The European Council on Friday, June 28, approved the recommendations of the EU foreign ministers and the European Commission, deciding to open accession negotiations with Serbia. The approval comes two months after Serbia reached a historic reconciliation deal with Kosovo, convincing the member states it is committed to normalising its relations with the breakaway province.
The first intergovernmental conference on Serbia’s EU candidacy will be held in January 2014 “at the very latest”, the Council said in the conclusions of its June 27-28 meeting. Prior to this, the Commission will draft a negotiating framework to be adopted by the Council.
Theoretically, this still means Serbia could start accession talks even before the end of this year. Yet, the strongest and perhaps only opponent to the quick launch of negotiations is EU heavyweight Germany, which insists on giving a push to Serbia’s EU integrations only after the country shows how it actually implements the deal agreed with Kosovo.
The historic deal was brokered on April 19 thanks to the dedicated mediation of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The two countries already began technical talks on its implementation as the main issue concerns the status of the majority Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo. The countries also exchanged liaison officers earlier this month but they still need to resolved major energy and telecommunications issues, among others.
Ashton paid her tribute to the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo on June 27 for the “massive difference” their engagement in the Belgrade-Pristina dialog has made, acknowledging there is still a lot more to be done and announcing they will meet again on July 8 to continue the work.
“You will see the police stations are closed, blockades are gone, people are able to arrive to the customs gates without any problem at all and last week the Minister for European Integration of Kosovo made a visit to Belgrade. It is the first time that an official from Kosovo has been in Belgrade freely, visiting, talking and walking around.”
Serb PM Ivica Dacic said on Friday Serbia is not fully pleased with the European Council decision as it sets January 2014 as a deadline for starting the talks. “We believe this could have been earlier but it was defined so on request of Germany,” Dacic said.
Still, he added, this is a historic day for Serbia since “today the negotiations began officially” and there are no additional conditions and new meetings of the European Council – the decision is final.
Apart from its political, economic and social importance, the Council’s decision to unblock Serbia’s EU progress has also a rather symbolic significance for the country since it was adopted on June 28. This date is of a special importance for the ethnic Serbs and is celebrated in the country as the religious holiday Vidovdan. It is also the date of the famous battle of Kosovo back in the fourteenth century when the Serb army lost a decisive battle against the invading Ottoman Turks – therefore particularly important to the Serbian history, tradition and national identity.
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