Monday, December 12, 2005

EU plans leading role in Kosovo

The EU is planning to take a leading role in Kosovo after the future of the Serbian province is decided next year.

Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are discussing a proposal for the EU to take over policing Kosovo from the UN.

The report also suggests sending prosecutors, judges and prison staff to guarantee the rule of law.

And it calls for a substantial increase in EU aid to the region, currently a UN protectorate, where more than half the population is unemployed.

The report, by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and enlargement commission Olli Rehn, talks of a tangible European prospect, whatever the outcome of the status talks between the majority ethnic Albanians and Serbian leaders.

The ethnic Albanians are pressing for independence, while Serbia wants to hold on to the province.

In the past few weeks, the EU has moved to strengthen ties with all the countries in its troubled Balkan backyard, offering eventual membership as an incentive for stability.

But the policy of engaging the Balkans could come unstuck if EU leaders fail to reach an agreement this week on the bloc's long-term financing.

The first casualty would be the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, which four years ago managed to step back from the brink of civil war with its ethnic Albanian minority.

A French diplomat told the BBC that it would be totally inexplicable to accept Macedonia as a candidate if the EU can't agree on how to pay for expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.

However, the EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, described Macedonia as the only functioning multi-ethnic state in the Balkans.

He said the country had earned candidate status, but was not ready to start membership talks yet.

Mr Rehn urged EU leaders to recognise Macedonia's progress at this week's summit as an important political signal to the whole Balkan region.

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