EU Sets Agenda to Stabilize, Rebuild
By Anne Swardson and Charles Trueheart
COLOGNE, Germany, June 4While American hardware has dominated the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia, European leaders today vowed to provide the leadership and money to dominate the peace.
"Let this be a turning point for southeastern Europe and the Balkans," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the final day of a two-day European Union summit here. "Let this mark the point at which these countries, so often scarred by ethnic conflict and racial divides, be brought properly into the true family of European nations."
Though the question of who will lead the international military force that will keep peace in Kosovo has not been decided, it will clearly not be the United States. It is also clear that Europe will foot most of the bill for rebuilding the shattered Serbian province.
Already, the EU is setting up what it calls a "stability pact" for the Balkans, under which the 15-nation union will provide financial aid and a special representative to deal with the region. In a statement issued at the close of their meeting today, leaders of the EU nations dangled the prospect -- albeit a distant one -- of eventual EU membership to countries of the Balkan region.
The statement also said the union would "take a leading role in the reconstruction efforts in Kosovo" and would create a special agency to begin the process. President Clinton has said the United States will pick up very little of that expense.
The effort to solve the Kosovo crisis was led initially by Europeans and formally began at a peace conference in Rambouillet, France, in February orchestrated by the French and British governments with U.S. and Russian participation. Unlike the first Balkans war in 1992-95, Europe was not going to succumb to irresolution and cede the peacemaking initiative to the United States, which brokered the Dayton peace accords of 1995.
In the wake of the failed Rambouillet talks, however, Europe had little choice but to turn to the United States and its powerful military, although France and Britain made significant contributions of personnel and air power. But in the early weeks of the air campaign, it was Blair and French President Jacques Chirac who showed the deepest wells of patience and resolution, diplomats and analysts here said.
"This was a strategic issue for European countries. You can debate whether it was a strategic issue for the United States," said an influential French official.
In the diplomatic endgame, official sources said, the international approach to a settlement bore European fingerprints.
From Europe came the push for a United Nations Security Council role and the successful campaign to turn the Russians from pro-Serb antagonists to neutral mediators. It was not until Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was brought in on behalf of the EU to convey -- with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin -- the immutable nature of the West's demands that Milosevic finally capitulated.
Under French pressure, the EU had been moving toward creating a permanent structure for military cooperation, including a rapid reaction force. Leaders meeting in Cologne committed themselves Thursday to organizing the defense arm by the end of 2000.
If there was a single reason why the European allies rallied so strongly to the cause, it was the horrifying spectacle of nearly a million displaced Kosovo Albanians and the atrocities and executions committed by Serb-led Yugoslav forces.
But a larger consequence of European participation in the NATO operation, according to diplomats and analysts here, is the emergence of a new way of thinking about Europe.
Said Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, "Europeans learned to work together during this NATO action."
Swardson reported from Cologne, Trueheart from Paris.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company