Spain would be prepared to recognise Kosovo if it clinched a deal with Serbia, Madrid has said, in the first positive signal of its kind since EU-brokered talks resumed.
„Our position is not obstructionist. It is, on the contrary, a constructive one,“ the Spanish foreign ministry told EUobserver.
„The Spanish position can be synthesised in the following sentence: ‘nothing without an agreement, everything with it’, including political recognition [of Kosovo] and the establishment of diplomatic relations,“ it noted.
Spain has not recognised Kosovo because it deemed its 2008 unilateral declaration of independence to be „contrary to the rule of law and to our idea of a diverse and tolerant Europe“, the ministry noted.
But Spain believed in the „inevitability of an agreement [between Kosovo and Serbia], even with the difficult concessions it will imply,“ the Spanish ministry added.
The statement more-or-less repeated Spain’s previous position on the issue, as well as those of the other four EU non-recognisers – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia.
But the Spanish statement’s timing coincided with the recent restart of EU-brokered talks on normalisation of Kosovo-Serbia ties after an almost two-year pause.
It showed that Spain’s left-wing government was more open to the move.
And it carried extra significance because Spain is the largest and was, up to now, one of the most hawkish of the non-recognisers.
„According to our information, the current Spanish government compared to the previous ones is a bit more flexible regarding attending meetings together with representatives of Kosovo,“ a German Green MEP who is the Kosovo rapporteur, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, told this website.
„This shows exactly the importance of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. It is worth proceeding with the talks,“ she added.
„Spain has been more dogmatic than other non-recognisers, so a signal in this direction is encouraging,“ Florian Bieber, a politics professor at the University of Graz in Austria, also said.
Madrid’s decision might depend on the small print of any Kosovo-Serbia accord, he added.
But Spain’s socialist government was more „pragmatic“ on the issue than the country’s centre-right establishment, Bieber also said.
For their parts, the foreign ministries of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia declined to clarify their position at this time when asked by EUobserver.
But von Cramon-Taubadel said that if Spain changed its mind, the others would probably do so too.
„I believe other non-recognisers will follow suit in case there is an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo,“ she said.
„Spain can give a good example in this process, and their standpoint can be a good ‘motivation’ for continuing the [Kosovo-Serbia] dialogue,“ she said.
Bieber broadly agreed.
„I think Greece, Romania, and Slovakia are likely to recognise Kosovo if the situation is ripe. Cyprus has been the most hardline on the issue, but the question is whether it would be able to hold out on its own, especially if Greece recognises,“ he said.
There is no Kosovo-Serbia deal in sight for now.
The US recently brokered a mini-deal on Kosovo-Serbia economic ties.
But in the more weighty EU talks, Belgrade and Pristina have reached a new impasse on how to devolve powers to the Association of Serb Municipalities, a bloc of majority ethnic-Serbian enclaves in Kosovo.
Meanwhile, one reason why Spain did not recognise Kosovo’s secession was out of fear of emboldening separatists in the Spanish region of Catalonia.
And much might yet change in the five EU non-recognisers – both in terms of who was in power there and in their domestic situations – before Belgrade and Pristina saw eye-to-eye.
But for the German MEP, if the non-recognisers refused to budge even if there was a Kosovo-Serbia accord, it would make a mockery of the EU process.
„Without agreement and reconciliation there is no real European prospect. However, if they can move forward, the EU should be open to them,“ she said.
„Without recognition from member states, the European perspective remains a dream for Kosovo. It is hard to imagine an EU Council meeting where some countries do not recognise one of the participating members,“ she added.
„The whole dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo only makes sense if a normalisation agreement unlocks recognition for Kosovo. This would allow Kosovo to join the enlargement process in earnest,“ Bieber also said.
And Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation under an EU aegis was important for the wider Western Balkans, the German MEP added.
„There are still serious scars in the societies of the region in the aftermath of the wars. If they want to join the EU, societies need to face this and there is a long and hard process which will need to happen,“ the MEP noted.
„The EU needs to be ready to accept those candidates who are ready to join,“ she said.
But for its part, Kosovo has already had a bad experience with EU promises, after member states failed to grant it visa-free travel for political reasons, even though it met technical criteria two years ago.
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