Visegrad Four grapple with problem of Kosovo independence

11-12-2007

The future of Kosovo has been exercising minds throughout Europe in recent weeks, and now the UN deadline for a settlement on the Serbian province has expired, talks have acquired a new urgency. Leaders of the so-called Visegrad Four group - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary – discussed Kosovo this weekend ahead of a key European Union summit on the problem.

An estimated 1,000 Kosovo Albanians participate in a pro-independence rally in Kosovo's capital Pristina, photo: CTKAn estimated 1,000 Kosovo Albanians participate in a pro-independence rally in Kosovo's capital Pristina, photo: CTK Kosovo was top of the agenda at this weekend’s Visegrad Four meeting in Ostrava. The meeting took place as Albanian leaders were indicating that a unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia could be just weeks away.

The Visegrad Four were actually Five this weekend – leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary were joined by the prime minister of Slovenia, which takes over the EU presidency on January 1st. Back in 1991, Slovenia fought a 10-day war of independence from Belgrade. The former Yugoslav constituent republic will in all likelihood be presiding over the EU at the moment when Kosovo, a former autonomous province of Serbia, declares independence.

Robert Fico, photo: CTKRobert Fico, photo: CTK The Slovak prime minister Robert Fico told reporters after the Ostrava meeting that Slovakia would have severe problems recognising a unilateral declaration of independence, and said the issue had the potential to divide Europe.

“The worst thing that can happen to the European Union is that there will be two groups of EU countries with different points of view on Kosovo.”

His Czech, Polish and Hungarian counterparts were not quite as strident in their opposition, but did agree that this was a European problem that should be solved by Europe, not by America. Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek.

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTKMirek Topolanek, photo: CTK “It’s going to require the political, economic, security and military participation of the European Union, unlike the 1990s when the European Union failed in its role.”

But divisions in Central Europe over Kosovo did not surface at the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday. The four major EU members – the UK, Germany, France and Italy – said they were close to a common position supporting a declaration of independence. Only Cyprus was actively resisting the idea, according to EU officials.

Czech prime minister Topolanek assured reporters in Ostrava that all four Visegrad countries insisted Serbia must not be left out of the process. Events on the ground, however, suggest that is precisely what is about to happen.

11-12-2007