Kosovo’s independence a highly controversial issue

Elcano Royal Institute

Enlargement to the East entails a number of challenges for Spain. It does not stand to gain from the economic opportunities of enlargement but will suffer from the consequences (reduced structural funds, increased migratory flows, industrial relocation and disinvestment and trade competition in key markets). Nevertheless, for historical and moral reasons Spain has supported the enlargement process from the very beginning and continues to back future developments. The Spanish government backs not only the entry of Turkey and Croatia but also of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
 
According to Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos,[1] Turkey’s membership of the EU is a ‘strategic issue’. Successive Spanish governments (whether Conservative or Socialist) have backed Turkey’s entry to the EU for a number of different reasons which have to do with the EU’s general political, economic and security interests, while not considering questions of cultural or religious identity to be central to the issue.
 
Concerning Croatia, the government has supported the opening of negotiations and considers that talks are progressing very satisfactorily. It believes Croatia’s future membership to be a decisive factor for the Balkan region.
 
As regards potential candidate countries, Spain supports all initiatives and efforts to make progress in the improvement of the political situation in the Balkans through the Association and Stabilisation Process. According to the Spanish government, Spain has a commitment towards these countries and backs the idea that their future should only be within the EU.[2]
 
In general, enlargement is a topic without relevance in the mass media and in political debate, with the exception of Turkey. Nevertheless, even in the latter case, there is no significant debate about the advantages and disadvantages of Turkish membership or of its consequences for Spain. According to the 15th Wave of the Elcano barometer (June 2007),[3] most Spaniards believe that Turkey’s situation is very bad or bad (59%) and only 20% consider it is good or very good. Regarding Turkey’s relations with the EU, 56% are opposed to Turkey’s future membership, while 25% believe it should be a privileged partner but not a member and 33% believe it should be a full member. The results for the latest Elcano barometer (November 2007) remain practically unchanged, with the exception of those who are opposed to Turkish membership (down to 25%).
 
Kosovo’s future is also a highly delicate and controversial issue in Spain.
 
It is feared that separatist sectors of Basque and Catalan nationalists could manipulate a unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.
 
The Spanish government has insisted that there is no possible comparison and that there are no elements in the case of Kosovo that could be transposed to the domestic political debate.
 
Spain has expressed its refusal to accept the ‘unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo’. For the Spanish government, such a declaration should not be viewed positively as it would constitute a breach of international law. Spain bases its position on the principles of ‘respect of international law and of European unity’.
 
According to several analysts and government officials the independence of Kosovo was the US government’s first option and no alternative options were fully analysed, including the rejected Serbian proposal. There are a number of options that recognise Kosovo’s special position without having to resort to a unilateral declaration of independence, which would likely generate even more problems, and Spain believes that EU unity and credibility must be preserved. Consequently, the Spanish government will predictably back the European position on this issue. The EU is unlikely to recognise the new State and each country will act according to its own domestic context.
 
As stated above, this is a controversial issue in domestic politics. When the Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, presented the results of the European Council to the Spanish Parliament (December 2007) he was severely criticised regarding this issue.[4] The main opposition party, the centre-right Popular Party, expressed its disagreement with some of the European Council’s conclusions. Its leader, Mariano Rajoy, criticised the lack of a European appeal to the Security Council to substitute the UN’s current Resolution 1244. Nevertheless, he considered it positive – although insufficient – that the European Council had underlined that the resolution of Kosovo’s status was a sui generis case that did not set a precedent. He would have liked the Council’s conclusions to include the fact that territorial integrity and the stability of borders are prime elements of the European order and should not be modified by unilateral action.
 
Paradoxically, nationalist parties such as Esquerra Republicana (leftist and pro-Catalan independence) and the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (centre-right Basque nationalist) criticised the same paragraph of the Council Conclusions but with the opposite meaning. They believe the independence of Kosovo sets a precedent for the genuine and legitimate aspirations of other nations integrated in European states, such as the Basque Country and Catalonia.
 
Concerning relations between the EU and Serbia, the Spanish Secretary of State for the EU, Alberto Navarro, believes that the proposal for an interim Political Agreement on cooperation with Serbia – providing a framework for making progress on political dialogue, free trade, visa liberalisation, and educational cooperation and to be signed on 7 February 2008 – is a very positive message sent to the Serbian people. However, he recognised that if the ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic wins the second round of the Serbian elections on 3 February the scenario would become very difficult. Nevertheless, he stressed that Serbia’s future is within the EU as a full member.[5]
 
After Kosovo’s declaration of independence: a short update
 
The Spanish government has reacted with startling severity against the declaration of independence. However, Spain does not feel comfortably being in minority within the EU, specially when countries such as France, United Kingdom or Germany backed the Kosovo’s independence.
 
The main opposition party (the Popular Party) has given its support to the government position and has demanded to not participate in the Kosovo’s EU mission.
 
It should be noted that the independence of Kosovo comes in the middle of an election campaign, the vote will be held on March, 9th, 2008.


[1] Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Spanish Congress of Deputies, 10 May 2007.

[2] Spanish Permanent Representation before the EU, July 2007, see: www.es-ue.org.

[3] See: www.rielcano.org.

[4] Plenary Session of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, 19 December 2007.

[5] Press conference, Secretary of State Alberto Navarro, 28 January 2008, see: www.es-ue.org.