West to grant Kosovo full sovereignty
Western powers prepared today (10 September) to grant Kosovo full sovereignty, ending formal international supervision of the former Serbian province that unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
Preparations were underway in the Kosovo capital Pristina to celebrate the end of the so-called period of “supervised independence” under the International Steering Group (ISG), which was created as part of recommendations made by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari in 2007.
The 25-nation ISG was formed on 28 February 2008 – 11 days after Kosovo’s self-declared independence. In July, ISG agreed to end its monitoring on Kosovo’s independence, and on 7 September the parliament in Pristina approved all the constitutional changes necessary to give Kosovo full independence.
The government hailed what it called "a historic day" and "the beginning of a new era."
The end of international supervision will not affect the presence of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force or the European rule of law mission EULEX, which was created to improve the justice system.
Pieter Feith, a Dutch diplomat who heads the international presence in Pristina, was expected to make the announcement that the supervision has been lifted, and close the International Civilian Office created by ISG to facilitate Kosovo’s transition to independence and European integration.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, writing in a commentary published by Western media, calls Kosovo “a success story for democratic values”, but warns that if his country could not see a clear horizon for EU accession, “then this promising new nation may be tempted to stumble backwards into the mindsets of the past.”
Kosovo faces countless challenges. It still doesn’t control the northern region of Mitrovica, mainly populated by Serbs. The country has Europe’s the lowest average yearly income - about €2,000 - and unemployment is 43%. Organised crime and corruption appear to be deeply entrenched in the society.
In addition, revelations on organ harvesting from prisoners, conducted by the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s, may mar the celebration. BETA, the EurActiv partner agency in Serbia, reported on 9 September that the country’s war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević found an eyewitness who purportedly took part in removing the heart of a Serbian prisoner for the international organ market.
The members of the ISG are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, nine years after the end of the 1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo became an international protectorate under a UN mandate, patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.
Since its proclaimed independence, the two million-strong republic – 90% of which is composed of ethnic Albanians – has established many of the trappings of statehood, including a new constitution.
More than 90 countries have recognised Kosovo, including the US and most EU member states except Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia. Serbia, backed by Russia, is staunchly opposed to Kosovo's independence.
The EU deployed a rule of law mission, dubbed 'EULEX Kosovo', in December 2008 with the intention of taking over post-crisis management in the territory, which lies on the European continent. The aim of the operation is to assist and support the Kosovar authorities with the rule of law, specifically regarding the police, the judiciary and customs.
The EULEX mission is the largest EU civilian mission ever launched. The 3,000-member mission was launched in December 2008 and has the power to take on cases that the local judiciary and police are unable to handle.
Commissioner or Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said at the dinner marking the end of the supervised independence in Pristina, Kosovo:
''After the end of the supervised independence there will be more, not less, European Union in Kosovo. We are committed to support your efforts and we are determined to play an even more prominent role than we did so far."
"When there is a strong consensus within society to push through the hard but necessary reforms, the European Union keeps its commitments. It also confirms that the road to enlargement facilitates reconciliation and helps to resolve the remaining challenges of the region," Füle added.