EU split over Kosovo independence

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Series Details 21.02.08
Publication Date 21/02/2008
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The EU is at pains to offer Kosovo a credible chance to join the Union, after five member states pledged not to recognise its unilateral decision to break away from Serbia and declare independence.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday (18 February) were unable to agree a common position on Kosovo's declaration of independence made the previous day. After hours of tough negotiations they issued a declaration which fudged the independence question and instead reiterated the EU's generic commitment to the stability and European perspective of the entire region.

The conclusions did, however, refer to the EU's 1,800-strong police and judicial mission in Kosovo, Eulex, whose launch was decided on the eve of the independence declaration.

The UK, France and Germany recognised Kosovo's independence within days of the declaration, as have the US and many smaller European countries.

But Spain is against Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, and its Foreign Minister Miguel ├žngel Moratinos was unusually blunt on Monday in denouncing Kosovo's declaration as illegal under international law.

Spain's government, which has been criticised for seeking accommodation with Basque separatists, faces a general election next month.

The foreign ministers' declaration closely followed a draft submitted by Spain and noted "that the resolution [declaring independence] commits Kosovo to the principles of democracy and equality of all its citizens, the protection of the Serb and other minorities, the protection of the cultural and religious heritage and international supervision".

The ministers also reiterated the EU's adherence to the principle of territorial integrity, claiming that the persecution of Kosovo Albanians by Serbs in the 1990s, which prompted NATO air strikes against Serbia, and the province's long administration by the United Nations made it a special case rather than a precedent for other conflicts.

Russia and Serbia oppose Kosovo's independence saying it violates international law and encourages separatists elsewhere.

Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina took to the streets on Monday to demand the same right to self-determination as Kosovo's Albanians. Disturbances erupted in Serbia proper and at border crossings into Kosovo, though no serious injuries were reported.

EU officials are honing their arguments to bolster the claim that Kosovo is not a precedent.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed that Kosovo's independence was a product of past Serbian repression and pointed out that a negotiated solution had been tried and found to be impossible. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was the first foreign dignitary to visit Kosovo after it declared independence, on Tuesday (19 February).

But neither Solana, nor Dimitrij Rupel, the foreign minister of Slovenia, the country currently holding the EU presidency, was able to say what kind of membership perspective the EU could offer to a country which is not recognised by all member states.

Any decision to start accession negotiations and to admit a new country requires unanimity among the EU's 27 members, as does the decision to establish closer ties. Unless the hold-outs - Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain - change their minds, this will be impossible to achieve.

Unanimity could also mean that Serbia and Kosovo have to be treated as a group in order to avert a situation in which one, which joins the EU first, vetoes the other.

Kosovo quotes

"What I say as a European is that I'm really frustrated that the future of Kosovo has been decided in Washington and to some extent in Moscow, and not in Europe"

Alberto Navarro, Spain's Europe minister, on Kosovo's declaration of independence

"If you cast a blind eye to this illegal act, who guarantees to you that parts of your countries will not declare independence in the same illegal way?"

Boris Tadic, president of Serbia, on possible repercussions

"The EU once again survived this test of unity"

Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia's foreign minister, on the EU reaction to Kosovo's independence

"I don't know at what date, in which year, but Kosovo and Serbia will be together in the European Union"

Bernard Kouchner, France's foreign minister, on EU membership prospects for the new country

The EU is at pains to offer Kosovo a credible chance to join the Union, after five member states pledged not to recognise its unilateral decision to break away from Serbia and declare independence.

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