As we speak the EU is having what will probably be the shortest European Union summit so far, with it having started at ten and due to get out shortly after lunch. Many hope this is a sign that the ‘new EU’ promised by the tightening-up of the reform treaty has arrived. Now that the reform treat has been agreed, the union can get down to business, the argument goes.
For those that want to see an efficient and effective EU, the proposed resolution of today’s meeting is a promising sign as well. The summit is set to agree to offer Serbia a fast track to EU membership in exchange for its acquiescence in Kosovo bid for independence. The agreement would also create an EU police force to protect and stabilize the new country, finally allowing the US-led NATO who have been occupying the country for six years to leave. The draft summit statement says the mission for Kosovo would have up to 1,800 police, judges and prosecutors – making it the largest such mission ever undertaken by the bloc.
Many in the union are eager to show some foreign policy muscle as this crisis unfolds. The newly elected Kosovan government looks set to unilaterally declare independence after the February 4th. Serbia and Russia are opposing any such move, with Russia doing quite a lot of saber-rattling over the issue. This spells an impending diplomatic crisis, and after Europe’s failure to deal with the Yugoslav breakup disaster of the 1990’s (embarrassingly, the Americans had to step in and save the day yet again) many are looking for redemption through decisive leadership today. If it works, it will send a hugely important message that there is a new EU in town, one with some foreign policy muscle.
The easiest way to get a successful outcome out of this is for the EU to convince Serbia to go along with Kosovan independence (Russia wouldn’t have much of a reason to block the recognition of Kosovan independence in the UN if Serbia itself isn’t complaining about it), hence the offer of fast-track EU membership. But this carrot offer come with a big sacrifice. Serbia has yet to extradite all of its accused war criminals from the Yugoslav Civil War for trial in the Hague, and that has been what’s holding up their EU membership. Implicit in this fast-track offer is the offer to drop the war criminals issue. The Netherlands is not happy about this prospect, and indeed it would be a significant moral cave-in. But in the long run, is it more important to prevent another genocidal war happening next year, or to prosecute war criminals from the genocidal war of a decade ago? If by letting the war crimes issue go the EU can prevent another disaster in its backyard, do the ends justify the means?
Given that Slovenia - which itself split off from Yugoslavia in the 90’s and is today the first former Yugoslav republic to have joined the EU – holds the EU presidency next year, it will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Slovenia obviously has a vested interest in spreading EU membership through the Balkans as quickly as possible, but at the same time they also have a vested interest in seeing that the perpetrators of war crimes against their neighbors are brought to justice. It will be interesting to watch, especially since this situation directly affects my housing. My landlord is a Serbian living in Kosovo in one of the NATO-protected enclaves, and I have a feeling that if independence is declared he’s going to want to move him and his family back to London, and then I’m out on the street!