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Serbia angry after Kosovo gets closer to joining Council of Europe

Kosovan Celebrating
Kosovan Celebrating Copyright VISAR KRYEZIU/AP2008
Copyright VISAR KRYEZIU/AP2008
By Sergio Cantone
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Kosovo took another step towards becoming a member of the CoE as its members passed a report recommending approval.

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The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, a European human rights body, has recommended that Kosovo become a member of the Council of Europe in a historic vote. 131 members voted for Kosovo’s accession, with 29 voting against and 11 abstaining from the vote. Predictably, Serbian officials have taken issue with the recommendation. 

The final decision will be made by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe next May. This council is composed by the foreign ministers of the 46 member states, including countries that have not formally recognised Kosovo's independence. 

The rapporteur of the recommendation, Dora Bakoyannis is a current European People's Party's member of the Greek parliament and the former Hellenic minister of foreign affairs.

Greek MP,Dora Bakoyannis
Greek MP,Dora BakoyannisAlban Hefti/? Council of Europe

Greece is one of the EU countries that doesn't recognise Kosovo’s independent statehood, along with Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

“Since the very beginning I have been adamant that the report will take no stand on statehood. The recognition or non-recognition is and shall remain a prerogative of states” said Mrs Bakoyannis while addressing the assembly.

Despite her reassurance, Serbian MPs were critical of the recommendation. 

“Mrs Bakoyannis, I wish to congratulate you for what you are doing today because you will go down in history as someone who, in the most brutal manner, violated all the norms of international law in the principles upon which this organisation is founded” said Biljana Pantić Pilja, a Serbian nationalist-conservative MP from President Aleksandar Vucić’s Serbian Progressive Party.

Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo

Serbia has long been critical of steps taken by the international community to include Kosovo within international organisations, fearing that membership risks recognition of the self-declared independent country. 

The Council of Europe's Assembly has a watchdog function in that it would give Kosovo the opportunity to “significant shortcomings in the implementation of the legal rules” within the political and legal watchdog of the of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of law in Europe.

March 16, 2022 in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe expelled Russia from the continent's foremost human rights body in an unprecedented move over its invasion and war in Ukrai
March 16, 2022 in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe expelled Russia from the continent's foremost human rights body in an unprecedented move over its invasion and war in UkraiJean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

Admission into the Assembly would extend the protection of the European Court of Human Right to Kosovo, which has faced criticism over its ability to withhold the rights of minorities. 

Disagreement over municipalities

Belgrade argues that if Pristina joins the Council of Europe, it will not be able to comply with maintaining the rights of Serbian minorities in the country and establishing autonomous municipalities. 

“Remember if you allow so-called Kosovo to join the Council of Europe without prior establishment of the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities, the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities will never be established” said Pantić Pilja.

Women attach Serbian flags to a fence in front of the city hall during a protest in the town of Zvecan, northern Kosovo, Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Women attach Serbian flags to a fence in front of the city hall during a protest in the town of Zvecan, northern Kosovo, Wednesday, May 31, 2023Bojan Slavkovic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

The inter-association of Serbs municipalities is part of the EU-sponsored Brussels Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

The nationalist rhetoric has increased dramatically between Belgrade and Pristina, provoking several incidents between the two neighbours.

Since 2013, Serbia has not officially taken any symbolic step going toward the possible recognition of Kosovo, as formally expected by the EU and the rest of the International Community. This move has been utilised by nationalist forces within Kosovo in order to not comply with commitments around creating Serbian municipalities. 

Officially, the Kosovan government is afraid that such an association could on a medium term become the territorial base for a potential secession of Northern Kosovo.

May 2023 the Kosovan prime minister Albin Kurti said “What we will not allow is the right to territorialize and create anything that would look like Republika Srpska in Bosnia. We will not allow a satellite prefix with a destructive essence that would undermine the citizenship of Kosovo".

Kosovo PM, Albin Kurti
Kosovo PM, Albin KurtiVisar Kryeziu/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Breakdown of talks

In response to the recommendation, Serbia's foreign minister Ivica Dačić said, “It’s a day of shame in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, since for the first time in history the membership of something that is not a state [Kosovo] and which does not meet the basic requirements in the domain of human rights and freedoms, has been recommended”.

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Ivica Dacic, Serbian foreign minister
Ivica Dacic, Serbian foreign ministerOlga Maltseva/AP

The Serbian president Vucić has raised fears that if Kosovo joins CoE “it will use its new international legal position to sue Serbia for international crimes” against the Kosovan people in the war of 1999.

The government of Serbia has felt cornered by the international community since the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine, when it refused to impose sanctions against Russia. 

The unwillingness of the Serbian administration to impose sanctions on Russia, the lack of progress on recognising Kosovo and continuing tensions between Republika Srpska and the authorities of Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina have impacted both countries route into joining the European Union. 

Brussels EU district
Brussels EU districtVirginia Mayo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

On 15 April, the permanent representatives of the EU countries in Brussels (Coreper) decided to amend the chapter 35 of the negotiation for the accession of the Serbia to the Block.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that there will not be a European future for either Kosovo or Serbia if the two countries don't come to an understanding as soon as possible.

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"Kosovo and Serbia are risking to be left behind when other regional partners are moving quicker towards Europe,” Borrell said.

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