Log book: Defense subcommittee chairman Karl von Wogau in Kosovo (Englisch)

Europolitics has decided to hand the pen to European leaders during their missions or displacements. The first ‘log book’ comes from a delegation of the European Parliament’s Defence Subcommittee, which visited Kosovo between 6 and 8 February. Made up of Angelika Beer (Greens-EFA, Germany), the subcommittee’s Vice-Chairwoman, Ana Maria Gomes (PES, Portugal), and its Chair, Karl von Wogau (EPP-ED, Germany), the delegation met various leaders: from the future EULEX mission (Roy Reeve), from the Union’s civil mission (Jonas Jonsson and Renzo Daviddi), from KFOR (General Gerhard Stelz) and from NGOs and local authorities.

In Pristina, it was cold and grey. This added to the general atmosphere of depression that hit us on arriving in this country, while crossing the towns and villages. The buildings are not cheerful. Lots of grey, concrete and ruins. Often, constructions, which seem to have been started a decade ago, are still not finished. There are roofs and walls missing – many houses are uninhabitable. The roads leave an impression of dirtiness, bottles and plastic waste lie everywhere.

In all our meetings, we were faced with the fact that aside from the issue of security policy, it is the economic and social situation which is the most problematic. In effect, though everyone says that there could be local tensions, independence could happen without a large outbreak of violence. Or at least such outbreaks would remain controllable. The Serbian minorities can be protected. KFOR forces confirmed to us that they have enough resources for that. “The main risk is to find the Mitrovica bridge blocked, not by Albanians or Serbs but by... television crews,” one soldier told us. More seriously, uncertainty remains, once the festive lanterns have gone out and the cameras have disappeared. What is going to happen to the Serbs then? We can see perfectly well that Belgrade is supporting the Serbian minority by paying subsidies to people, by putting in place parallel structures (social security, schools, etc) to convince them to stay, or even to return (for those who have left). But our impression is that the Serbs who live outside are not going to come back to the country voluntarily. This same sentiment prevails among expatriated Albanians, that we will not see them return because of the country’s poor economic outlook.
For most inhabitants, there is little outlook. Many people do not have a job [unemployment stands at 50% to 80%, according to unreliable data – Ed]. School teaching is a disaster [50% of the population is under 20 and the schools lack teachers – Ed]. There is also a crucial lack of general infrastructures. The energy problem is recurrent, with erratic supply during the day.

Certainly, many Kosovars expect that independence will change all this, that businesses are going to thrive and that the country will become a flourishing state. But, from the international representatives’ point of view, it’s only a dream. After the declaration of independence, it is social and economic uncertainty which could reign and be a real threat for the country, without including the influence of organised crime. We can legitimately wonder: what have the country and the international authorities done in recent years to get to such a serious economic situation? And what will Europe do, if the influence of organised crime increases? Will we have to help a corrupt government? Certainly, the EU’s representatives are looking to differentiate themselves from the UN administration by stating that they are not there to administer the country, but just to give support to local authorities – except in the field of organised crime, where the EU will be the main player. They hope to profit from the faith that the Kosovars see in this arrival the start of a path toward Europe.

We have been struck by the great European preparations, especially of the EULEX rule of law mission. But certain problems remain, particularly in relations between the NATO and EU forces. The Turks have blocked the signing of a joint document regulating the exchange of information between the different forces. Instructions have therefore been given to each troop, but separately, with a risk of different interpretations.

Ultimately, the most important for the European Union, in the medium and long term, seems to be to maintain security and provide prospects. The general infrastructure must be improved – particularly regarding electricity, as well as in training and education. The example of Lycée Loyola – which we visited – and the work which has been done there is very encouraging. Young Kosovars, girls and boys learning together - this is the future of Kosovo.