Trans-Europe Express: Kosovo and Catalonia are (not) the same

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

The EU’s position that the referendum in Catalonia is illegal and that its independence drive is an internal matter for Spain did not go down well in Serbia. In fact, it irked the Balkan country so much that at one point it considered sending an official letter to the Commission to demand clarification.

Julija Simić is the editor-in-chief of EURACTIV.rs.

Here is the gist of the matter.

While EU institutions and member states have now unequivocally rejected Catalonia’s independence, nine years ago the Brussels institutions and most member states had no qualms about recognising what Belgrade calls the unilaterally declared independence of its southern province of Kosovo.

It’s hardly surprising then that the bloc’s position on Catalonia was taken in Serbia as yet further evidence of the EU’s double standards and hypocrisy.

Brussels added fuel to the fire when a European Commission spokesperson said, clumsily in the opinion of some, that Catalonia and Kosovo were not comparable cases because Spain is an EU member state.

The statement prompted urgent consultations in Belgrade, after which Prime Minister Ana Brnabić announced that Serbia would send a letter to the European Commission with a number of questions regarding that position.

The letter was to be delivered by the prime minister herself during a scheduled visit to Brussels. Brnabić said at the time that, as a person strongly committed to European integration, she would insist on getting an answer to the question why the case of Kosovo was different from that of Catalonia, and whether international law applied to Serbia or not.

However, the initiative was soon dropped and the authorities in Belgrade, which hopes to join the EU in the next decade, explained that Spain had asked Serbia not to deliver the letter.

Spain is one of the five EU member states that have not recognised Kosovo, along with Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus and Greece.

The idea that Kosovo cannot be a special case is shared by Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, who said that what had been done to Serbia in 2008 was a violation of international law, just like Catalonia’s move was not in line with international law.

“We warned that it [Kosovo] was a ‘Pandora’s box’ that will not end only with Kosovo’s independence,” said Dačić, adding that the Kosovo example showed that unilateral moves were possible and that, in the end, it all boiled down to what the great powers want. The common belief in Serbia is that Washington and Brussels were the architects and advocates of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

After those remarks, the storm died down but President Aleksandar Vučić recently commented how hard it was for every Serb “to listen to the loud hypocrisy regarding the respect for Spain’s territorial integrity”.

Meanwhile, Madrid has brushed aside Catalonia’s independence and installed a caretaker to rule the region while Belgrade is launching an internal dialogue on what to do about Kosovo. The opposition says it will only be a “show” meant to provide an alibi for a decision someone has already made (to recognise Kosovo).

So far, the EU has refrained from demanding explicitly that Serbia recognise Kosovo before joining the EU. Instead, it stressed the need to see a ‘normalisation of relations’ in the region.

With Russia’s backing, Serbia has vowed never to accept Kosovo’s independence but, under pressure from Brussels, it has agreed to reopen dialogue with Pristina, restore transport and communications with the former province.

We’re waiting to see who will blink first – Brussels or Belgrade.

The Inside Track

Hiding in Belgium? Dismissed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is not seeking political asylum in Belgium and will not return to Spain until he is guaranteed a fair trial, he told a packed news conference in Brussels’ European quarter this week.

End of bailout in sight. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said this week that the government’s plan to put the public finances in order was working and that the country would be out of the bailout programme by August 2018.

Unexpected alliances. Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals in the European Parliament, said the Czech government being formed by Andrej Babiš would be an ally in pushing forward EU reforms after Brexit.

Brexit Papers. The British government this week came under pressure to publish papers detailing the potential impact of Brexit, after MPs appealed to a rare parliamentary power.

Jamaica goes social. The first round of German coalition talks on social policy revealed common ground when it comes to the fight against old-age poverty, the shortage of nurses and long-term unemployment, as EURACTIV Germany reports.

Russian Brexit meddling? Britain’s Electoral Commission is investigating whether a leading anti-EU campaigner breached referendum finance rules, after speculation mounted that Russia may have meddled in the Brexit vote.

Dirty Diesel deals. While the Dieselgate scandal still roars on, the European Union may be about to water down new CO2 limits for cars at the behest of the German automakers lobbying.

Euro introduction. Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković announced that the European Union’s latest member wants to adopt euro within seven or eight years.

On the European track. With Sebastian Kurz, Brussels will have a pro-European partner in the new Austrian government. His policy will combine conservative values with a willingness to reform, as EURACTIV Germany reports.

Diplomatic frictions. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski announced this week that the country is about to launch procedures (clearly aimed at Ukraine) to stop people with “an extreme anti-Polish position” coming to Poland, EURACTIV Poland reports.

Relative reunification. A group of Syrian refugees stranded in Greece has demanded transfer to Germany and pitched tents opposite the parliament in Athens to protest against delays in reuniting with their relatives.

Justice for Daphne. Thousands of people in Malta took to the streets saying they will not be silenced until there is justice for murdered journalist and anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Pope row. A row between France and Poland broke out over a cross on a monument to Pope John Paul II, after a court ruled that the statue breaks the French law on the separation of Church and State.

Sexism scandal. After reported allegations about sexual harassment in British politics intensified, British Defence Minister Michael Fallon was the first to fall on his sword over harassment claims.

Back to normal. Two years after coordinated attacks across Paris, France officially ended its state of emergency, replacing it with a new security law which critics say undermines civil liberties, Reuters reports.

Two years later. Since a nightclub fire killed 65 people in Romania two years ago, problems that led to the disaster have not been solved. Those presumed guilty have yet to face justice and Romania’s capacity to treat severely burnt patients is still limited, EURACTIV Romania reports.

Results dismissed. Macedonia’s main opposition leader cried foul over local election results after gains for the ruling party in a second round of polls and demanded a snap parliamentary vote.

Eurozone gaining momentum? Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir said the eurozone should speed up the completion of the banking union and bailout fund as the window for reform is closing.

Ambivalent relations. Slovakia wants to keep one foot in the core of the EU, but does not want to antagonise its Russian neighbour, said Darina Malova in an interview with EURACTIV Czech Republic, talking about different positons towards Russia inside the Visegrád Group.

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