Foreign Affairs

Kosovo integration in Council of Europe will advance the concept of a free and whole Europe at peace

April 2024
By Davor Ivo Stier

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is deciding on Tuesday, April 16, in Strasbourg on Kosovo’s application for membership in this pan-European organization, founded 75 years ago to protect and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law across the continent. Although the final decision should be taken by the Committee of Ministers, the Assembly was tasked to produce an opinion, which in order to be adopted requires a qualified majority of 2/3 of the votes.

It is major issue, not only for the organization but also for a peace architecture of the continent based on the rule of law. The Council of Europe has created a common legal space centred on the European Convention on Human Rights, granting access to citizens in 46 Member States the ultimate right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to uphold their fundamental rights and freedoms. With Kosovo’s accession, such possibility will be expanded to all its citizens, thus improving the protection of the Serbian community and other minorities in the country.

Already in the process of drafting the opinion, the Government in Prishtina has engaged in an intense and demanding dialogue with the Assembly’s rapporteur Dora Bakoyannis, which resulted in concrete steps, measures and obligations assumed by Kosovo as a future member. With her vast experience in politics and international relations, Bakoyannis managed to settle the years-long dispute over the Dečani Christian Orthodox monastery. By ensuring the implementation of the Constitutional Court’s decision and registering the surrounding lands to the monastery, Bakoyannis’ diplomatic skills proved to be essential for the protection and advancement of fundamental rights in the country, including freedom of religion.

In addition, Kosovo’s authorities also assumed concrete obligations with precise timelines for their implementation, which will be subject to a post-accession monitoring procedure. Among them is the establishment of an Association of Municipalities with a Serb majority.

Coming herself from a non-recognizing country, the rapporteur made also clear in her opinion that the accession of Kosovo to the Council of Europe will be without prejudice to individual Member States’ positions as regards to the statehood of Kosovo. At the same time, its integration in this pan-European organization will advance the concept of a Europe free, whole and at peace.

In a geopolitical context where autocratic regimes are challenging our democratic freedoms, the Council of Europe has taken bold decisions. It has expelled the Russian Federation after the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It has also led the way to establish a Register of Damages, which should make possible in the near future to create a claims mechanism to compensate the victims of the Russian aggression. It has also convened a summit of Heads of State and Government in Reykjavik to reinforce its role as the watchdog organization for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe.

Along that line, by accepting Dora Bakoyannis’ opinion, the Assembly will recommend to the Committee of Ministers to accept Kosovo’s application for membership. Although Belgrade will express its dissatisfaction with this decision, the Serbian community in Kosovo will be better protected after this enlargement of the Council of Europe. If it understands the geopolitical importance of this moment and acts accordingly, Serbia will find itself in a better position to negotiate its own accession to the European Union. Most importantly, by expanding its common legal space for human rights protection, Europe will be in a better position to face the autocratic challenges to its democratic order.