Bruno Coppieters: "There is no Kosovo model on international recognition"

Posted in Europe | 16-Mar-08 | Author: Carsten Michels

- Exclusive WSN-Interview with Bruno Coppieters, Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Brussels, conducted by WSN-Editor Germany Carsten Michels -

"What is special about Kosovo is the degree of external support it receives from external actors."
"What is special about Kosovo is the degree of external support it receives from external actors."
Carsten Michels: You have studied several separation processes in Europe and Asia. What has been special in the case of Kosovo?

Bruno Coppieters: Several arguments in favour of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence are to be found in other secessionist conflicts. The massive violation of human rights by the central government, for instance, or the lack of feasible alternatives to independence. What is special about Kosovo is the degree of external support it receives from external actors, making the international recognition of its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) a feasible option. In no other part of the world, external support to a secessionist movement is sufficiently powerful to achieve such a result. External actors have not the capacity to follow this particular Kosovo model. This is also due to past experiences. In the case of Northern Cyprus, its recognition by Turkey in 1983 has only underlined their wider international isolation – both of Turkey and of Northern Cyprus. The same is true for Russia today. It is likewise unable to achieve the integration of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria into the world community through diplomatic recognition.

Carsten Michels: Does that mean that the recognition of Kosovo will remain unique?

Bruno Coppieters: The likelihood of success for the recognition of a UDI is higher for Kosovo than for any other disputed territory. If we focus exclusively on this question, there is indeed no Kosovo model on international recognition. But there are other types of Kosovo models. The impact of Kosovo on secessionist conflicts is largely determined by the lack of clear legal and political principles behind the decision to recognize its independence. The EU and the United States do not have any interest in creating a Kosovo doctrine on the recognition of unilateral declarations of independence. They have no interest in worldwide debates on when and how they take such decisions. The EU member states would moreover be unable to agree among themselves on the basic principles of such recognition. Secessionist movements are themselves then filling the blanks. They are stating which principles are at stake. They claim for instance that the principle of national self-determination overrules the principle of territorial integrity.

Carsten Michels: Kosovo is a very small state with its economy in bad shape and reliant on the EU and Serbia. Unemployment stands officially at 44% and even in Pristina, basic amenities are unreliable. How is this newly created state supposed to exist?

Bruno Coppieters: It was stated in the Ahtisaari plan for supervised independence that economic figures would not improve as long as Kosovo would remain in a legal limbo. But there is no direct causal link between the international status of a territory and its economic performance. The clarification of the question of the international status of a territory favours economic performance under the condition that it facilitates international integration and good governance. In the case of Kosovo, full integration is far from being reached. Economic relations with Serbia will remain complicated – to use a euphemism - and Kosovo has still no access to many international organizations. Good governance rather depends on internal factors than external support. It remains therefore to be seen if the formula of supervised independence will be more successful in improving international integration and good governance than the previous UN administration.

Carsten Michels: Germany and France have been fighting each other for centuries. After World War II, they have become the centre of European integration and close friends. Why is it so hard for peoples on the Balkans to accept their neighbours as partners?

Bruno Coppieters, Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Brussels: "The EU and the United States do not…
Bruno Coppieters, Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Brussels: "The EU and the United States do not have any interest in creating a Kosovo doctrine"
Bruno Coppieters: The history of European integration demonstrates that it facilitates the resolution of national conflicts among sovereign states. The relations between Germany and its neighbours, between Ireland and the United Kingdom or between Greece and Turkey, have markedly improved through progressive waves of integration on the economic and institutional level. This process took place among equals. European integration does not seem to have the same impact on the resolution of national conflicts within states. It is far more difficult in such cases to observe clear causal links between integration and conflict resolution. In some cases, it does not have a positive impact at all on conflict transformation. One of the reasons is that it is possible but difficult to create equality among nations within a federal framework. The perspective of sovereign equality remains therefore an attractive alternative, at least for one of the parties in such conflicts.

In the case of Serbia and Kosovo, the European Union is making an attempt to solve an intra-state conflict by turning it into an inter-state conflict. The two sovereign nations are expected to integrate themselves within European institutions. Common decision making within these institutions would facilitate their reconciliation, as it happened in the other European cases I just mentioned. But this strategy may very well fail: contrary to those successful cases, the right of existence of one of the parties is denied by the other. Moreover, European integration policies are largely associated in Serbia with the creation of an unjust order. In the coming parliamentary elections, realism may perhaps prevail and pro-European parties may get a majority, but it will remain realism that would then prevail, with little space for common norms and values as far as nationality and sovereignty questions are concerned. This does not presage well for a conflict resolution strategy for Kosovo that relies so strongly on a European integration perspective.

Carsten Michels: Some EU member-states such as Spain do not recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state, because the fear their own separatist movements could take it as precedence. Is Kosovo a “special case” or just the beginning of a renewed “nation-building” process at Europe’s periphery?

Bruno Coppieters: What I found particularly interesting in the Kosovo debate was the fact that the European Union has taken core responsibilities in addressing intrastate conflicts in its neighbourhood, but that it is incapable to address such conflicts within its own borders. In some cases, this lack of policy is reasonable. In conflicts between nationalist movements and governments of Member States, the European Union is anyway unable to act as an impartial mediator. But national conflicts within Member states have suddenly emerged as a core issue in the EU debates on Kosovo. This means that the European capacity to act outside its borders is determined by its incapacity to act within its borders. It also means that Member states are far from sharing the same security concerns when the European Union has to go beyond general principles of regional integration and address the more fundamental questions of sovereignty and statehood.

Carsten Michels: Dmitri Medvedev, the successor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has committed his long-term support in backing Serbia. What are the Russian motives behind that policy?

Bruno Coppieters: All European states – within or outside the European Union – that reacted negatively to the question of the diplomatic recognition of Kosovo did so in function of their own national conflicts. Russia is no exception. Secession is a long term problem for Russia. But it has other motives as well for its Kosovo policies. It has no interest in supporting a Western policy that profited from Russia’s weakness in 1999 when NATO intervened in Kosovo without UNSC authorization. Moscow sees no advantage either in defending a similar position as after NATO’s intervention. In 1999, Russia still wanted to share responsibility over the region by giving its consent to a UN administration. Russia is stronger now, but not strong enough to imitate Western great power policies concerning Kosovo in its own neighbourhood. It is, however, sufficiently powerful to make use of the Kosovo precedent to advance more clearly its own interests in the breakaway territories in Georgia and Moldova. It strives for a normalization of its relations with these entities below the level of full diplomatic recognition, and remains indifferent to accusations of partiality. Why would it bother to appear as neutral, when Western governments have taken such a clear normative stand in the conflict between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians?