The Need to Recognise Kosovo

, by Johannes Langer

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The Need to Recognise Kosovo

The ICJ ruling on 22nd July 2010 was an encouraging signal for Kosovo’s independence. Yet, five EU member states continue to block Kosovo’s full sovereignty and thus the region’s prosperity.

“The declaration of independence of the 17th of February 2008 did not violate general international law.” The long-awaited decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 22nd of July 2010 gave Kosovo’s claim to independence another boost. Thus, it is widely believed that many more than the current 71 countries which recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state will follow suit and eventually Kosovo is going to join the United Nations as its 193th member state. There are still five EU member states, however, that block Kosovo’s recognition as an independent state due to nationalist fears that one of their provinces might break away. As a consequence, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain are not only blocking Kosovo’s full sovereignty but also the long-term stability in the Western Balkans.

ICJ Ruling Spurs Recognition of Kosovo

Justice Hisashi Owada, president of the ICJ, announced on 22nd of July 2010 that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence two and a half years ago was not illegal. Ten of the fourteen judges voted in favour of the ruling which will ultimately spur other countries to recognise Kosovo. It has to be kept in mind, however, that the issue of recognition is considered a political decision by the ICJ. Many international lawyers and policy makers fear that the ruling has an impact for other separatist movements in Europe and around the globe – including Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Transnistria. Kosovar officials neglect such claims arguing that Kosovo is a case sui generis. In the end, it is going to be a matter of recognition by the 192 UN member states: will a majority of states establish diplomatic relationships or deny Kosovo’s formal recognition?

Kosovo’s Problems

In 2009, Kosovo became a member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund IFM. While the membership in international financial institutions was a big step in Kosovo’s efforts to gain foreign direct investment as well as financial support; poverty, corruption and unemployment are still endemic. As a matter of fact, Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe. 15% of Kosovo’s GDP depends on remittances from abroad while aid from donor countries accounts to 7.5%. State-building, as it is practiced by Kosovo since 1999, is a slow and difficult process. Kosovo has deep-rooted problems to solve and faces a lot of internal challenges.

The EU’s Indecisiveness

Not all of Kosovo’s troubles are home-made but are rather linked to the EU. To be more precise, the five member states that have not recognised Kosovo yet give the “newborn” state a hard time. Although Kosovo has only a population of barely two million, the EU has not granted visa liberalisation to Kosovo. While most people of the Western Balkans have finally gained access to the Schengen area without a visa in December 2009, Kosovo has been left out. Although Prishtina is facing some technical problems with biometrical passports, the main reason for Kosovo’s delay in the visa liberalisation is due to the five blocking countries. As a consequence, Kosovars have a hard time to travel to the EU and are treated as second-class citizens in Europe. Moreover, it would be crucial to upgrade the current “tracking mechanism” that monitors Kosovo’s progress towards the EU. Kosovo needs a clear European perspective and Brussels must be clear-cut about that. Serbia has to accept that they will not have a chance to deepen their EU membership negotiations in case the government continues to undermine Kosovo by creating parallel structures in the North. On the other side, Prishtina has to make sure to protect national minorities properly, let them have a say and provide them access to the resources needed.

Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain have an obligation to the whole region that is struggling for two decades.

A Question of Regional Prosperity

The understanding for the Serbian policy towards Kosovo is very low in Brussels after the ICJ ruling. The five blocking EU countries, however, continue to fuel illusions in Belgrade. In fact, such a policy does neither help Serbia nor Kosovo, but supports the stalemate in the region that longs for open borders that would finally bring prosperity and stability. The current unsatisfactory status-quo will continue, however, until Brussels bluntly confronts Belgrade that it has to recognise Kosovo in exchange for membership to the EU. Such a move might be the only chance that Serbian politicians actually comply – without losing their face – as the economic gains are, after all, of greater importance.

Some members of the European Parliament of the five blocking countries were already one step ahead of their respective governments on 8th of July 2010. At the plenary session in Strasbourg, not all of them voted according to their “national interest” but in favour of Kosovo’s recognition. Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain have an obligation to the whole region that is struggling for two decades. They have to permit the EU finalising its visa normalisation dialogue allowing visa-free travel for Kosovo passport holders.

As a next step, Kosovo’s accession talks to the EU should be deepened in order to fasten the reform process in the country. The blocking countries should remember the lesson of the ICJ ruling on 22nd of July: what matters is not the old dilemma of the right of self-determination versus the right of territorial integrity. Rather, the recognition of sovereign states decides whether or not a “newborn” state will be accepted in the international community. Thus, the five states should not fear to join the 22 other EU member states by recognizing Kosovo, contributing to a more stable future in the Western Balkans.

Image: Map of states that have recognised Kosovo independence, source: WikiMedia

Your comments
  • On 13 September 2010 at 16:26, by Vincent Venus (Treffpunkt Europa) Replying to: The Need to Recognise Kosovo

    Hi Johannes,

    I definitely agree with you. I was in Kosovo for 3 days during the summer and a European perspective is essential there! Though, I also heard the Serbian point of view and it a real dilemma for their politicians. They cannot grand independence, otherwise they would totally loose their face. The EU might be the only institutions that could bring both together, as the two want to join the Union.

  • On 13 September 2010 at 17:46, by Johannes Langer Replying to: The Need to Recognise Kosovo

    Hey Vincent, And I agree with you. The only chance that Serbian politicians are not going to lose their face is the leverage power of the EU. How should the EU, however, seriously pressure Serbia as long as not all EU member states have recognized Kosovo? Thus, the more important it is that ALL EU countries recognize Kosovo. Both countries hopefully join the EU, they definitely have a mutual interest in that. It depends a lot on the 5 EU member states to move and increase leverage. Best, Johannes

  • On 15 September 2010 at 04:31, by Vincent Venus (Treffpunkt Europa) Replying to: The Need to Recognise Kosovo

    And I agree again.

    Well, you can read a brief impression report on what I’ve experienced there in an article that will be published today (Wednesday) in the German section of our blog.

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