On Monday, Western powers agreed that, by the end of 2012, Kosovo will no longer be supervised by the powerful (but fairly drab-sounding) “International Civilian Representative” (a.k.a. Pieter Feith, a Dutch diplomat originally appointed to the post in 2008 by the Council of the European Union). Feith has, during Kosovo’s transition to full independence, been vested with significant powers, including the “ability to annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction and remove public officials whose actions he/she determines to be inconsistent”. From September, however, such international supervision will be over.
In the past, we’ve covered the issue of Kosovo only indirectly. Whilst we’ve run several debates on enlargement (here and here, for example, or in our infobox on the issue here), we haven’t yet focused specifically on the Kosovo question. As a jumping-off point, we’re using the following comment sent in by Nikolai:
What will be very interesting, given the increasing support for Serbian accession by Member States such as Germany, is what will happen to Kosovo? Kosovo can never be an EU candidate as a significant number of EU Member States don’t even recognise it for very obvious internal reasons. When the eventual enlargement of all the Balkan nations occurs, how will the EU deal with a landlocked Kosovo encircled by the EU with no prospects of membership?
We took Nikolai’s question to Doris Pack, a German MEP and member of the delegation for relations with the countries of the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. Here’s her response:
I have to disagree with this Mr Nikolai; he’s not right in saying there is no membership prospect for Kosovo. Yes, not all Member-States have recognised the country, but I think this will come, step by step. It will also never get to the stage that Kosovo is ‘encircled’ by EU Member-States without hope for membership itself, because an unresolved Kosovo-Serbia problem will mean there will be no hope of Serbian membership either. We accepted Cyprus with this problem, and it will never happen again. Kosovo will become a member.
Next, we got in touch with Gerald Knaus, founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a policy think-tank that focuses on South Eastern Europe. We asked Gerald to respond to Nikolai’s comment:
Well, that’s a very good question, which really one should address to EU leaders. The problem is, they don’t seem to have a good answer to that at the moment. My proposal would be that, as long as EU Member-States disagree on whether to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, they should agree to a ‘status-neutral’ accession process for both Serbia and Kosovo. The EU should have an interest in seeing Kosovo, whether independent or part of Serbia, moving towards membership of the EU.
Finally, we asked for a reaction from Rainer Stinner, a Member of the German Bundestag and foreign policy spokesman for the liberal centre-right FDP party (coalition partners to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing CDU party).
Nikolai makes a fair point. Only 22 of the 27 EU members have recognised Kosovo. This is weakening the common position towards Serbia. We will not have Serbia in the EU if they have not settled their relationship with Kosovo. We reiterated this when they achieved official candidate status; if Serbia holds local elections in the disputed northern part of Kosovo, it would be seen as extremely negative and would delay their accession process. We have had the experience of Cyprus, and will not have a second Cyprus.
What do YOU think? Could Kosovo find itself surrounded by EU Member-States but with no hope of membership itself? Or will Serbia be refused entry to the EU unless it resolves the Kosovo question? Have EU leaders “learned their lesson” from the experience of Cyprus and Turkey? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.