive, both of these still in operation today. In a Joint Council Action based on UN Resolution 1244, more than 1,500 staff from member states as well as more than 1,000 local personnel were deployed in order to support the justice, police and customs sectors through Monitoring, Mentoring, and Advising (MMA). This included certain executive powers such as the persecution of organised and interethnic crimes, war crimes and corruption of public officials.
Having assumed responsibility for the small nation in the heart of the Balkans, the international community was determined to do it right this time. Apart from the more physical dangers mentioned above, the freshly recruited experts were met with a variety of challenges in the society they set out to reform. While spirits were high following the declaration of independence (commemorated today by a large monument in the center of Pristina reading “NEWBORN”), corruption and clientelism prevailed and transnational organised crime (TOC) was flourishing while the formal economy remained in stagnation. Vast amounts of money – 580 million Euro in the first four years alone – were allocated to the mission, its compound set up close to the UNMIK facilities just outside the capital and judges as well as police and customs officers put in place, working in close cooperation with the local EU representation and the host government.
One principle aim was thus to relief the interim administration provided by UNMIK and gradually hand over these duties to the national government. Despite numerous restraints and public protests, the official government policy in Kosovo has generally been cooperative and even extended the mission’s mandate various times. However, when reading the recent country report published by the European Commission in April 2018, these problems are still on the forefront despite improvements in many other sectors. Taking into account the original objectives, even EU officials acknowledge the lack of success in EULEX‘ reform endeavors. But what are the reasons for the mission’s inefficacy, and what are lessons learned to apply in future measures of EU support to Kosovo, apart from the obvious challenges listed above?
Status quo, lip service and reforming the reform
Beyond being a test case for the CDSP and restraint from the beginning through its mandate, EULEX faced numerous challenges since its launch, both from outside and from within. Crucially, the people of Kosovo were (and remain) prejudiced against this EU interference in their country while at the same time acting as mediator in the dialogue with Serbia resulting in violent protests early on, coupled with dissatisfaction regarding economic opportunities. Public protests and graffiti opposing the vast international presence can still be found throughout the country and especially in the Northern – Serb majority – provinces, where due to their limited mandate, EULEX personnel were for a long time not able to execute any reforms due to security threats. Corruption and TOC flourish here especially, resulting in tensions between but also among the ethnicities. A recent example of this was the murder of Oliver Ivanovic, a Serb politician in the Serb-majority north of Mitrovica, most likely in relation to organised crime.
Furthermore, while it was mentioned that the will for cooperation (and corresponding financial support) on the part of the government remained high throughout the mission, implementation was long in coming and progress was slow and marginal. The diplomatic dance can be witnessed from one joint conference to the next, with both sides praising each others efforts and EU officials amicably hinting to minor shortcomings, answered invariably by the respective minister’s promise to concentrate all efforts on reform and implementation of the provisions determined in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) of 2013.
Yet, with established elites retaining their power and corruption running high, the envisioned transformation process very much opposes their interests, and the mission leadership fearing instability was careful not to create open disputes with the government. Not least are EU policies a popular target especially during elections, given their unpopularity among the population especially paired with grievances such as the fact that Kosovo remains the only country in the region not being granted visa liberalisation, linked both to border demarcation with Montenegro and rule of law reform.
Nonetheless, structural shortcomings within the mission contributed to the limited success as well. The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has published a Special Report on the European Union Assistance to Kosovo Related to the rule of law in 2012 and lament its limited effectiveness. Staff constraints and especially strategic and coordination shortcomings were criticised, endangering rule of law reforms particularly in the North. The report was especially discouraging given the large financial resources provided to EULEX and wider EU efforts, and the result was a further decrease in credibility. While it lead to a restructuring of the mission, EULEX became increasingly sidelined particularly with the taking effect of the SAA which comprises a much wider reform package based on EU accession criteria.
Yet, expectations directed at this ambitious mission far exceeded its mandate – and the same is true for the eventual commitment by its staff. A political mission can never replace policies. EULEX from the very start was missing coherence and guidance, given the lack of an integrated EU line for Kosovo. While equipped with executive powers, these were not just problematic regarding the fear of renewed instability, but also given the mission’s objective to create a self-sustainable judicial system independent of international interference; the transition process began in 2014.
Allies with benefits: the rocky path to EU accession and a regional perspective
The preceding recapitulation makes it clear that the ambitious onset of this prominent CSDP mission was closely followed by a feeling of utter disillusionment. Scattered efforts of UN, OSCE and the lack of coherence even within the EU now stand as a lesson learned the hard way in political strategy papers of these organisations, and together with internal frictions and external resistance have resulted in a very obvious failure of its original purpose. Yet, a more strategic approach in EU foreign policy based on these lessons has helped sharpen the organisation’s profile in this field, not least leading to the 2016 Global Strategy published by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
A Polis Brief providing a broader analysis on the topic and its implications not least for the current debate on possible accession talks with Albania and Macedonia will be published shortly.
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Image source: “Independence”, Mat Slougther, https://bit.ly/2JO2VHO, licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.