By Linda Karadaku
The European Council of Ministers extended the rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, for two more years, amid debate over the mission’s effectiveness.
Extending the mandate until June 14th 2014 means additional resources, so the Union has allocated a budget of 111m euros for the first year.
“EULEX is doing an important and good job in supporting the rule of law in Kosovo. I encourage the Kosovo authorities to make use of the EULEX expertise. In the future, more and more responsibility will need to be taken over by the local authorities,” EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said, welcoming the June 5th decision.
Though the mandate of the mission remains largely unchanged, it will be internally reconfigured according to a strategic review conducted by the EU. Civilian Operations Commander Hansjoerg Haber said the result will be a “stronger, leaner and more efficient mission. Changing circumstances mean changing priorities.”
The reconfiguration includes an overall staff reduction of about 25%, affecting both international and local staff. The cuts take effect this week. The mission “will continue to mainly consist of police officers, judges, prosecutors and customs officials.”
Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci presented a phased withdrawal strategy to Brussels officials earlier this month. “EULEX is not necessary here [beyond] 2014, but … can continue work on war crimes issues and the north until the end of 2015,” he said.
As for the EU’s eventual decision, Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi told SETimes, “I am content. This was the proposal of the government of Kosovo: until 2014.”
Critics insist EULEX has been inefficient in addressing high-profile corruption cases and ineffective in the Serb-dominated north, which does not recognise Pristina’s authority. The Mission still lacks freedom of movement there, a point local Serb leaders reconfirmed in Mitrovica “until further notice” this month.
“Any attempt to enter the area by force or clear the barricades will be seen as open aggression,” a self-described crisis centre in northern Mitrovica said after the latest clashes.
Yet Oliver Ivanovic, the state secretary in Serbia’s Ministry for Kosovo, told Tanjug that “the decision on co-operation with EULEX is not made by the municipality, but by the future government [of Serbia].”
“We will continue co-operation with EULEX for as long as we do not have something else. But we are not happy with some acts of EULEX. In some situations, EULEX [took] the side of the Albanians, of Pristina, and did not maintain its neutral status,” Ivanovic told SETimes.
He acknowledged however “We need EULEX because we Serbs and Albanians are not ready yet to co-operate with each other.”
The EU Mission is met with disappointment elsewhere in Kosovo. The Balkan Policy Institute reported in May 2011 that part of that stemmed from promises that the mission would deal with the “big fish” of corruption. The NGO said that in May 2011, the percentage of citizens happy with EULEX’s work had slid to 14%.
In response to criticsm last year from the NGO “Fol” (Speak Up), EULEX issued a news release that cited statistics on its cases and noted “It takes time to investigate cases properly.”
Despite critics, the EU itself believes in the Mission. “Kosovo has made progress since the launch of the mission and EULEX has contributed importantly to this,” Maja Kocijancic, Ashton’s spokesperson, told SETimes.