The European Court of Auditors has audited the European Union's efforts to improve the rule of law in Kosovo and on 30 October published a report that is an admirable, if charitably narrow, exercise in accountability. Little praise and stern criticism is offered to Eulex, the rule-of-law mission, whereas the European Commission is found to have been relatively efficient. But both committed strategic errors.
Organised crime and corruption remain high in Kosovo, and its authorities seem reluctant to tackle them, the report finds. Scattered across the report, a dozen instances are also noted in which policies made corruption easier or its repression more difficult: for instance, the authorities declined Commission advice to restructure the public-procurement institutions and accepted less than half of the recommendations formulated by EU-funded anti-corruption experts, without explanation. This reveals a lucid, strategic approach: Kosovo is in fact governed by a largely predatory elite that uses corruption not just for enrichment but also to support the patronage system upon which its power rests, and to favour the organised crime it often benefits from.
This picture was known when Eulex was granted its mandate to strengthen Kosovo's rule-of-law institutions and repress serious crime: the idea was that while guiding the predictably slow progress of those institutions, the mission's investigators, prosecutors and judges would start cleaning up the country. According to the report, Kosovo's police and judiciary have made no progress since Eulex started assisting them: they remain subject to political interference and utterly unable to confront serious crime. The mission is found to have worked well in customs, but all it did was not ruin a service that already worked rather well (revenue merely tracked the growth of imports): Eulex should have concentrated its resources on the real problems.
Eulex's graver failures were in the other part of its mission's mandate, regrettably not covered by the report. Its near-complete inaction on high-level corruption and organised crime has consolidated a ten-year tradition of impunity. And some inexplicable mistakes have objectively strengthened the leading faction of Kosovo's elite, which could thus spread its influence so pervasively across the institutions that Kosovo is now at risk of state capture, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently noted.
It is against this background that we should read the report's anodyne observation that EU strategies in Kosovo have neglected the internal security of the Union. For the organised crime that operates in Kosovo – which deals in narcotics, weapons, money-laundering, human trafficking and illegal migration, and flourishes thanks to endemic corruption and near-complete impunity – still poses a serious threat to member states. More so, probably, than when Eulex was deployed almost five years ago.
The EU's common foreign policy has structural flaws: Kosovo crudely demonstrated them when its independence split the member states, five of which still refuse to recognise it. Yet the EU restored some semblance of unity by establishing Eulex, which is its largest mission ever and was heralded as the ‘flagship' of its security and defence policy. Because Kosovo always mattered to the EU – since the 1999 conflict it has received almost €4 billion (including the cost of Eulex), by far the largest per-capita flow of EU aid ever.
Such political and financial investment implies that the effectiveness – if not the strategic adequacy and coherence – of the common foreign policy must be measured above all in Kosovo. This debacle has, therefore, seriously damaged its credibility. If accountability will not be enforced across Eulex's chain of command there can be little hope of improving implementation of the foreign policy of the EU.
Andrea Lorenzo Capussela was head of the economics unit of the International Civilian Office in Kosovo in 2009-11.