Why is the EU failing in Kosovo?
Commenting on a report by the European Court of Auditors recently (“A damning audit on the EU in Kosovo”, 8-14 November), I argued that Kosovo’s organised criminal circles have been left untouched by the mission that in 2008 was sent there to repress them – Eulex, the largest EU mission ever.
Eulex has also utterly failed to improve the local judiciary or stem corruption and impunity. I also argued that the broader EU presence has effectively chosen to appease a political elite that it is densely interlocked with those circles. All this despite the expenditure of almost €1.5 billion on Eulex and on technical assistance. What caused such a debacle?
Improving the rule of law in Kosovo was difficult, the auditors’ report says. But this was clear from the outset: the EU invested vast political and financial capital because it judged that it could succeed in that effort.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence was unilateral, and was not recognised by the majority of the international community and five EU member states. Moreover, Kosovo does not control part of the territory it claims – the northern corner, inhabited by Serbs who rejected Kosovo’s independence – where Eulex’s deployment met forbidding practical and political obstacles. Both of these are real problems, but, again, they were foreseen.
And neither prevented Eulex from fighting corruption and organised crime in the rest of Kosovo, based on an explicit mandate given by all member states. A more persuasive but damning explanation is weak management and supervision (indeed, the European Commission’s performance in Kosovo was superior to Eulex’s because of better management and oversight systems). Then there are the political explanations.
Firstly, the US still dominates in Kosovo: while I served in Kosovo, I often saw US views prevail over EU ones, on matters such as transport, energy and fiscal policy.
But if the Balkans are strategic to the EU, they are no longer a priority for the US. An ocean away, Washington has relatively little interest in developing Kosovo or reducing organised crime there; rather, it largely supports an elite whose docility it (legitimately) exploits, and thus indirectly perpetuates the problem.
Then there are the effects of the argument used by Western powers to justify recognising Kosovo’s independence. Acquiring statehood – they maintained – would gradually lead Kosovo to become a more stable, prosperous and democratic society.
Kosovo, conversely, is being captured by the elite we have described. To avoid contradiction, therefore, those powers – and above all the US – sought to cast over Kosovo’s internal problems a colourful veil of praise for its progress: Kosovo is their ‘baby’ and it must look good (a good example of this approach is an opinion piece by Kosovo’s international supervisor, Pieter Feith, published on the pages of European Voice on 9 September under the title “Hope in the Balkans”). In parallel, they argued against actions – such as crime repression or serious reform – that could provoke undesirable disturbances or shake the superficial political stability. Political expediency thus set the diplomats of those Western powers a much easier line to follow, but it exposed them to the blackmail of an elite that can provoke controlled internal or regional disorder at will – and has often used such methods.
The effect was to weaken irremediably any effort by Eulex to enforce the rule of law. In this context, that mission was instead used to achieve aims that were not its own – extending Kosovo’s authority over its northern corner and helping it to solve its other external problems – and which it could not achieve. It failed, predictably. But once it took this line, Eulex’s stated aims vanished, together with the EU’s long-term interests, and good relations with Kosovo’s elite became imperative. Once this mésalliance was sealed, a 3,000-strong mission became the ornate background for talks among its management, EU and US diplomats and Kosovo’s leaders.
Which is odd, because those resources could have been directed to Bosnia, for instance, whose deep and increasingly acute structural problems pose a far greater danger to the peace and stability of that region than Kosovo’s lucid criminals.
Andrea Lorenzo Capussela was head of the economics unit of the International Civilian Office in Kosovo in 2009-11.