Kosovo is more qualified than Serbia

By Daniel SerwerApril 17, 2024

She is a Serbian representative at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

Serbia is currently engaged in a ferocious campaign to block Kosovo membership in the Council of Europe (CoE). This is despite an explicit commitment in the February agreement the Americans and Europeans claim is legally binding not to do that for any international organizations:

Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organisation.


The merits of the case

I don’t know if the CoE will admit Kosovo later this spring. It certainly should. The main CoE qualification is rule of law:

Every member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Kosovo has been steadily improving and ranks above the median regional average on eight dimensions of rule of law. It is third in the region, slightly behind Montenegro and more behind Georgia, but well ahead of Serbia’s declining scores. Pristina recently resolved a major complaint. It recognized the Decan/i monastery’s property rights, an issue outstanding for more than 20 years. Corruption, regulatory enforcement, and criminal justice are its weakest dimensions. All of these are symptoms of a new and relatively weak state.


Benefits for Serbs

The main purpose of the CoE is

To promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law across Europe and beyond

In principle, you would think that people who really are discriminated against would welcome their country’s membership in such an organization. Instead, Belgrade is dead set against it.

The issue is not only one of ideals. There are practical consequences of CoE membership. It opens to citizens access to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). That is a serious privilege. If a national justice system fails in the eyes of a citizen of a member state of the CoE, that citizen can appeal to the ECHR, which has a strong tradition of ruling in favor of equality and non-discrimination, including the Balkans. That doesn’t mean its decisions are always implemented, as Bosnians will be anxious to tell you, but it does strengthen those who suffer discrimination. Member states can also file complaints against other member states, another privilege that Belgrade should welcome.


Why not?

Belgrade opposes Kosovo CoE membership for several reasons. First, Belgrade doesn’t want to acknowledge that Kosovo is a state. Second, it fears that Kosovo will file complaints against Serbia. There is ample reason for such complaints stemming from discrimination and other human rights violations against the Albanian majority inside Serbia, the treatment of Kosovo citizens in Serbia, and the failure of Serbia to account properly for its wartime malfeasance in Kosovo.

Third, Belgrade is also trying to pressure Kosovo into creating an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, which it sees as important to formalizing its relationship with the Serb population inside Kosovo. The CoE Parliamentary Assembly regards this as an issue Kosovo should resolve after membership. Such minority associations are common among CoE member states and Kosovo has promised to create one. But it quite reasonably doesn’t want to do so until Serbia acknowledges its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Bottom line

The sad fact is that non-member Kosovo today is more qualified for CoE membership than current member Serbia. It is high time to fix that.