Dealing with Kosovo
Steinmeier told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germany, which on Jan. 1 assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union, would contribute financing and personnel for a European civil mission when the time came.
"We will have to deal with Kosovo right at the beginning of the year," Steinmeier said when asked about the biggest problem facing him in 2007. "The upcoming decision about its future status is closely linked to the issue of stability in the Balkans. The EU, which will take over responsibility from the UN, will do everything in its power to prevent any new conflicts with Serbia."
Steinmeier said the EU wanted a "functioning community" in Kosovo "in which all citizens -- Albanians as well as Serbs -- can live in peace and security."
He noted that the EU mission in Kosovo would include police officers as well as justice and administrative officials from across the bloc.
"It will cost money and we will need people," he said. "But you only need to recall the horrors of the Balkans wars in the 1990s to know that stability in the Balkans is of great importance and deserves our complete engagement."
Biggest European civil mission
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999 when a NATO bombing campaign ended a crackdown by Belgrade on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels.
UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari began difficult negotiations in February 2006 with Serbian and Kosovo authorities to define the future status of the province, described by the Serb constitution as an integral part of the country.
He was due to make recommendations to the UN by the end of the year, but has now said that he will reveal his plans for the future of the majority ethnic-Albanian region after the general elections in Serbia on Jan. 21.
The decision will trigger the deployment of the biggest European civil mission ever assembled.