Kosovan independence was legal, says Hague court

Joe Biden throws US support behind the fledgling nation as International Court of Justice sanctions

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has today ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008 did not violate international law or the 1999 United Nations resolution that placed Kosovo under interim UN administration.

Although Serbia has pledged to continue the fight to reabsorb the territory, the ruling is a landmark decision for potentially separatist regions around the world.

Currently, 69 countries recognise Kosovo as a nation, including the US, the UK and much of the rest of the EU, though hardly any countries in the Middle or Far East have followed suit.

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, who met the Kosovar prime minister in Washington yesterday, even went as far as to affirm that even if the UN were to rule Kosovan independence unlawful, the US would continue to recognise it has a nation. However, to qualify for membership of the United Nations, Kosovo will need at least 100 countries to endorse it -- something it looks more likely to achieve following today's ruling.

Serbia argues that the Kosovo region is the birthplace of its national identity. Indeed, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić told the New York Times in January that he realises how Serbian fervour for the place looks to the rest of the world, but argued:

This place, Kosovo, is our Jerusalem; you just can't treat it any other way than our Jerusalem.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has historic roots in the Kosovo region, and the Serbs suffered a historic defeat to the Turks in Kosovo in 1389. This feeds into the Serbian mythology surrounding the area as the birthplace of the Serbian state.

Although today's ruling is a landmark for Kosovo and for other separatist groups in the region (Ossetia and Chechnya in particular), Serbia has no intention of conceding. Following the ICJ's announcment in The Hague, Jeremić restated his country's intention to keep fighting. He said:

Serbia will not change its position regarding Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence and necessity of a compromise. Our fight for such a solution will probably be long and difficult, but we will not give up.

Looking back

You might like to read Kim Bytyci's take on the 2008 Serbian elections from the New Statesman's archive.

Syed Hamad Ali wrote for the NS in July 2008 of the countries that had recognised Kosovo -- also well worth a read.

And, in August 2008, Elena Jurado of the international think tank Policy Network offered her thoughts in the NS on the role of Russia in the region as more states attempt to separate from the former USSR.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired Battersea power station in 2012. Initially, it promised to build 636 affordable units. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers already having failed to develop the site, it was still enough for Wandsworth council to give planning consent. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls.

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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