In-depth | Recognition

Recognition denied: Romania

By - 07.11.2016

Five-part series on the non-recognizing EU states.

When Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008, attention swiftly turned to foreign parliaments and assemblies across the world to see who would recognize Europe’s newest state. By the end of 2008, Kosovo had the recognition of the United States, Turkey and all but five of the member states of the European Union — the exceptions being Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus.

Eight and a half years later, while 112 nations worldwide have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, it is still not a member of the United Nations, and the same five EU members have yet to recognize Kosovo. This state of partial recognition has left Kosovo in something of a state of purgatory, often complicating admission into international organizations and the usual benefits of statehood.

Toward independence (1)

MARCH 24, 1999:
NATO launches an aerial bombing campaign against the Milosevic regime in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The military intervention is an attempt to end the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo and concludes with a ground operation in June of the same year which drives Milosevic’s state apparatus out of Kosovo.

JUNE 10, 1999:
The United Nations Security Council adopts resolution 1244. The resolution places Kosovo under an interim UN administration, with duties performed by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). UNMIK is also tasked with establishing provisional institutions of local self government and facilitating a political process to determine Kosovo’s future status.

Opposition to Kosovo’s independence is most fiercely advocated by Serbia (with strong support from Russia), who insist that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration breaches international law and violates its territorial sovereignty. Although in 2010 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law, a common factor behind the five EU non-recognizers’ position is often viewed as being based on internal concerns.

Relations between Kosovo and each of the five members of the EU yet to recognize the state have developed individually since 2008, with varying results. In this five part series, K2.0 looks at the internal and external factors that have affected diplomatic ties between these five nations and Kosovo.

Kosovo and Romania

The news of Kosovo’s declaration of independence was celebrated in Romania, though almost exclusively in one small area of Transylvania, the region home to Romania’s ethnic Hungarian minority, who make up around 7 percent of the population. The leaders of the Szeklers National Council, an ethnic Hungarian organization, held a rally to celebrate Kosovo’s declaration, displaying banners proclaiming “Well done Kosovo!” “Rights for Minorities,” and “Long Live National Autonomy” in the Transylvanian city of Cluj.

The Romanian parliament were considerably less jubilant. A declaration was soon drafted announcing that Romania would not recognize Kosovo’s independence. It received overwhelming backing by Romanian politicians. The declaration stressed that “the decision in Prishtina and the potential recognition by other states of the unilaterally declared independence cannot be interpreted as a precedent for other areas.”

For Romania, recognizing Kosovo’s independence could pave the way for unilateral action from the Hungarian minority, who have sought autonomy for the Transylvanian region for a long time. This was, and still remains, one of the biggest causes of Romania’s stance of non-recognition towards Kosovo.

Marian Chiriac, a journalist working in Romania for BIRN, told K2.0 via email that this stance is also politicized. “In my opinion, the Kosovo case is used by Romanian officials as a politicized argument, aimed to strengthen their position amongst the nationalist electorate — hardliners who fear that such a move could set a legal precedent and encourage separatist movements at home,” he stated.

Toward independence (2)

The UN issue a set of standards that have to be met by Kosovo’s Provisional Institutions of Self-Government before Kosovo’s final status will be discussed. Twenty two months later a UN commissioned report states that further progress in standards can not be made until Kosovo is clear about its future status.

Kosovo’s future status is discussed at a meeting in Vienna by representatives from Kosovo and Serbia, with the negotiations mediated by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. However, after a number of meetings no agreement is able to be reached, leading Ahtisaari himself to formulate a plan aimed at resolving the deadlock.

Romania have also expressed legal concerns over Kosovo’s declaration of independence. During the ICJ hearing on the legality of the independence of Kosovo, Romania pleaded in favor of Serbia’s position, arguing that “the unilateral declaration of independence made by the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo does not observe the fundamental principles of international law.”

The ICJ’s advisory decision contradicted this claim, stating categorically that Kosovo’s declaration had not broken international law, but their findings have had little impact on Romania’s stance since then.

Recognizing the statehood of Kosovo is not solely an internal or legal concern for Romania. Another reason the Balkan state hesitates to recognize Kosovo is the well established economic interests invested in its western neighbor Serbia.

During 2015, trade volume between the two countries reached over 1 billion euros, with Romania exporting over 627 million euros worth of goods to Serbia while importing over 384 million euros worth, a trade benefit to Romania of over 240 million euros. On the other hand, according to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, in the same year Romania exported only around 30 million euros worth of goods to Kosovo.

Nevertheless, despite these strong economic ties, lately Romanian-Serb relations have not always been a bed of roses. In 2015, Romania threatened to block the opening of Chapter 23 of the EU’s negotiations with Serbia over membership, unless rights for the Romanian minority (known as Vlachs, of which there are around 30,000) in eastern Serbia were guaranteed.

Chiriac believes that the non recognition of Kosovo is also used as leverage by the Romanian government when discussing the issue of Vlachs with Serbia. “Bucharest is trying to use Kosovo as an argument to ask for more rights for the Romanian (Vlach) minority in Serbia,” he told K2.0.

“Successive governments have opposed Kosovo's independence, but continue to be involved in the EULEX EULEX mission there."

Marian Chiriac

Despite their reservations over recognizing Kosovo’s statehood, Romania’s diplomatic relationship with Kosovo has not been fully closed. In 2013, the Romanian government took the decision to recognize Kosovo passports. Before this, Kosovo passport holders were required to apply for an additional Romanian visa, even if they held a Schengen visa. A liaison office for Romania has also been open in Prishtina since 2004.

