The council will establish direct contact with authorities in Pristina.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 04/02/13
The Council of Europe has paved the way to expand its dialogue with Kosovo authorities. [AFP]
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will establish direct working contact with Kosovo authorities, a step that is expected to facilitate necessary judicial reforms as Pristina continues to pursue European integration.
At the end of 2012, CoE Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland initiated a policy of working contacts with Kosovo, intended to allow CoE officials to interact with Pristina "without violating the principle of status neutrality imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1244."
Jeremy Moakes, a CoE spokesperson, said the assembly must still define the precise methods, but added that a resolution announced on January 22nd allows for expanded dialogue with members of the Assembly of Kosovo "to address the concerns it has itself raised such as with regard to the pace of progress in improving the rule of law."
Kosovo Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Petrit Selimi told SETimes the resolution will allow direct co-operation, especially in key areas of human rights, freedom of expression, and the protection of cultural and historical heritage.
"We will take intensive steps to establish the communication line and to create monitoring mechanisms with the Council of Europe, and we know that, de-facto, the membership in the Council of Europe is a precondition for the further integration processes in the EU in the future," Selimi said.
He also said the resolution creates an operational framework and a possibility of direct talks without intermediaries. Kosovo has opened a consulate in Strasbourg that will aid communication with European institutions.
Two-thirds of the 47 CoE nations must approve new members. Kosovo's independence is recognized by 34 of the 47 members. Selimi said that Kosovo will apply for council membership in due time and with the co-ordinated effort of the recognising countries.
"After the success achieved last year, including the membership in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 2013 will be the year of focus into Kosovo's membership in international and multilateral organisations," Selimi said.
Agron Demi of the Kosovo Institute for Advanced Studies, said the country must make improvements in its court system because the council "will not accept new members if the candidate countries have a lack of rule of law."
"The biggest obstacle will be the number of cases in the local courts," Demi told SETimes. "Therefore, the Council of Europe will condition Kosovo with resolving the cases through the courts, before gaining the right to join. Thousands of Kosovars are waiting to have the chance to address the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg."
Kosovo must be a member of the council in order for its citizens to have the right to petition the European Court of Human Rights over violations in the country. Betim Musliu, executive director of the Kosovo Law Institute, told SETimes the court system needs financial support from the country's executive in order to eliminate a backlog of more than 200,000 unresolved cases.
"[The number of unresolved cases] makes it impossible to solve the cases in a reasonable time, violating the foreseen legal timing and violating, as a consequence, the rights of the sides to have the cases solved," Musliu said.