by Katrina Yoder
Kosovo, a young state with just over a million citizens, has been hoping to move into the arms of the European Union since its birth in February 2008. However, with a weak economy, internal political fragmentation, opposition from Serbia, and five member states of the EU body who do not recognise its independent sovereignty, the reality of European integration seems to be a rather distant hope.
On the 17th February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. By the following year, twenty-two of the twenty-seven member states of the EU recognised and accepted Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of its independence. However, this majority acceptance from the EU still faces a large obstacle; Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Romania, and Spain have refused to accept the country’s sovereignty. In order to build state relations with these EU member states, Kosovo has taken the intergovernmentalist approach to European integration through the means of traditional diplomacy. While the benefits of this approach have been slow coming, there have been some improvements. Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia, and Romania now officially accept Kosovan passports, while still maintaining their stance regarding Kosovan independence. Furthermore, the contested status of Kosovo is not a definite end to its EU integration. In 2009, the European Commission addressed the European Parliament and Council, stating that, “the absence of an agreed position on Kosovo’s status does not prevent the EU from substantial engagement with Kosovo”. The issue of status, therefore, does not inhibit the EU and Kosovo working together to further its integration.
A large external problem to Kosovo on its path to European integration is Serbia. This country has been a rather loud adversary to the Kosovan cause. Since Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, the latter has made several attempts to impede the global recognition of Kosovo. The EU has stated that a condition of Serbia being considered for membership is that they must recognise Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state in its own right. The Serbian government has repeatedly declared that they will never recognise the Republic of Kosovo. In turn, the EU has also stated that the countries must be at peace in order for either to be considered for candidacy. Therefore, both Kosovo and Serbia must cease their provocations toward the other. Trying to combat the dissonance between the two states, the EU has been facilitating talks between Kosovo and Serbia. Unfortunately, due to several incidents, the talks were suspended in January 2017. Despite both the EU and the UN urging them to resume negotiations, the situation remains at a standstill. For Kosovo for further its European Integration, moves must be made on behalf of their government to smooth relations with Serbia.
The internal, political situation of Kosovo itself has been an obstacle for its European integration. In order to be considered for a candidate country, Kosovo must satisfy the criteria laid out in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU). Among other things, the state must uphold democracy, justice, and equality among citizens. They must also uphold respect for human rights, which includes the Serb minority. The European Commission found in its 2018 Kosovo report that while the country’s democracy is “competitive and well-administered”, there remains concerns. In 2017, some politicians within the Kosovo Assembly made an unsuccessful to abolish an international court, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, which was set up to try the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the 1990s. The attempted abolition occurred because there are members within the Kosovan Assembly who were also members of the KLA during the late 1990s. One such former member is Hashim Thaçi, the current president of Kosovo. So, it is unsurprising that there is opposition to the court by the people who could be tried by that court. The alleged crimes were against members of the Serb ethnic minority group within Kosovo whose families are now seeking justice. Then in January 2018, a politician from the Serb minority in Kosovo, Oliver Ivanovic, was murdered and the investigation is still underway. The Kosovan Assembly has become split between those who are working to uphold justice and equal treatment among citizens of all ethnicities, and those who are working toward the antithesis. Upholding justice is a key criterion for European integration, and there is justice to be sought after for the families within the Serb ethnic minority group. Therefore, is essential that Kosovo complies with its international responsibilities and commitments to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.
From an economic viewpoint, Kosovo has much work to do in order to further its integration into the European Union. The young state has been slowly working on improving their economy – with the help of EU stabilisation programmes. The EU has allocated €645.5m between 2014 and 2020 to providing financial and technical assistance through their programme called the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). This programme aids countries who are potential candidates for EU accession to make political and economic reforms. The aim here is to achieve widespread, national stability. Regarding the Kosovan economy, it is one of the poorest in Europe and its growth is slow moving. Unemployment has been increasing since 2016, coming to 30.7 per cent at the end of 2018. For the same year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that Kosovo’s GDP per capita was €3826.03; the EU average is €38154.32 (the original statistic was given in USD). While this is far from the necessary GDP to reach EU standards, their economy has seen slow but steady improvement over the last number of years through the help of the IPA programme.
Kosovo faces many obstacles to its integration into the European Union, as well as acceptance from the wider international community. While issues surrounding the actual status of Kosovo may not be quickly resolved, persisting with the intergovernmentalist approach to EU integration may continue to show positive results. However, from internal to international dissonance, the process is a slow-moving. With continued support from the EU, the goal of formal European integration may yet be within reach – if you have really long arms.
Katrina Yoder is a BA student studying Politics and International Relations in University College Dublin. While in school, she was a member of the European Youth Parliament where she developed an interest in the European Union. She completed this blog post for the module European Politics.
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