Editorial: Kosovo’s (in)dependence

ICJ Ruling on Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence

, by Peter Matjašič

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Editorial: Kosovo's (in)dependence

On 22nd July 2010 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has issued a surprisingly unequivocal, albeit in a non-binding advisory opinion, verdict clearly stating that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate general international law. What are the consequences and effects of this ruling for Kosovo and Serbia, for the broader region of Western Balkans, for similar disputes around the world and for further development of international law?

For the coming few days thenewfederalist.eu will try to answer this question by shading some light on the different aspects of this complex issue with three interesting articles as well as provoke some food for thought with the present editorial.

The first article is entitled International Court of Justice–Kosovo: a legal independence for a total dependence. Written by Pierre Bonifassi, a member of JEF-Bordeaux, it was initially published in French on his blog a day after the ruling and on 4th August 2010 on our sister-website Le Taurillon. Bonifassi makes an objective assessment of the expectations prior to the ruling by both sides involved and then goes on to touch upon two very important issues. The first is the question of recognition of an independent Kosovo and points out to the existing situation in terms of states pro and contra. The second one is even more relevant and has to deal with the de facto dependence of Kosovo (regardless of its status) on international aid. Bonifassi thus successfully points out pending questions but does not aim to provide any answers.

The second article in this editorial series dedicated to the ICJ ruling on Kosovo is entitled The Need to Recognise Kosovo by Johannes Langer, a member of JEF-Austria and former Editor-in-Chief of Global View. Langer reminds us of some of the known facts but decides to give the article a more EU-focused twist. While rightly pointing out the current economic and social problems Kosovo is facing Langer makes an intriguing call for the need of putting Kosovo on a EU-track towards long-term membership talks and short-term visa liberalisation. Langer claims that the current five EU member states yet to recognise Kosovo – namely Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – would be better advised to do so immediately for the benefit of the entire Western Balkans region.

The third article comes from Jofre Rocabert, a member of JEF-Catalunya, and carries the title International Court of Justice: Kosovo ruling with a revealing subtitle Doctrinal consequences and case comparisons. As the subtitle implies Rocabert’s article focuses on the legal aspects and meaning of the advisory opinion as well as its (non)applicability. Rocabert offers an insightful conclusion that the ICJ established a new doctrinal line that might make it a lot more difficult for the states to oppose independence movements within its territory with legal arguments based on international case law. More importantly Rocabert looks into the possible comparisons between the Kosovo case and similar other regional cases, especially within his home country Spain. Interestingly enough, so far no relevant media group or political party has tried a direct comparison between Kosovo and cases like Catalonia, Flanders or Scotland.

71 and counting...

One thing is certain, however, Kosovo’s call for recognition of its independence by those who have yet to make up their minds about it has received a big boost by the ICJ ruling. To date, 71 countries have recognised Kosovo’s independence, including the US and 22 out of 27 EU member states. Countries such as Russia, China and India will probably not be moved by the advisory opinion and rather stick to their claims and support to Serbia’s cause based on their own troubled regions and/or interests. But many countries have decided to wait for the ICJ ruling before making up their mind and surely such a clear ruling in favour of Kosovo will help make up their mind as it recently happened with Honduras and Qatar in the last weeks.

Serbia and its UN General Assembly resolution

A more interesting development to follow will be within Serbia, where the incumbent President Boris Tadić secured his win in last presidential elections by claiming he can combine reaching the goal of EU accession and continuing to insists on Kosovo being part of Serbia. What will be the consequences of such an outward punch in the face by the ICJ for Serbian politics in the long run remains to be seen. What is certain already is that Serbia seems to have backed down slightly as its proposal for a UN General Assembly resolution on the matter of Kosovo – to be discussed in New York later this week – no longer contains a condemnation of Kosovo’s declaration of independence and calls on both sides to engage in dialogue rather than talks on all open questions. This dialogue is due to take place under the sponsorship of the European Union rather than the United Nations. In this respect, EU’s foreign affairs chief Ashton and President Tadić are said to work jointly on possible amendments to this UNGA draft resolution.

What next?

The Kosovo case is a sui generis one that should be dealt with as such. The problems linked to the topic are many fold but at least the ICJ provided some surprising clarity in terms of international legal framework.

The Kosovo government will now continue their struggle in getting as many countries recognise them as possible. Rightly so, but this struggle should not be used as an excuse nor their opponents as scapegoats nor to turn a blind eye on their internal political and socio-economic problems. The Serbian government should once and for all stop beating around the bush and (mis)using the highly emotional and sensitive issue of Kosovo to divert attention from their own socio-economic problems and acknowledge that their path to fully-fledged EU membership is a necessity for the region as a whole, but that this path necessarily leads via dialogue with Prishtina. The EU should make sure that it has a unified position on the question of recognition of Kosovo and engage in a quick visa liberalisation process for Kosovars, help build up mutual trust and understanding in the region and stop jeopardising its own credibility by the selfish national interests of its member states.

The ICJ has made a surprisingly clear legal ruling. Let us hope that the political decisions that follow it will be as surprising in their boldness and vision and aimed at a peaceful and swift resolution of this pending conflict.

Image: old-style typewriter, source: Google Images

To read more about the issue of Kosovo not directly connected to the ICJ Ruling please check the numerous articles linked to that on the different language versions of our e-magazine.

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