Parliament rapporteur: All EU countries should recognise Kosovo

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Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA group), the European Parliament's rapporteur on Kosovo, urges the five EU countries that have not recognised Kosovo's independence – Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – to do so. She spoke to EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Ulrike Lunacek was a member of the Austrian Parliament from 1999 to 2009. In the European Parliament she sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee and is rapporteur on Kosovo.

She spoke to EURACTIV Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

At a recent public event, you said that when you used to visit Yugoslavia as a young person for holidays from your country Austria, it was like paradise to you. We all thought there will be no wars in Europe after World War II, but this paradise was torn by fratricidal wars. And now politicians try to mend the divisions, like Serbia being prevented to advance on its EU path because of the Kosovo problem. Do you have a simple solution to this problem?

Yes, I guess so. But let me do a bit into history before I give you a clear answer. I've been in the Austrian Parliament for 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, in charge of foreign affairs. So I already had to [deal] with the Balkans soon after the bombings on Belgrade and Kosovo. I was hesitant about the way the West reacted and especially at the bombing of Belgrade – although I had been following what [Serbian leader Slobodan] Miloševi? was doing about Kosovo Albanians. But Europe had to do something.

But not bombing Belgrade?

At that time, I wasn't sure if this was the best thing to do. It was problematic, especially because there was no UN resolution on that. And then it took a long time until Kosovo declared independence [in February 2008] and when they did it, I also had the feeling it would have been better if there would have been consensus about it, and not having a country declaring independence without a UN Security Council resolution.

So that's my own background on that. By now I've been rapporteur on Kosovo in the European Parliament since September 2009. I have visited Kosovo quite often; I've also been to Belgrade a couple of times. And now, coming back to your question: yes, there would be a rather easy answer, which would mean the five EU states that haven't recognised Kosovo to go ahead and do it, and also Serbia, in the hopefully near future. And to make it clear: yes, there is a new state, and that the future of all countries lies in the European Union. Therefore the border issues would not be so important anymore as they still are.

Yes, but let's take only one of the five countries that don't recognise Kosovo. Let's take Spain, the most distant one. At first glance, Madrid doesn't have many stakes there. But if it recognises Kosovo, that would be a precedent for similar recognition of, say, an independent Basque country or Catalonia.

I know, but there are two answers I could provide. The one thing is the International Court of Justice ruling of July 2010 to which Serbia had appealed to, to request an opinion on whether the independence of Kosovo was against international law or not. I think the ICJ was quite clear. Serbia would have expected a position more positive to Serbia's position. But it was rather favourable to the independence of Kosovo, as it said the act did not breach international law.

The other answer is that all five EU states that refuse to recognise Kosovo [Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain] have certain problems with their own ethnic minorities. People have been asking me at public events: does it mean that the Hungarians in Slovakia might declare independence? But if you are afraid of that, on a certain level, you put yourself at the same level of what Miloševi? did with the Kosovo Albanians.

The eurozone crisis affects EU enlargement, doesn't it?

It's true that the Union has a lot of things to solve internally. It's also true that it makes it more difficult for us who argue that enlargement to the Western Balkans is necessary, and that Europe will not be totally united if the Western Balkans aren't part of it. That is an argument that is not well heard in several capitals – there is a lot of scepticism about enlargement.

As much as I appreciated [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel being clear last August to [Serbian President Boris] Tadi? that certain levels of good neighbourly cooperation with Kosovo have to be reached in order for Serbia to be given candidate status, the one part I don't feel well with is her position that it comes from enlargement fatigue in Germany.

And I think the Greens as a whole are struggling a lot for keeping the enlargement perspective. We criticised the Council last week for not going ahead with Macedonia's negotiations. Macedonia has been a candidate country for six years…

Why criticise the Council if it's only Greece that is opposing the opening of negotiations, because of the unsolved 'name issue' [with Macedonia, also the name of a Greek province]?

But we criticise the Council as well for not putting enough pressure on Greece. The ICJ opinion of 5 December was very clear: it criticised Greece for having vetoed Macedonia on its accession to NATO, a very similar issue. So I think other EU states could put a bit of pressure on Greece. Having said this, I know Greece has a lot of problems, I don't want to belittle them.

On Macedonia, [Prime Minister Nikola] Gruevski reacted on the ICJ ruling in a sensible way, without too much triumphalism. But I think the government of Macedonia has been too much on the nationalist side and has played the nationalist card too much.

You don't like the 'Warrior on horseback" erected in the centre of Skopje?

[Laughter.] No, I don't think this was a good idea. You know, many of us who are in favour of a common Europe, we are trying to work against nationalism. So I would urge EU countries to put more pressure on Greece, but also Macedonia to step down these nationalist reflexes.

How about Turkey?

There's also a fault of the European Union and of some member states vis-à-vis Turkey. Not from the Commission per se. Some member states' governments have been changing their mind as to what negotiations with Turkey are concerned. I think the EU should go on negotiating with Turkey and see if Turkey is willing to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria. I don't know whether they will want to do that at the end, whether they will want to lose the sovereignty that EU membership means. And maybe Turkey wants to play a different role on its own in its region.

In Turkey, citizens are losing belief that the EU really wants their country's EU accession process. We had a group meeting in Istanbul a year ago and we met people from civil society whom we had been meeting before as well, and they told us that their enthusiasm for the EU was waning. And they have been seeing the EU negotiating process as something that empowers them in order to change their own system.

The EU could in theory be more generous with Turkey, but some believe that this will give munition to the extreme right in Europe and help Marine Le Pen becoming president of France.

I hope not, definitely. But indeed, right-wing and extreme right-wing parties have been playing a lot with Turkey's accession process in a very populist, in a very dangerous way, and governments, politicians, but also the media have not been very good at providing an answer.

What is the good way to provide an answer?

One way is to explain what modern Turkey means and what are the chances and opportunities of the negotiation process. Turkey could change a lot and improve the situation for ethnic minorities, where there are huge problems. I think Turkey should go ahead and recognise the genocide of Armenians from 1913 to 1915. It wasn't their government, it was long ago. But there was cruelty that needs to be named. Or the Kurdish issue: It would be great if there was more freedom for Kurdish media, if Kurdish could be taught at school.

And more freedom for the press in general? There are 50 Turkish journalists in prison, without a sentence…

I know that there are many journalists in prison, we've been doing resolutions about that in the European Parliament as well. And I don't know what way Turkey really will go. But the question is how strong can civil society be, and here the European Union can help. For me the question is if the EU is serious about its own values, if we want to be credible about that. But then we have to stick to promises.

Can you name one EU country where democracy is threatened?

Threatened is a difficult word. But of course at the moment in Hungary we have a big problem. The Hungarian government is going into a very authoritarian style of ruling.

We have problems in the European Union itself. We had them in Italy until [Silvio] Berlusconi resigned. Media concentration in his own country under his power is something member countries should not accept, and that you as media shouldn't accept.

But the European political family ties play a rather strong role, in fact sheltering Italy and Hungary from criticism.

And I'm confronted with the question when I deal with problems of the freedom of the media in Western Balkan countries. Then you get asked: what about Italy? What about Hungary?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said basically the same the other day at the EU-Russia summit. The EU should not criticise Russia before looking into its own problems such as racism or xenophobia, he said.

Yes, and we have a problem. And Mr Medvedev and others use the argument that the EU is not perfect either for not doing anything in their own countries. The EU would be more credible if we did more to fulfil our own ideals in our own countries.

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