The European Parliament has called on the five EU member states that are yet to recognise Kosovo's independence to do so. But leading MEPs admitted that no moves were expected before a International Court of Justice ruling on the legality of the former Serbian province's independence, due in the coming weeks.
In a resolution adopted yesterday (8 July), MEPs say they "would welcome the recognition by all member states of the independence of Kosovo," referring to the five that are dragging their feet – Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania and Slovakia.
The parliamentarians urge the EU-27 to "step up their common approach towards Kosovo'' in order to make EU policies more effective for everyone in the territory. They also reject the possibility of a partitioned Kosovo.
Cyprus, a divided island since the Turkish invasion in 1974, rejects Kosovo's declaration of independence owing to its stance on territorial integrity and the lack of UN approval. It is backed by Greece, while Spain – which has its own regional tensions – cites lack of respect for international law as justification for its opposition.
Romania, home to an ethnic Hungarian community in 'Székely Land' that is pushing for a higher level of autonomy, and Slovakia, with its own significant Hungarian minority group, have also rejected the legality of Kosovo's secession from Serbia.
Despite member states' differences regarding Kosovo's status, the Parliament affirms that it is vital for the EU to engage with Kosovo so that stability and security in the Western Balkans – the EU's immediate neighbourhood – can be preserved and built upon.
In the resolution, adopted by 455 votes to 155, MEPs call on the European Commission and member states to take practical steps to make the benefits of EU cooperation more tangible to people in Kosovo – such as allowing visa liberalisation for its citizens once the necessary criteria have been met.
''To this end, the Commission should communicate without delay to the Kosovo authorities the steps that need to be taken before preparing the visa liberalisation road map,'' states the document.
A study by Votewatch.eu presented at a public event on 9 June revealed that all MEPs from the five countries who have not recognised Kosovo except Slovakia had voted against the resolution, across party lines. Only Slovak MEPs had a split vote, Doru Frantescu from Votewatch explained.
Tensions ahead of ICJ ruling
The resolution also calls on Serbia to adopt a ''pragmatic'' approach to Kosovo, as tensions rise ahead of the pending decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of Kosovo's declaration of independence.
"While understanding the emotional implications of the aftermath of the 1999 war and understanding that the official recognition of Kosovo is not a feasible political option at the moment for the Belgrade leadership, [the Parliament] nevertheless calls on Serbia to be pragmatic on the status issue," it states.
MEPs expressed concern over the state of relations between the two, following an outburst of violence in northern Kosovo. On 2 July, a hand grenade thrown into a protest by ethnic Serbs killed one man and injured several others, while three days later an ethnic Serb member of the Kosovo Assembly was shot and wounded (EURACTIV 05/07/10).
Parliamentarians urged the EU's EULEX rule of law mission to step up its efforts in northern Kosovo in order to help improve inter-ethnic relations and inform local citizens about what the EU is doing to help.
Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek, a member of the Greens/EFA group and author of the Parliament's resolution on Kosovo, said that the EU assembly had "made clear that European integration is the future of an independent Kosovo" and had given a ''clear signal'' to the five member states that have not recognised it.
Asked by EURACTIV if she really expected some of the five countries to change their positions following the vote on the resolution, she said: ''Let's wait for the ICJ opinion, it will come in a few weeks, and we'll talk again.''