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Spain took a massive step and changed its mind regarding Kosovo passports. Previously being the lone holdout in the Schengen area, Spain will finally recognize Kosovo passports. In 2023, Spain made headlines when it was announced that all Schengen Area nations would allow visa-free travel to holders of a Kosovo passport, except for one. As of January 1st, holders of Kosovo passports have the ability to travel to member states of the Schengen area without a visa, apart from Spain. Spain makes it clear that it still refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Spain is one of five EU member states that still do not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation.
The Catalonia Issue
Spain’s decision to not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation is primarily driven by domestic political challenges. If Spain were to recognize Kosovo’s claim to independence from Serbia, it would be difficult for the Spanish government to then simultaneously reject any claim that Catalonia should be independent.
Recently, Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez has taken the unpopular step of constructing a coalition government with a Catalonian party which held an illegal referendum for independence. Sanchez has also agreed to grant amnesty to separatists. This has caused large protests in Spain from political opponents of the prime minister who are displeased that despite winning the most votes, Partido Popular was unsuccessful in forming a ruling coalition. If Sanchez were to go as far as accepting Kosovo as independent from Serbia, it could potentially result in Catalonians calling for independence once again. Spain is careful about its wording and the European Commission’s website when announcing Spain’s intention of recognizing Kosovo passports phrases it as “Spain recognises, from 1 January 2024, ordinary passports issued by Kosovo. This change does not constitute, by any means, an official recognition of Kosovo as an independent state.”.
Other EU Member States That Do Not Recognize Kosovo
Interestingly enough, Spain is not the only EU member state that does not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation from Serbia. Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia also refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Each member state has its own motives for not yet recognizing Kosovo as an independent nation. Cyprus refuses to recognize Kosovo out of respect for Serbia’s territorial integrity. This view stems from its own national border challenges. The island of Cyprus remains split between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. If Cyprus were to accept Kosovo’s claim that it is a sovereign state, it would be difficult for it to maintain its claim that the Republic of Cyprus is the only official government on the island.
In Slovakia, politicians refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence out of concern what will happen within Slovakia. Part of Kosovo’s argument for independence is that the majority of the population are ethnic Albanians who speak Albanian. In Slovakia, over 500,000 people make up the nation’s Hungarian minority population. There is concern that if Slovakia were to recognize Kosovo’s independence, Hungarian majority areas of Slovakia will demand independence as well.
Similar to Slovakia, Romania is concerned that the ethnic Hungarian minority could be influenced to seek independence. Romania also cites concerns that recognizing Kosovo could inspire other movements of separatists in the Balkans. The majority of ethnic Hungarians live in the region of Transylvania which is located in the heart of the nation. Having the center of Romania declare independence would have consequences for the rest of the nation. Hungarian Prime Minister Orban has concerned other EU member states by granting ethnic Hungarians in other European nations Hungarian citizenship. Between 2011-2016 alone, an average of 180,000 Europeans per year were granted Hungarian citizenship.
Greece’s situation is a bit different from the others and Kosovo politicians have recognized this as well. While Greece, similar to the other four EU member states previously discussed, does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign nation, Greece maintains a solid economic relationship with Kosovo. For Greece the explanation is a little different. While Greece is not concerned about a region of the country attempting to declare independence if the Greek government recognizes Kosovo, Greece prefers to respect the territorial integrity of nations. When it comes to Georgia, Greece has the same stance and refuses to recognize South Ossetia or Abkhazia as independent nations. This can help explain why Kosovo and Greece have a stronger relationship than the other EU member states discussed, particularly Spain where there is still support for an independent Catalonia. There are allegations that Greece is close to recognizing Kosovo’s independence, yet nothing has been confirmed.
Greece’s delay in recognizing Kosovo as independent may also be due in part to Greece’s relationship with Serbia. Despite being a member of NATO, Greece refused to bomb Serbia during the Yugoslav war. As a member of NATO, Greece was required to participate in the military campaign by providing a naval ship to help blockade Serbia. Despite not directly participating in the bombing, the crew of the ship refused on moral grounds. Ritsoudis who led the ship’s crew was expelled from the navy yet still defends his choice. He is seen as a hero in Serbia and his painting is featured in Belgrade. Serbia also offered money to Risoudis afterwards, yet he declined. He found a career as a yacht captain after being dismissed from the Greek Navy.
Unfortunately for Kosovo, it is unlikely that Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain will recognize its claim of independence from Serbia anytime soon as a result of domestic politics. While it is a victory that Kosovars can now travel throughout the Schengen area without a visa, it will likely be a long time before Kosovo will be recognized by all EU member states as an independent nation and able to become a candidate to the EU. This negatively will impact Kosovo which will likely continue to see economic divergence between itself and EU member states. Due to all five EU member states having different reasons for not recognizing Kosovo’s independence, there is no straightforward approach that the Kosovar government can take in order to be recognized as independent by Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
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