22nd Oct 2018

EU prepares for early 2008 Kosovo independence

The outgoing prime minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, has suggested that a declaration on the province's independence is planned for early next year, while the European Commission has urged the bloc's member states to stay united on Kosovo "if needed."

Less than a week before a UN deadline on finding a solution between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians on the future status of Kosovo, Mr Ceku told EUobserver "We are not willing to accept any continuation of discussion and any delay of the declaration."

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He said that the move is foreseen for "very shortly after 10 December" and added that it would be "along the line" envisaged in Brussels, around January or February.

According to diplomats, the European Commission itself has informally asked the member states to use all their diplomatic efforts to convince the Kosovo Albanians to delay the declaration of independence at least until after the presidential elections in Serbia, scheduled for 20 January and 3 February.

One floated scenario suggests that if Pristina accepts such a plan, it will then be able to announce independence as a result of "coordinated" procedure with the international community - despite lacking the formal blessing of the UN's security council.

It would also immediately implement the practical proposals of an independence blueprint drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, especially on the protection of national minorities, while the EU would then take over the chairing of civilian and police missions in Kosovo.

"With all this preceding the actual announcement of declaration and Kosovo claiming to have coordinated it with the international community, the idea is that the EU would then formally 'take note' of the declaration as earlier in the case of Montenegro and leave it up to member states to recognise it or not," said one diplomat.

Question marks over EU unity

But even given these conditions, the EU's unity on the issue is not guaranteed. Romania and Cyprus are seen as key critics of independence without UN approval, while Slovakia also remains hesitant.

Speaking to journalists after meeting Slovak prime minister Robert Fico on Tuesday (4 December), European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said "It is my duty to ask all governments of Europe, including the Slovak government to reach a consensus on Kosovo."

"In case - unfortunately it seems to be the case - they [Serbs and Kosovo Albanians] don't reach an agreement, it is important that the EU reaches an agreement," he noted.

"The Americans have a position, the Russians have a position. I hope that Europeans will have a position as well, if needed," he said.

Mr Fico replied: "I would consider it a huge mistake if the EU got divided over Kosovo. It would make us weak and I have a feeling some superpowers are relaying on this weakness even ahead."

But he said the Slovak government's standpoint has not changed. "We want to be very communicative and cooperative on this issue but we can hardly imagine that we would recognise Kosovo that would unilaterally announce itself as being independent."

Who is afraid of unilateral independence?

Speaking at a Brussels conference organised by Friends of Europe on Tuesday (4 December), Mr Ceku dismissed suggestions that unilateral Kosovo independence could lead to violence in the region.

He argued that after having worked with UN officials for eight years, the Kosovars' plan can no longer be viewed as "unilateral" but rather as continually prepared and "the most unsurprising and predictable event" that South Eastern Europe has seen for generations.

Meanwhile Serbian deputy prime minister Bojidar Djelic spoke out against the move.

Stressing that Serbia was offering Kosovo "a level of self-government that no other region in no other country has seen", Mr Djelic said that all Belgrade is asking for is "not to break up our country".

"Is it too much to ask for a solution which Belgrade can be part of?", he added.

In this he was backed by Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia.

Also a firm opponent to a Kosovar independence which would by-pass Serbian feelings, Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov argued that any such decision would go against international law.

Russia wants to "stick to the principles of international law above all" according to which respect for the territorial integrity of states is guaranteed, said Mr Chizhov.

He said he was against "splitting" Serbia without Belgrade's accord.


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