EU skates over thin ice on Kosovo independence

Other News Materials 18 February 2008 22:00 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - The European Union insisted on Monday that Kosovo did not set a precedent for other separatists, but failed to agree a common position on recognizing the self-proclaimed independent state.

In a compromise text issued at the end of a meeting in Brussels, the bloc's 27 foreign ministers took note that the Kosovo assembly had declared independence on Sunday, but stressed that the province constituted a unique case "which does not set any precedent."

And the text gave in to the concerns of those member states opposed to Kosovo's independence, saying only that governments "will decide, in accordance with national practice and legal norms, on their relations with Kosovo."

An earlier draft put forward by Slovenia, the holder of the EU's rotating presidency, had referred to member states establishing relations with Kosovo "as an independent state."

The final text was issued just hours after the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had announced that they would soon be following Kosovo's lead.

Germany, France, Britain and Italy have all indicated that they are ready to recognize Kosovo as Europe's newest nation state, along with the great majority of other member states.

But some EU members, most notably Cyprus and Romania, are still refusing to go ahead with recognition.

And Spain, which has to deal with a strong separatist movement in its Basque region and faces a general election next month, has also expressed strong reservations.

"Some had anticipated that the EU could never reach a consensus," Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said.

"The EU once again survived this test of unity. We have a common position on the recent developments in Kosovo," he added.

Asked about the lack of unity on whether to recognize an independent Kosovo or not, Rupel said recognition was in the hands of member states.

"Some will do so today, some tomorrow, some may not. This is not something we can interfere with," Ruppel said.

According to Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, a far more important decision on the future of Kosovo was taken on Saturday, when member states agreed unanimously to deploy a 3,000-man policing and justice mission - the largest civilian task force in the bloc's history - to help build up the newborn state's fledgling institutions.

The EU also vowed to play a leading role in guaranteeing the security of Kosovo's Serbian minority and reiterated its desire to appease Belgrade by offering it the prospect of EU membership.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said the bloc was also working on a donors' conference to raise funds for the region.

The EU has already invested 2 billion euros (2.9 billion dollars) in Kosovo and has vowed to spend a further 1 billion over the next two years.