Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser

Article

The European Union and Kosovo´s independence
Corriere della Sera - June 24th 2007

Russia’s rejection of the latest American and European proposal at the UN Security Council on helping Kosovo to become independent of Serbia looks like the latest example of the widening divide between Russia and the West. But that would be the wrong interpretation. Russia’s veto of this proposal reflects a different failure: the failure of the West to convince Serbia that Kosovo should be allowed to break free. If Serbia said yes, so would its long-time ally, Russia. The European Union now needs to make a fresh effort to win Serbia’s support, not Russia’s.

            The case for Kosovo’s independence is clear. It is home to 1.8m ethnic Albanians and just 100,000 ethnic Serbians, and the population overwhelmingly favours self-determination. Although there is some danger that the Serbian minority could be persecuted in an independent Kosovo, it should be possible to prevent that through the proposed EU police and justice mission that, in co-operation with NATO forces, is intended to replace the UN mission that currently governs Kosovo. The promise of future potential accession to the EU should also help protect the minority’s rights. If Kosovo remains part of Serbia, however, the result is likely to be worse: there would be renewed violence between Albanians and Serbs, and a security problem that would be a huge burden for Serbia.

            So Serbia should be persuadable that independence for Kosovo is in its own interests. Nationalist pride stands in the way, of course. But Serbia also wants to join the European Union, perhaps as soon as 2011. The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, this week announced that Serbia will receive 572m euros in aid from the Union during the next two years. There is thus plenty of leverage to use on the Serbian government: given the history of the Yugoslav war and NATO’s intervention, Serbian refusal to allow Kosovan independence surely provides ample reason to refuse to engage in accession negotiations or even to cut off financial aid.

            Yes, by doing so the EU is interfering in the sovereignty of another country, which is a big and dangerous step. But that step has already been taken, by virtue of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the despatch of a UN mission since then to govern the province. Serbia’s attitude to Kosovo gives the EU more justification for blocking membership talks than the European countries have had, for example, in slowing down or trying to block membership for Turkey.

            There is, however, one more complication. This is the continuing effort of Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, to persuade Serbia to give up General Ratko Mladic, who stands accused of some of the worst war crimes. She has argued that independence for Kosovo should be postponed, so as to convince Serbia to hand over General Mladic, and wants the EU to support her. It is very unfortunate to have to choose between justice for war crimes and self-determination for Kosovo. But sometimes hard choices have to be made. The EU should refuse Ms del Ponte’s request. Independence, and the need to prevent further violence in Kosovo, is more important. It would be better to postpone the pursuit of General Mladic, in order to have a chance of accelerating independence for Kosovo.


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