Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser


Wrong to recognise Kosovo
Corriere della Sera - February 19th 2008

The declaration of independence by Kosovo at the weekend, and the resulting split inside the European Union over whether to give official recognition to the new nation-state, represents a big failure for Europe and for its national governments. The failure is not the fact that the EU is divided. It is that the EU got itself into this situation thanks to its failure to persuade Serbia to agree to Kosovo’s secession. That failure to persuade Serbia represents a humiliation for all those who argue that Europe’s great strength is its so-called “soft power”, its ability to influence its neighbours through the promise of trade, aid and eventual full membership.

            The hard truth is that Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and the recognition of it by other countries, is in violation of international law as laid down in the United Nations charter and UN precedent. There has been no resolution by the Security Council to give a mandate to that recognition, because Russia would have vetoed it. Yet there is also another hard truth, which is that since 1999 Kosovo has been an independent country without full sovereignty, as it has been a UN protectorate since NATO forces forced Serbia to withdraw and to cease its violent repression of Kosovan separatists.

            How, now, can these two competing truths be reconciled? What attitude should European governments take to Kosovo? The answer, surely, is that the European Union should defend international law on this issue, and so its member governments should not give Kosovo formal recognition. Kosovo is, as European Union officials and Kosovo’s British, French and Italian supporters argue, a special case: it has been a protectorate for more than eight years and is a relic of a sovereign entity that no longer exists, namely Yugoslavia. But there are also other special cases, and the EU needs to be careful to avoid legal inconsistency: Cyprus, with its divide since 1974, is one; the many small relic states and provinces in and surrounding Georgia are others.

            At the same time, without providing Kosovo with official recognition, the EU can and should proceed with its mission there, taking over the UN’s duties by sending 1,800 police and justice officials, to work alongside the 17,000-strong NATO security force. That mission is legal, having been mandated by Security Council resolution no 1244 back in 1999. To deny recognition while also sending the mission will not be a clean or neat formula; it would not, as many European officials hope, bring about the final resolution of Kosovo’s political status. But that would be true with the alternative too, with some European countries going ahead with recognition. That will perpetuate the bitter argument with Russia over Kosovo, as well as with Serbia itself, and will deepen the divide inside the EU over this crucial foreign policy issue.

            It would be far better to accept that a full solution is going to take longer. In practice, it is not going to happen until Serbia can be persuaded to agree to Kosovo’s independence, following which Russia would withdraw its veto at the UN. Serbia has a newly elected, rather pro-western president, Boris Tadic. Why force him into an anti-EU stance so soon after he has taken office, by recognising Kosovo? It would be far better for the European Union to admit it has failed, to avoid an internal split, and to start the process once again of trying to persuade Serbia to allow Kosovo to secede, in return for certain guarantees about the small Serb minority there. And, of course, in return for membership of the European Union within the next five years.


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