Friday, June 15, 2012
Serbia has to mend ties with Kosovo - EU Commission
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission president told Serbia on Thursday it needed to mend ties with Kosovo before it can advance towards EU membership but did not explicitly ask Belgrade to recognise the independence of its former province.
Speaking after a meeting with newly-elected Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic in Brussels, the EU's Jose Manuel Barroso said "normalisation" of relations with breakaway Kosovo was vital for Serbia. Belgrade staunchly opposed Pristina's secession in 2008.
"It remains an absolutely central condition for moving to the next stage of EU progress," Barroso told reporters.
On his first trip to Brussels since being elected on May 20, Nikolic faced a test of whether he can reconcile his nationalist positions with a passage towards eventual EU accession.
Ahead of the trip, he said he wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether recognising the independence of Kosovo is a quid pro quo for European Union membership.
But Barroso sidestepped the issue, which in itself is divisive in the EU. Five out of the bloc's 27 states also refuse to recognise Kosovo as independent.
Nikolic says he has given up the dream of a "Greater Serbia" that fuelled the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and now shares the goal of EU accession.
However, Western diplomats fear he could take a harder line than his pro-European predecessor Boris Tadic on the thorny issue of Kosovo - a majority-Albanian territory which many Serbs regard as the cradle of their nation.
Serbia was granted EU candidate status in March after Tadic struck deals on recognition of Kosovo travel documents, car licence plates and Kosovo's representation in regional conferences, several of the many issues that need resolving between the two.
The status means negotiations towards membership can start when the EU decides, although Barroso declined to give a starting date.
Nikolic said he had been told Serbia would not have to go as far as formal recognition of Kosovo.
"I was assured that the European Union will not demand from us to recognise Kosovo officially, but demand from us to have a better relationship," he said. "It is of central importance for us to try ... to be accepted by the European Union and start the negotiations this autumn."
(Reporting By Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Sophie Hares)
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