1st Mar 2024


We shall all pay for Kosovo's independence

  • "Kosovo’s independence is a sorry tale of short-term expediency over long term planning" (Photo: Wikipedia)

If one thing is certain it is that the Kosovo story has not ended with the province's unilateral declaration of independence. On the contrary, it looks as though Kosovo will be hanging even more heavily around the necks of the international community and the European Union in particular for a great many years to come.

One cannot blame the Kosovars: the majority community's aspirations are entirely legitimate, especially given what they suffered at the hands of Milosevic's cohorts a decade ago. But just because an aspiration is legitimate does not necessarily mean that it should be granted or even that it is wise. All sorts of communities around the world desire independence or regime change. To accede to them would be a recipe for chaos. The very word ‘balkanisation' carries a derogatory overtone. Well, since Sunday, the Balkans has been balkanised yet again.

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On every continent we find enclaves that would prefer to live under a different jurisdiction: tribes, races, minorities, nations that never had their own state. They are legion. There are indeed some within the European Union itself. And then there is the obverse: those states that have acquired independence by historical accident, but which are coveted by their neighbours. Luckily, we have the United Nations and a defended world order.

The apologists claim that Kosovo was a unique case. That its previous sufferings and its UN Protectorate status made it different. But every case is unique when it comes to that. I have still to hear a convincing reason why the status quo could not have been maintained until such time as the whole region joined the European Union.

Which might have been the case had not the Kosovars learned that the USA and its principal European allies would not only back a unilaterally declared independence but would actually throw money at it as well. At that point all hope of a negotiated outcome went out of the window.

There are at least ten reasons why it is doubtful that independence will prove in the interests of the EU, or of the Western Balkans or even, in the long run, of the Kosovars themselves:

Illegal in international law

First, however many states may recognise it, Kosovo's independence is still illegal in international law. As the EU is trying to bolster the rule of law in international relations, this is an own goal;

Secondly,Kosovo lacks the ability to run its own affairs. The EU is sending a 2,000 strong mission to reinforce the justice system. Nor can Kosovo manage its own security. No colony has ever been granted independence on such a weak basis;

Thirdly, with 40 per cent unemployment, a failing economy, poor infrastructure, high levels of organised crime, significant outward migration, an independent Kosovo is simply unviable without massive external support;

Fourth, encouraging Kosovo down the independence path has split the EU, damagingly, between those countries that recognise Kosovo and those that do not. It has also opened a chasm in relations between a majority of states and Serbia, and a minority and Kosovo. To claim that the EU is united in its approach to Kosovo is blatantly untrue. All we can say is that for want of a common policy we agree to differ.

But if the EU cannot agree a common policy towards Kosovo, how can it expect to unite around a common policy towards Russia or an international climate change treaty? Moreover, this rift is not likely to heal swiftly. The probability is that it will fester, causing continuing disharmony;

Fifth, Kosovan independence is likely to prove costly. The whole apparatus of statehood has to be funded. Already over a billion euro has been pledged - almost twice what the EU is sending to Afghanistan in the same period. Olli Rehn, the enlargement commissioner, said this week it was necessary to support Kosovo ‘so that we don't have to pour in EU taxpayers money for ever and have a black hole in the Balkans.' But that is precisely what we have now done!

Sixth, our willingness to sanction illegal independence will give succour to communities tempted down the same route. While it is unlikely that Kosovo will have an immediate resonance in Catalonia, or even Scotland, we have created a dangerous precedent. Who knows by whom it may be exploited in the future?

To what end?

Seventh, and to what end? For Kosovo will not really be independent at all. A Kosovan passport will hardly become a travel document of choice. Nor will there be a Kosovan seat at the UN. Kosovo has swapped its status as a UN protected vassal of Serbia, for that of a UN protected vassal of the EU. Apart from the satisfaction of being able to poke Serbia in the eye, independence is effectually meaningless;

Eighth, there is no obvious exit strategy! Olli Rehn expects matters to ‘settle.' That is a big expectation. Iraq was once similarly expected to ‘settle'. It is doubtful that Serbia will ‘settle' either, to judge from the Serb Foreign Minister's recent ferocious speech to the European Parliament. So it is not clear what the endgame will be. Can we imagine, ten years hence, Serb and Kosovan ministers meekly sharing a table to discuss Cyprus, or Russia or even renewable energy?

Ninth, the finance and personnel flowing into Kosovo may themselves cause problems if neighbouring states feel neglected. That won't assist relations. Meanwhile within Kosovo itself there is a danger of building dependency - an economy reliant on EU subsidy, employment dominated by the state sector, hand-outs instead of enterprise. A state supported by the EU but without the independent ability to accede to the EU. This could lead to Kosovans feeling like a colonised people, rather than independent citizens, delaying rather than accelerating, their EU accession;

Last, the focus on, and the tensions over, Kosovo could delay the timetable for Western Balkan accession as a whole. This risks upsetting the stability of the region as a whole and increases the potential for renewed violence.

Kosovo's independence then, or rather its recognition, is a sorry tale of short-term expediency over long term planning and proof, if proof be needed, that what people think they want may not be always in their best interests. There is a downside to independence as well as an up. And that applies each way.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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