In the vote on Kosovo’s membership to UNESCO, Romania took a more neutral stance than most of their non-recognizing counterparts by abstaining from voting, unlike Cyprus, Spain and Slovakia, who all voted against the motion.

Discussing Kosovar-Romanian relations, Chiriac believes that Romania has held a “schizophrenic” attitude towards Kosovo. “Successive governments have opposed its independence, but continue to be involved in the EU mission [EULEX] there, deploying police and gendarmes,” he said.

A shift in policy towards Kosovo or an internal rivalry?

2013 seemed to be a landmark year for Kosovo’s relations with a number of nations. In April that year, Kosovo and Serbia committed to dialogue and signed the first agreement between the two states. That summer, the European Parliament made a plea to the five EU countries yet to recognize Kosovo to reverse their decision.

Toward independence (3)

April 3, 2007:
After further meetings and negotiations with both sides, Ahtisaari presents his plan for the future status of Kosovo to the UN Security Council. The Ahtisaari Plan is quickly approved by authorities in Prishtina and statements of support for its findings are issued by the United States and in the European Parliament. However, a rejection from the government of Serbia and strong Russian opposition prevents the plan from being adopted.

February 17, 2008:
Faced with no progress in negotiations, the Assembly of Kosovo unilaterally declares itself independent as the Republic of Kosovo, though Kosovar Serbs boycott the Assembly meeting. The Assembly obligate themselves to follow the provisions outlined in the Ahtisaari Plan, with its recommendations forming the basis for Kosovo’s constitution. The Kosovar institutions also agree to the deployment of over 2,000 corps from the EU Rule of law mission (EULEX), to monitor and assist the judicial system. The mission is still operational up until 2018.

By June 2013, Romania’s then prime minister Victor Ponta was beginning to indicate a different stance towards Kosovar independence. “I am rather in favor of a rapid process of recognition, [though] the President is more cautious than I am, while the former foreign ministers also have their views,” Ponta told Romanian news outlet Mediafax.

In the same year, during a visit by the U.S. vice president Joe Biden, Ponta told Romanian television that 2015 might be the year that Romania would recognize Kosovo — if there is coordination with other European partners [the four other EU member states that did not recognize Kosovo]. He added that Romania should “join the European family” on this issue.

Chiriac describes Ponta’s support as rooted in a desire to position himself in opposition to former President Traian Basescu, and accuses him of having little desire to enact real change. “Neither Ponta nor his government ever tried to have a clear and real initiative in order to recognize Kosovo,” he said.

While 2015 was labelled as the potential year of recognizing Kosovo statehood, in the end politics in Romania that year was characterized by endless scandals and unrest.

First an investigation was launched in July against Prime Minister Ponta, over allegations of “money laundering, forgery and tax evasion,” which seriously shook the Romanian political landscape. Months later, Ponta decided to step down after popular protests erupted in Bucharest as a consequence of a notorious nightclub fire.

Since then, Romania has been governed by a technocratic government with a one year mandate. It is led by Dacian Ciolos, who has not given any signal for a change in position towards Kosovo.

However, support for the recognition of Kosovar independence isn’t completely absent from contemporary Romanian politics. A report was conducted in May and June 2016 by a Romanian think tank, the Romanian Center for European Studies with support from the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society. The report was entitled: “The EU and the Western Balkans, Connecting the EU with Kosovo,” and included a survey of Romanian deputies who were, amongst other things, quizzed on their position towards Kosovo’s independence.

Struggle for recognitions

AUGUST 2008 - JULY 2010:
Serbia responds to Kosovo’s declaration of independence by seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, asking if it had violated international law. Two years later the conclusion was clear, though not a binding-ruling: the declaration had not violated international law.

APRIL 2013:
Two years after the beginning of a technical and political dialogue, Kosovo and Serbia sign an accord, considered by many as “a landmark agreement” to help normalize relations. Point 14 of the accord states that “it is agreed that neither side will block, or encourage others to block the other side's progress in their respective EU paths.”

DECEMBER 2014 - MAY 2016:
Kosovo find sporting success in December 2014 and again in May 2016, being admitted as a full member of the International Olympic Committee and FIFA respectively. However, in November 2015 Kosovo fails by three votes to be admitted into UNESCO, after a state funded campaign against Kosovo’s membership is run by Serbia.

JULY 22, 2016:
Suriname become the 112th country to recognize Kosovo as an independent state in July 2016. However, Russia, China, India, Brazil and more than 80 other states worldwide are still yet to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Out of a total of 506 deputies, 202 answered the survey. When asked about recognition of Kosovo by Romania; 39 percent of the respondents stated that they believed that Romania should recognize Kosovo, while 35 percent were against recognition. Twenty six percent did not respond to the question.

In December, Romania faces fresh parliamentary elections and there is considerable uncertainty over who will end up in power. Bucharest based journalist Kit Gillet explained to K2.0 the tangled web Romanian politics finds itself in. “The Social Democratic Party [Victor Ponta’s former party] are likely to win the most seats, but party alliances could potentially cause challenges in forming a coalition government,” he said. “Meanwhile, there are no strong candidates currently for prime minister.”

All of this leaves the Kosovo question out in the cold and hard to envision a future for. As Gillet pointed out, “It is very hard to predict the direction of foreign and domestic policy when you have no idea who will be leading the country in a matter of months.”

With the old issues still unresolved and the most prominent Romanian politician to openly speak of recognising Kosovo, Victor Ponta, now disgraced, recognition currently seems a long way off. However, a fresh chapter of Romanian politics will begin at the end of this year, one in which Kosovo can try once again to push the issue of recognition.K

Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.