Independence Plan Europe Looking for Kosovo's Future

What to do about Kosovo will be high up on the agenda at the European Union summit on Friday. But Slovenia, which takes over the EU presidency in January, may have a plan.

The look through a window of a burnt Serbian Orthodox monastery in Kosovo.

The look through a window of a burnt Serbian Orthodox monastery in Kosovo.

The photo op was the easy part. European Union leaders on Thursday gathered in Lisbon for a brief two-hour ceremony to sign the new EU treaty in the hopes that it won't meet the same fate as the EU constitution did two years ago. But on Friday in Brussels, the real work starts -- and high up on the agenda is finding a common position on what to do about potential Kosovo independence.

With negotiations between the majority-Albanian province of Serbia and the government in Belgrade having failed, everybody is expecting Kosovo to declare independence soon after the new year. Some countries in Europe, though -- like Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece and Romania -- have expressed reservations about recognizing such a declaration. Slovenia, though, may be showing the way forward.

The country, which will assume the EU's rotating presidency on Jan. 1, may have come up with a plan to help Kosovo on the road to independence. According to a report in the International Herald Tribune this week, the approach would see the international community recognize Kosovo in stages with the core EU group including Britain, France, Italy and Germany going first, within 48 hours.

The US would recognize Kosovo's independence soon after with Switzerland, Iceland and Norway following. The next group, the plan foresees, would comprise countries in the neighborhood including Turkey, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia itself. Finally, the 56 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference would offer their rubber stamp to the independence declaration.

The goal, EU officials made clear, was to rule out the possibility of further conflict in the Balkans and to maintain European cohesion. EU officials laid out a precise plan that would probably begin after Serbian elections in early February; any effort to assert independence prior to the two rounds of Serbian elections -- scheduled for Jan. 20 and Feb. 8 -- may boost Serbian nationalists.

With Serbia continuing its opposition to Kosovo independence, and Russia firmly behind Belgrade, the EU is concerned about the possibility of renewed violence breaking out in the region. In addition, the EU is planning on taking over the administration of Kosovo from the UN, but all 27 countries need to approve to put such a plan in motion.

A spokeswoman from the Slovenian embassy in Brussels refused to confirm the details of the plan, as published in the IHT. She said on Thursday that her government was "going through various options to see which ones are realistic."

Also on Thursday, EU's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the Finnish daily Uutispaiva Demari that the question of Kosovo's independence would not be addressed until late winter or early spring. Analysts speculate that Rehn does not want to initiate discussions until after Serbian presidential elections, in which Kosovo's status is a central issue. Serbia considers Kosovo the symbolic heart of the nation despite the fact that over 90 percent of the population are ethnic Albanians. Only some 100,000 Serbs still live in the province.

Monday marked the end of a four month negotiation period on the future of Kosovo that had been organized by the United Nations. While Russia insisted that the talks should continue, most European states, the US and Muslim countries agreed that Belgrade and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian minority were no closer to settlement. On Wednesday, the UN's security council officially tuned down Russia's request for further talks.



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