By Muhamet Brajshori and Ivana Jovanovic
In a move intended to bridge the differences between EU member states which recognise Kosovo and those which do not, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has named outgoing Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar to head the new EU office in Kosovo.
The office was created by unifying the existing European Commission Liaison Office and the Office of the EU Special Representative (EUSR), each of which had a different representative.
Ashton’s spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told SETimes that the EU reached a compromise to make Zbogar the EU’s sole representative, pending European Council approval early next year.
“The EU had to adjust its presence in Kosovo in light of our clear commitment and engagement to Kosovo’s European prospects and challenges ahead, and taking into account the Lisbon Treaty,” Kocijancic said.
Zbogar is well known in Kosovo and the region for his efforts to advance EU integration.
“The western Balkans is like a puzzle; if a piece is missing, the whole picture is incomplete. While the process of Euro-Atlantic integration is specific to each country and based on the merits of each, it is also important that no country should lag behind,” Zbogar wrote in Europe’s World in the autumn of 2010.
Kosovo Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi told SETimes the government wholeheartedly welcomed Zbogar’s appointment.
“He has been a key figure in supporting EU enlargement for the entire Balkans and for Kosovo’s EU prospects,” Selimi said.
Selimi added that Kosovo expects Zbogar will bring new insight to EU policy towards Kosovo in light of the new relationship the two will form next year.
“We expect in 2012 for Kosovo to enter into a formal relationship with the EU. Hence, Zbogar’s role will be to usher both Kosovo and EU into a new era of a progressive relationship,” Pristina-based Balkan Policy Institute Executive Director Seb Bytyci told SETimes.
Bytyci explained the appointment suggests the EU is looking for new dynamism in the region, a new perspective on issues, knowing that Slovenian diplomats can play a ‘translator’ role given their heritage as a state in the former Yugoslavia.
Bytyci also views Zbogar’s appointment in light of Germany’s increased engagement in the region.
“It seems Germany has taken over the role of driving EU policy towards Kosovo and the Western Balkans. This is important because it is already understood that the ‘cold peace’ which existed in the Balkans after the wars must be converted into [something] stable, and this stability can only come with the normalisation of Kosovo-Serbia relations and the suppression of parallel institutions in Kosovo,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, contradictory and conflicting information has been circulating in the Serbian media. One claim that caused much anguish in Belgrade was that Zbogar had been appointed EU ambassador to Kosovo.
“Zbogar was not appointed EU ambassador to Kosovo, he is not even a head of mission in Kosovo, he is a head of office because of the simple reason that not all EU countries have recognized Kosovo,” Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration Director Jelena Milic explained to SETimes. “Therefore he does not have the same function like, for example, the EU head of mission in Belgrade has.”
The Serbian government’s expectations regarding the appointment concern finding just solutions and respecting international agreements, primarily UN Resolution 1244.
“We hope that Zbogar, as a person from the region, in a wider sense will contribute to advancing the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue as well as to finding solutions in Kosovo that will enable the survival of the Serbs there and the return of the displaced,” Miloje Mihajlovic, director of the government media relations office, told SETimes.
“I really believe Zbogar’s activities at the new position will help Serbia on its European path,” Mihajlovic added.
“Zbogar is the smallest common denominator of everything that all EU countries expect regardless of whether they have or have not recognised Kosovo, and his appointment may be for the better for Serbia — only if Serbia understands what the EU expects as well,” Milic said.