EU nations divided over Kosovo's independence

Britain, France and Germany indicate they will push ahead with recognition, Spain calls Pristina's move illegal.

kosovo government 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
kosovo government 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
European Union nations stood deeply divided Monday over whether to recognize Kosovo's independence, with Britain, France and Germany indicating they will push ahead - but Spain calling Pristina's move illegal. EU foreign ministers were meeting to try forging a common stance on how to handle Kosovo's new status amid expectations that the bloc's three big powers - Britain, Germany and France - will move quickly after Monday's talks to recognize its statehood. Finding unity among all 27 EU nations will be tricky, with countries divided over whether to recognize the declaration and what the bloc should do to ensure stability in the Balkans. All EU nations have endorsed an unprecedented aid plan to bolster Kosovo but some members - including Greece, Romania, Spain, Cyprus and Slovakia - have said they will not recognize Kosovo as a separate country. They fear Kosovo's move could set an international precedent for ethnic minorities elsewhere. EU ministers were working on a single declaration that will "take note" of Pristina's move. However, diplomats said Spain and the others were against even that wording. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Kosovo's independence inevitable after internationally mediated talks failed to yield an agreement between Serbs pushing for wide autonomy for the province and ethnic Albanian leaders insisting on full statehood. "A negotiated solution (for Kosovo) was not possible. That is why we cannot now escape this event," he said. In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Kosovo's status is unique and "cannot be compared with any other." Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, joined Russia in criticizing the decision by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership to split from Serbia unilaterally. "The Spanish government is not going to recognize the unilateral act proclaimed yesterday by the Kosovar assembly," Moratinos said. "We're not going to recognize it because we don't consider that it respects international law," said Moratinos, whose country has its own problem with separatist groups. Moratinos said under international law, international borders can only be altered if all parties affected by such changes agree or if the U.N. Security Council approves of secession. "The Spanish government has always defended international law," Moratinos said. Spain's opposition to Kosovo's independence also is rooted in the fear that independence-minded regions in Spain - notably the Basque area - may similarly secede. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU's reputation and influence in the Balkans was at stake in a region that remains volatile and key to European stability. Miliband called it "critical that Europe shows real leadership in how it ensures that peace and stability are the order of the day in the western Balkans." "There are important decisions for the whole of Europe in how we bring to an end the violent and bloody conflict that has marked the western Balkans for the last 20 years," Miliband said. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Kosovo's independence was "a great success for Europe, a great success for the Kosovars and certainly not a defeat for the Serbs." He said there was no alternative to independence. "It was impossible to maintain battles and massacres it was impossible to do something. We tried and tried and tried," Kouchner said. Ireland's Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said he, too, would be recommending that his government recognize Kosovo. "Since the ethnic cleaning that was meted out on it by Serbia under Milosevic and his thugs, the reality is that this day was going to come sooner rather than later," he told Irish state radio RTE. Ahern warned, however, that the EU would have to provide a lot of support to help build up Kosovo as a viable state. "Its largest export is scrap metal. I found it one of the most depressing places that I've ever visited," he said. Keen to avoid a repeat of the violence during the collapse of Yugoslavia a decade ago, the EU joined NATO Sunday in appealing for calm. The EU already has approved sending a 1,800-strong mission to Kosovo to help build its its police force and judiciary. It will take over from the U.N. mission that has been governing Kosovo since 1999. The EU has given Kosovo €2 billion ($2.9 billion) in aid and provide Pristina with another €330 million ($484.2 million) over the next three years.