Slovenia, a country which did not exist 16 years ago, faces a major challenge on its doorstep in the months ahead. The young state, which declared its independence from Yugoslavia at the beginning of the last decade, will have to control the operations which will facilitate the independence of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Two weeks before the start of Slovenia's Presidency, EU leaders meeting in Brussels clearly stated that Kosovo's future status is "a European responsibility" and that they intended to take the lead in this process from the UN Security Council. They put words into practice by agreeing to deploy a vast police mission in Kosovo in early 2008.

Being in the EU's driving seat, Slovenia is now responsible for putting this plan into practice. It faces a major political and logistical challenge given its limited diplomatic resources. However, the country's close links with both Serbia and Kosovo might prove to be of critical importance. So, too, might be its own experience in gaining independence in a relatively peaceful way. Following its declaration of independence, Slovenia engaged in what proved to be only a short military action against the Yugoslav federal army, which had attacked the newly-born country.

To succeed, Ljubljana will need to manage three separate diplomatic operations: within the EU, with Serbia and Kosovo, and with third countries, especially Russia.

Full unity

Despite the breakthrough at the European Council in December, the European Union is still not entirely united on Kosovo. A majority of member states support internationally supervised independence for the province. But a handful, including Cyprus, oppose such a status. They fear it might create a precedent for...

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