The European Union had been planning to take over responsibility for policing and justice in Kosovo by mid-June. Now, however, the EU mission faces delays due to a failure to reach an agreement with the United Nations, which is currently administering the former Serbian province.
EU foreign ministers this week acknowledged that their plans to take over from the UN policing mission (UNMIK) with a 2,200 strong police and justice mission was likely to be delayed by weeks if not months. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he expected the EU mission, named EULEX, to first become fully operational in September or October.
The main stumbling block has been Russia's insistence that the UN Security Council has to approve any hand over to the EU. Russia, an ally of Serbia, has vowed to veto any new resolution, but the EU is arguing that the law-and-order mission is already covered by current UN Resolution 1244.
The UN mission has had decision-making authority in Kosovo since 1999 when a NATO bombing campaign ended a brutal crackdown and ethnic cleansing by Serbs on Kosovo-Albanian separatists. Kosovo declared independence in February and while not all EU countries have recognized the nascent country, the 27 member states still agreed to send the police mission to Kosovo by June 15 when UN administrators are expected to hand over leadership of the fledgling government to Kosovo's authorities.
Officials now predict an awkward period of cohabitation between the EU and the UN in Kosovo. Joachim Rücker, who heads UNMIK in Kosovo, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the UN could bring in EULEX under its auspices. "It is certainly a viable option that EULEX would come under what people call a UN umbrella," he said. However, from the Brussels point of view its rule-of-law mission would give the EU rather than the UN the final say over Kosovo's affairs. The EU's top diplomat, Javier Solana, is due to meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Stockholm on Thursday to discuss the diplomatic deadlock.
Meanwhile, NATO has insisted that it will not be left to act as a police force in Kosovo as a result of the delays. Its 16,000-strong peacekeeping force, KFOR, has been based in Kosovo since 1999.
"We don't want KFOR to be in the position of first responder," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters on Wednesday ahead of a meeting between NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Ban Ki-moon in New York. "It is not a police force and should not be in the position of being a police force."
The threat of violence erupting is very real, with ethnic Serbs vowing they will not recognize the new Kosovo Albanian government in Pristina. Only two months ago, riots broke out in Kosovo's largest Serbian minority enclave. The fighting caused the death of a UN police officer.