PRISTINA, Kosovo – The European Union’s mission to ensure the rule of law in Kosovo said Thursday it considered its work in the troubled state a success, as it scales down its operations after a decade helping guide the country to independence.
Thousands of EU staff helped Kosovo’s judicial and law enforcement officials build an independent, multi-ethnic government since it broke away from Serbia in 2008. Starting Friday, the mission will turn from an executive to a monitoring and advisory one.
“Our biggest success is the fact that we are phasing out,” mission head Alexandra Papadopoulou said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press, the day its executive mandate was over.
She added that the judiciary still has “weak and problematic issues” and “there are a lot of things to be improved and a lot of gaps to be filled.”
Kosovo Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri acknowledged the mission, known as EULEX, “has helped in building the capacities of the rule of law institutions.”
But the country’s courts and prosecution are among the most distrusted institutions in Kosovo, according to a poll conducted from the Pristina-based Group for Legal and Political Studies organization last year.
The group said those institutions were influenced by politics, and corruption remains high, including among top officials.
The parliament was troubled for months by opposition lawmakers who used tear gas, water bottles and other hard objects to stop a vote on a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.
Kosovo’s Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians. Most Western states have recognized Kosovo’s independence, though Russia supports Serbia’s claims over its former province.
Brussels has since 2011 served as moderator between Serbia and Kosovo, telling them they must normalize relations in order to advance toward membership in the bloc. But ethnic tensions have persisted and violence breaks out occasionally, especially in the divided northern region of Mitrovica, where most of the ethnic Serb minority lives. Earlier this year a Serb politician was murdered, a still unresolved case.
The new mandate for the EU mission will include 503 staff members, down from the current 800, and will no longer include judges and prosecutors. It will monitor selected cases and trials, and support EU-backed talks aimed at smoothing ties between Serbia and Kosovo.
The mission’s limited mandate has been extended until June 14, 2020.
Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.