By Dragutin Nenezic
In recent weeks, an increasing number of proposals arrived from different sides calling for Pristina to join NATO and the EU, as a form of Western Balkan reaction to the fratricidal war in Ukraine. Readers of this portal are undoubtedly familiar with these proposals (as well as those that preceded them), so I won’t dwell on them any longer, thus, I would like to draw attention to the somewhat overlooked proposal, made by Viola von Cramon, for Pristina to replace Russia in the Council of Europe. I would like to give my contribution to the comprehension of the conditions for Pristina’s accession to all these organizations, as well as attempt to assess the future course of events in this regard, however thankless it may be.
The conditions and procedure for NATO accession are regulated by Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty:
The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a Party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America. The Government of the United States of America will inform each of the Parties of the deposit of each such instrument of accession.
Therefore, among other things, it must be a European state invited by unanimous agreement by other signatories, among which Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain do not recognize the unilaterally declared independence of Pristina.
First of all, Pristina’s accession process has been separate from the Belgrade process at least since 2008, however, unlike Belgrade, Pristina still does not have candidate status. In that sense, the question is not whether Pristina will join the EU, but when it will be accepted.
Furthermore, the conditions and procedure for EU accession are regulated by Article 49 of the EU Treaty:
Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component members. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.
So, it is also necessary for it to be, among other things, a European state, whose application is unanimously decided on by the European Council. The European Council consists of representatives of EU member states, out of which Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain do not recognize the unilaterally declared independence of Pristina.
Council of Europe
The conditions and procedure for accession to the Council of Europe are regulated by Article 4 of the Statute of the Council of Europe:
Any European State which is deemed to be able and willing to fulfill the provisions of Article 3 may be invited to become a member of the Council of Europe by the Committee of Ministers. Any State so invited shall become a member on the deposit on its behalf with the Secretary General of an instrument of accession to the present Statute.
The situation here is practically identical to the one concerning NATO and the EU – here as well, among other things, it must be a European country, invited by the Committee of Ministers, made up of representatives of the member states, who must reach a unanimous decision. These situations differ when it comes to membership, as there are a higher number of countries in the Council of Europe that have not recognized Pristina’s unilateral declaration of independence: Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine, not including Russia.
The issue of Pristina’s statehood
It is clear from the abovementioned that there are two groups of conditions for membership in these organizations – conditions related to adherence to certain values contained in the constitutive documents of these organizations, as well as conditions related to statehood.
I won’t get into the „value“ conditions for Pristina’s membership in these organizations, because these are very subjective categories, whose assessment is very flexible depending on the political interests of the country evaluating them. For example, I believe that from the point of view of protecting the rights of the Serb people, significant remarks can be made regarding whether Pristina respects the values listed in Article 2 of the EU Treaty:
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail;
but I also think that this will not be the stance of the EU member states if the political dictate tells them to vote for Pristina’s admission (also, those states do not care about protecting the rights of the Serb people).
Therefore, the debate over Pristina’s membership in these organizations focuses primarily on the condition of statehood, and even Pristina-based authors do not find this disputable. The usual view would be that one cannot talk about the statehood of Pristina until its unilaterally declared independence is recognized by 4, 5 or 9 states that have yet to do so. This is also where the position of official Belgrade lies.
I believe, however, that in the current circumstances, there is a danger of finding support in theories of international public law that do not require recognition as a condition for statehood. For example, due to the danger that Russia may, according to the West, pose to the (West-centric) international order, some countries may conclude that Pristina’s accession to an international organization strengthens that order, and vote for such a thing despite the fact that recognition of the unilaterally declared independence did not come to be (along with, for example, placing a certain reserve). This would certainly not mark the first time that the principles of international law have been interpreted in accordance with political interests. Current events also show the extent to which international law has lost its significance in international relations, as well as the extent to which it is currently reduced to a facade that conceals the interests of pure force. If nothing is firmly valid anymore, nothing should come as a surprise. The fact that Belgrade is still – at least nominally – bound by international law does not mean anything unless it is accompanied by an adequate force, which Belgrade apparently does not have or does not want to employ.
In that sense, the scope of Belgrade’s reaction to the possible admission of Pristina to these organizations should be observed. Official Belgrade announces the so-called „withdrawals of recognition“ in case of additional recognitions, but that can hardly stop Pristina’s admission, especially if the significance of the recognition itself is relativized.
In place of a conclusion
This is where I would try to predict Pristina’s chances of joining these international organizations, having in mind not only the perception of its statehood I wrote about in the text, but also the broader political and security context of the fratricidal war in Ukraine.
I think that Pristina’s accession to NATO is not a priority of that organization at the moment. NATO already has forces deployed in Kosovo and Metohija, so Kosovo and Metohija is surrounded by NATO members on all sides outside the so-called administrative lines, therefore, I think this is not really a topic, except in appeals of politicians.
Pristina has yet to receive status of EU candidate, which must be preceded by visa liberalization. This is the regular course of EU accession, and I think the EU will stick to it. However, I do not see the possibility of speeding up the accession process outside of that regular course, and the statements of officials that can be heard lately fall on the same line. As I have previously written, I think that the „Ukrainian effect“ when it comes to the EU will primarily concern its greater commitment in the Brussels process for solutions that are in Pristina’s interest.
I am afraid that there is a real possibility that Pristina will replace Russia in the Council of Europe, considering that a seat is vacant, and Russia’s absence can significantly influence the decision-making of states that do not recognize Pristina’s unilaterally declared independence. This has been anticipated in some places since 2018, having in mind the situation with Russia’s membership since 2014. In such a situation, the possible benefits of Pristina’s accession to the Council of Europe (given the large number of property disputes that can finally be brought before the – supposedly neutral – European Court of Human Rights, which I hope Belgrade is prepared for) are quite negligible, although they represent a belated fulfillment of justice.
Pristina’s accession to the Council of Europe would further stimulate both Pristina and its international patrons for new candidacies for membership in other international organizations, starting with those that Pristina has already tried unsuccessfully to join (such as Interpol and UNESCO). It is possible that the change in Russia’s status in these organizations will have the same effect as the membership in the Council of Europe. These would be major steps for Pristina’s statehood, which would further worsen Belgrade’s position in already difficult international circumstances.
The already existing necessity of revising Kosovo’s policy will then become inevitable in order for Serbia to survive as a state that views Kosovo and Metohija as its part. Otherwise, the completion of Pristina’s statehood will become a certainty, even without the recognition of Belgrade.
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