Kosovo – the European Parliament's resolute message

Though most coverage focused upon its call for the remaining five EU member states to recognize Kosovo’s independence, the European Parliament’s resolution highlights a number of important areas of reform where further progress is urgently required.

By Miloš Petrović

Early July was marked by the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on Kosovo’s EU integration process, which covers a variety of areas, ranging from education and public administration, to its Stabilization and Association prospects. Crucially, it also voices strong support for the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the remaining five EU member states, in order to “make EU policies more effective for all the people in Kosovo”. By doing so, the EU would therefore be able to abandon its ‘status neutral’ approach towards Kosovo and fully implement its policies “with the objective of Kosovo’s accession to the EU”.

Whilst noting the good neighbourly relations pursued by the Kosovo’s authorities, the resolution simultaneously voices concern over relations with Serbia; calling on Belgrade to be “pragmatic on the status issue”, referring to the blockade of Pristina’s membership in international organizations (such as the World Health Organization) and customs and taxes technicalities within CEFTA, especially in the north of Kosovo. According to the resolution, the forthcoming advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which  (to be delivered on July 22nd) “should not hinder all parties involved from clearly committing themselves to effective cross-border, regional and local cooperation in the best interests of the whole population in and around Kosovo”.

The European Commission is called upon to include Kosovo in the screening process in early 2011, as a prelude to the eventual launch of negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA); whilst the Kosovo authorities should be notified which steps need to be undertaken before the Commission prepares a road map for visa liberalization. During the European Parliament’s debate, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuehle, stated that the EU has a common engagement in Kosovo – despite the split views over independence – explaining that Kosovo’s visa liberalization awaits the fulfillment of all the necessary criteria.

The resolution also welcomes the success of local elections held in Kosovo in November 2009, “despite the series of reported irregularities”, which motivated calls for a swift change in certain aspects of Kosovo’s electoral law. It is also “warmly welcomed” that a “high percentage of Kosovo Serbs south of the Ibar river had participated in the [Pristina-organized] elections”. The European Parliament regrets, however, that “Belgrade keeps supporting parallel structures in Serbian enclaves” and seeks the abolishment of these “illegal” bodies.

The EU is also worried about the situation in the north of Kosovo, especially with respect to the judiciary and civil society, which is threatened by “radical groups and organized crime”. Belgrade and Pristina should therefore agree upon Kosovo Serb judges and a prosecutor in North Mitrovica, with the aim of “reintegrating the north into the political and administrative structures of Kosovo”.

The EULEX mission is praised for battling high-level corruption cases, organized crime and war crimes; nevertheless, it requires additional experts, judges and personnel due to an “unexpectedly high number of cases transferred to EULEX by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo”. Indeed, Serbia and Kosovo need to cooperate in order to solve the remaining 1,862 missing persons cases from the war.

2010 is quoted as being a crucial year for Kosovo’s government and institutions, who need to undertake key reforms “such as the fight against corruption and organized crime, decentralization and public administration reform…[with] particular attention should be paid to the swift and efficient implementation of laws, in order to have any real impact on the situation in Kosovo”. The European Parliament is “extremely concerned about the widespread corruption and organized crime in Kosovo”, and calls for urgent action to combat it though a legal framework for tackling corruption and the adoption of an effective anti-corruption strategy. Moreover, the resolution expresses “deep concern” over the incidents at the Kosovo-Macedonian border related to arms trafficking, where stronger coordination with the police is necessary.

Public administration reform is required to achieve a more gender- and minority-balanced civil service. Media pluralism should be promoted by the Government, political pressures removed and more transparency, particularly in terms of funding, achieved. Twinning projects of an ad-hoc nature should enable the Kosovo Assembly’s administrative staff to carry out internships in the European Parliament, and member states are encouraged to establish such relations with Kosovo’s MPs in order to facilitate transfers of knowledge.

Human rights continue to be a troubled area, with the implementation of the legislative framework remaining “unsatisfactory”. In the Europan Parliament’s opinion, more active policies are needed to fight discrimination on all grounds (ethnic, religious and on the basis of sexuality, etc.), whilst concerns remain over high levels of domestic violence, discrimination against women and human trafficking. Unemployment – which currently stands at over 40% – and very low standards of living threaten growing discontent in the society.

The resolution expressed an overall concern about the state of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Numerous MEPs and Commissioner Fuehle urged both sides to refrain from provocations ahead of the upcoming opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of Kosovo’s independence. Although the European Parliament acknowledges the “emotional implications of the aftermath of the 1999 war, understanding that the official recognition of Kosovo is not a feasible political option at the moment for the Belgrade leadership”, it nevertheless suggests that Serbia demonstrate pragmatism on the status issue. Despite these opposing stances, the requirements of some form of dialogue and a more flexible approach could evolve following the unveiling of the advisory ICJ ruling.

It, however, seems highly unlikely that the EU will develop a common approach towards Kosovo’s contested independence, at least not in the near term. Romania’s foreign ministry, several embassies (such as those of Cyprus and Greece) in Belgrade and other foreign government officials have delivered statements in recent days denouncing the idea of Kosovo’s recognition. It should be noted that 155 MEPs from these specific states had previously voted against the resolution (with 455 votes in favour). Although the advisory opinion could potentially become a milestone in this respect, in the days ahead of July 22nd it still seems that Europe cannot speak with one voice when it comes to foreign policy challenges. The alleged new recognitions – in the case that they do happen – would almost certainly not start with the remaining ‘EU 5’. Perhaps the resolution itself, as with other decisions in the EU, simply came too late.

Miloš Petrović graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade, and is set to commence post-graduate studies in European integration at the Europa-Institut Saarland in Saarbruecken, Germany.

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