Serbia recorded a diplomatic victory at the annual session of the UN General Assembly as a trial vote revealed a clear majority in favour of referring the question of Kosovo's independence to the International Court of Justice. Kosovo fears that such a procecure could hold up the issue for years.

120 of the 192 members gave their backing to Serbia's request to refer the matter to the ICJ, reported the German daily Handelsblatt. A simple majority is enough to pass the motion. Trial votes are a common diplomatic manoeuvre at the UN to ensure that an issue gains a sufficient majority.

Serbia considers the unilateral declaration of independence made by its former province on 17 February to be illegal and insists that it will take all legal measures to reverse the move (EurActiv 18/02/08). The actual vote on the question is set to take place on 8 October. 

"Our outlook is good but far from a done deal. The next ten days will be crucial in determining whether we have won the majority at the UN General Assembly for our initiative," Serbia's foreign minister Vuc Jeremic said in Belgrade on 28 September. 

He said the vote in the General Assembly was the result of "hard work and lobbying with all UN members," including more than 50 bilateral meetings. Last week, Serbia's President Boris Tadic said he was not certain whether Serbia had already secured the required majority, but rejected any changes to Serbia's draft resolution as suggested by some countries. 

Several EU members, including Germany and France, which currently holds the EU Presidency, have voiced strong reservations over Serbia's bid, fearing that if the ICJ were to accept it, many states would refrain from recognising Kosovo and also stop investing there. 

Tadic will discuss the issue with German government officials during his visit to Berlin this week, reports the German daily, saying that Berlin is leaning towards abstaining from voting and may even vote against it. 

A clear majoity of EU countries, including the two heavyweights, has recognised Kosovo's independence, but worldwide, just 47 states have done so. EU member states are putting themselves in a delicate position by backing Kosovo because they must take care not to complicate Serbia's EU path at the same time. Pre-membership talks have recently picked up speed. 

Furthermore, the ICJ's decision to hear the case could also enourage Georgia to address the UN court over the recent unilateral declarations of independence by its breakaway provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia.