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Europe’s Second Chance in the Balkans

Confronting the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, former EU Council President Jacques Poos made his famous but now derided statement: “This is the hour of Europe… not the hour of the Americans.” What the EU learned from the subsequent four years of Balkan disasters under its management is now being tested by another major turning point and potential crisis – when and how Kosovo is to become independent. Once again, Europe’s role may well prove decisive.

The decision on Kosovo may not imply the prospect of renewed large-scale conflict, but it does raise serious questions for Europe’s relations with Russia and the United States, as well as for stability throughout the Balkans. While the US has a major stake in the outcome, EU countries obviously have the most significant interests in the region, and perhaps this time they will assume a corresponding leadership role.

For at least the next two months, the United Nations Security Council will debate a blueprint for Kosovo’s future, arduously worked out during a year of “negotiations” between the governments in Belgrade and Pristina by UN envoy and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. The bluebrint provides for Kosovo’s “supervised independence,” maximum protection for Serb and other minorities, and a supervisory role for the EU. Ahtisaari’s proposal is an acknowledgement that no agreement between the parties is possible, and that there is no constructive alternative to Kosovo’s independence.

Together with the US, the EU collectively has rallied around the Ahtisaari proposal. But individually, a number of European countries – Spain, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, and Austria – are skeptical or negative toward Kosovo independence, which raises profound questions about the EU’s resolve.