EU foreign ministers are meeting on Monday (26 May) to discuss looming delays of the bloc`s mission to Kosovo, with the lack of a UN blessing for Europe`s judges and policemen proving a major obstacle, according to EU Observer

The mission was originally supposed to take over from international officials in the former Serbian province by 15 June, when the constitution of the newly independent state - which refers to the presence and responsibilities of the new EU body - takes effect. 

Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, has stressed that there will not be a new deadline added to the ministers` conclusions from the Monday meeting.

But logistical problems with the deployment of over 2,000 EU personnel and question marks over the project`s legal status have seen several EU officials admit that delays are unavoidable, while refusing to clarify how long things may take.

Without a proper mandate from the UN`s security council, some countries - mainly Russia - suggest that a shift of competences from international community representatives to the EU body would mean a breach of international law.

Some analysts suggest that if it becomes clear at a forthcoming gathering of the UN`s general assembly in September that a significant number of countries worldwide have recognised Kosovo, the UN secretary general could give a positive signal to at least a partial takeover of the EU policing team in Pristina.

The whole 27-strong EU bloc gave a green light to the Kosovo mission, but five countries remain persistent in their decision not to recognise the country`s independence, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia.

Russia deadlock overcome

EU foreign ministers are due to formally approve the EU`s mandate for talks with Russia on the updated version of the "Partnership and Co-operation" pact, following an 18 month-long deadlock.

The agreement was previously blocked by Poland due to a Russian embargo on Polish meat and plant exports, and more recently by Lithuania, in protest against Moscow`s energy policies and its involvement in Georgia`s separatist conflicts.

With the meat and plant embargo obstacle removed and Lithuania`s worries assuaged, the EU should be able to kick-start the talks with Russia in June, at the first summit hosted by new Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

Eastern links under the spotlight

Also at Monday`s ministerial session, Poland and Sweden will seek to gather support for their "Eastern Partnership" - a multinational forum between the EU-27 and neighbouring states Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The project has been inspired by the "Mediterranean Union" - strongly advocated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as a way to boost links with the union`s southern neighbours.

But while Paris has hinted it would have "no difficulties in supporting the Polish initiative," Ukrainian officials gave it a cold response, according to Polish press agency PAP, stressing that Kiev is instead interested in full EU membership.

"This formula is wrong," one Ukrainian diplomat said. "We`re not interested in being the leader of a group of countries such as Armenia or Azerbaijan, which the EU does not take into account as potential members. This would delay our entry to the EU."

The foreign ministers will be accompanied by their defence colleagues on Monday and ministers for development aid on Tuesday.

EU Observer