”]Prime Minister Hashim Thaci reiterated at the beginning of this month that 2012 will mark the conclusion of supervised independence, with a decision to that effect expected by the end of January. That’s when the International Steering Group is expected meet and set a timetable for the beginning of the end.

The EU has been adjusting its presence in Kosovo, appointing outgoing Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar as the new head of the EU office. He will also serve as an EU special representative, but will not be considered head of an EU delegation because five EU members do not recognise Kosovo’s independence.

The EU is also rethinking its rule of law mission, EULEX, stressing however, “Rule of law is a clear obligation of Kosovo and we are helping out. I think it’s in the interest of both the EU and Kosovo to work well together,” EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic tells SETimes.

Francoise Lambert, deputy head of the EULEX Press Office, confirms to SETimes that the contracts of around 70 staff members from the Customs and Police Component will not be extended due to partial restructuring. However, around 40 new positions in the Justice Component have been created, where priority will be given to these staff members.

She adds, “It would be patronising to suggest that the size of our mission is directly linked to Kosovo’s readiness to act on its own. Kosovo is already acting on its own in many areas. But clearly over time, as Kosovo’s capacities and standards in the rule of law increase, our mission’s focus will narrow down and our numbers are likely to reduce.”

In December, a Kosovo government delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci visited Brussels to discuss the initial phase of the end of supervised independence.

Kuci told SETimes the meetings focused on “how we should approach this important and very sensitive issue. There are several fields in which the capacities of the local institutions have increased and on which the local institutions can do the work even without the assistance of the internationals. But there are also several fields — such as war crimes and organised crime — in which we will need the assistance of EULEX or even other mechanisms for some time more. What I can say is that we have great co-operation with the EU and the US, and any action to be taken in the process of ending the supervised independence will be in full harmony with Brussels and Washington.”

The government says issues discussed in particular were “the justice system, police and other segments where the reduction of EU members of the mission can start.”

They also agreed to compile a joint plan, specifying the duties and concrete obligations of the Kosovo institutions and EULEX, regarding northern Kosovo. The government aims to impose functional rule of law across the entire territory of Kosovo.

“Kosovo is lucky,” Khaldoun Sinno, head of the EU Liaison Office in Pristina, told the Kosovo daily Zeri. Because Kosovo is situated in a region of European enlargement, together with other countries it is considered for inclusion in the EU. He said that means Kosovo is due for an estimated 70m euros in assistance per year.

The end of supervised independence would also mean the closure of the International Civilian Office (ICO) this year. ICO spokesperson Christian Palme tells SETimesthat substantial parts of the Comprehensive Status Proposal have been implemented, but adds “There is a clearly defined set of remaining tasks in our work plan for 2012 that we will continue working on with our partners in the government of Kosovo and the ISG.”

Political analyst and columnist Belul Beqaj, acting president of the NGO European Movement in Kosovo, wonders whether the ICO contributions went far enough. After the ICO closes and EULEX reduces its presence, he says, “Kosovo will miss what it has been missing so far: accountability and responsibility of the leadership … [leading to] evident failures, which in a way or another, have been covered by the foreigners,” Beqaj told SETimes.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina

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