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". Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Lagendijk, the process of determining the future status of Kosovo – the most urgent political problem in the Western Balkans at the present time – is entering its final, decisive stage. On 26 March, the United Nations Secretary-General forwarded the Comprehensive Proposal for a Kosovo Status Settlement of his Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, to the UN Security Council in New York. The Special Envoy is due to explain his proposal in person to the members of the Security Council on 3 April. The EU’s preparatory work focuses on the following three fields. Firstly, on support for the proposed international civilian presence. The relevant EU preparatory team is working locally, including in close cooperation with KFOR, UNMIK and Kosovo’s leaders, on targeted preparations for the establishment and inauguration of the International Civilian Office (ICO). Secondly, our work focuses on preparations for the ESDP rule of law mission. We have already made great progress on these. We anticipate that the EU will be granted a mandate that includes monitoring and providing guidance and advice to the local authorities in the broader area of the rule of law. We also expect the mandate to cover executive powers in some fields relating to the police – including the maintenance of law and order in the case of disorder and gatherings of people – and to the judiciary and customs. Our planning is flexible and will be adapted to developments in the situation if necessary. Thirdly, the preparatory work focuses on defining the prospect of Kosovo’s EU membership and on support for its economic and social development. In this context, we welcome Parliament’s interest in Kosovo, which is also reflected in this draft report. Mr Lagendijk’s report on the future of Kosovo and the role of the EU represents a valuable contribution to international efforts to promote a lasting solution to the Kosovo issue. I should like to conclude by reiterating that the process of resolving the status of Kosovo is entering a decisive stage. This means the EU faces a twofold challenge. Firstly, maintaining unity in its search, together with its international partners, for a lasting solution for Kosovo, Serbia and the region as a whole; and, secondly, intensifying its preparations to support international efforts to implement Kosovo’s status. The Kosovo status settlement represents the end point in the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. It is a unique case and, as such, cannot set any precedents for other ‘frozen conflicts’. The status settlement is a fundamental precondition for stabilising Kosovo, Serbia and the region as a whole. As the conflicts of the 1990s have proved, sustainable stability in the Western Balkans is an issue central, not to say vital, to European security. As in other fields, our unity is key in achieving a lasting solution. The EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs examined the proposed solution in detail at the Council of 12 February. Expressing their full support to Mr Ahtisaari, they noted that the proposed status settlement was designed to promote in Kosovo a multi-ethnic and democratic society based on the rule of law. They also expressed their conviction that the Special Envoy’s proposals create the basis for sustainable economic and political development in Kosovo and will contribute to strengthening the stability of the region. Belgrade and Priština held further rounds of talks on the proposals in February and March, first at expert level and then, on 10 March, at the highest political level. As a result of the talks, Mr Ahtisaari further extended some of the already far-reaching provisions for the protection of the Kosovo Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. On the whole, however, the talks revealed the differences between the two sides to be irreconcilable. Priština approved the status package in the end, whilst Belgrade rejected it. Subsequently, on 10 March, Mr Ahtisaari declared the talks at an end and announced his intention to forward his proposed status settlement immediately to the UN Security Council – quite rightly, in the opinion of the Presidency. After all, even if the negotiations were to continue for weeks or months to come, Belgrade and Priština are not moving any closer to a compromise solution that both sides can support, as one year’s direct negotiations have shown. On the contrary, in the last round of negotiations, the positions of the two parties had become even more entrenched. The forwarding of the proposed status settlement to the UN Security Council last Monday took the Kosovo status process into its final, decisive stage. As Mr Lagendijk has just pointed out, it is essential that the EU introduce this stage by presenting a united front externally and speaking with one voice. The more visible the EU’s unity, the smaller the risk of a permanent blockade in the Security Council. The Presidency of the European Union trusts that the Security Council will discharge its responsibility, and hopes for its timely endorsement of the proposal. I should like to say a few words about the future role of the EU in Kosovo. The EU is prepared to take on an important role in the implementation of the status settlement. Work by the EU to prepare our contribution to an international presence in Kosovo following the resolution of the status issue is making good progress."@en1

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