THE judgement by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 was not unlawful has given rise to positive reactions in many regions which are trying to break away from their existing status and negative ones in many nations trying to hold their boundaries together.

When the majority Albanians of Kosovo broke away from the Serbs who had held the territory for centuries, Serbia asked the International Court to determine whether the secession was legal. The court found that there was no international law against such secession and therefore ruled that it was not illegal. But that may not amount to the same thing as saying that it was actually legal. Indeed there is a strong implication in the ruling that such matters will inevitably be settled by political rather than legal considerations. So Spain, Greece, Cyprus - to mention only three EU countries with a keen interest in the principles of this matter - will probably continue to be among the large international majority of nations that have so far held back from officially recognising Kosovo because of the precedents involved in doing so. The immediate need is to prevent this ruling from leading to ethnic violence in Kosovo. The Serbian reaction was firmly negative, but not aggressively so. Both countries want to become members of the EU and in this joint ambition there may be hope for a sensible resolution of a complex problem.