In a blow to growing hopes that Serbia and Kosovo were on the brink of an historic deal, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that he had not been able to reach agreement with his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, on normalising ties at the latest round of EU-brokered talks on April 2. That leaves Serbia's hopes of getting a start date for EU accession talks hanging by a thread.
An EU official said the talks in Brussels between Serbia and its erstwhile province Kosovo had attempted to resolve the status of the Serb-dominated area in northern Kosovo. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008. While many countries recognise it as an independent country, Serbia still does not.
"Despite these long meetings, several of which we had today, we presently do not have an agreement. We have some more time to find a solution," Dacic said in Brussels, according to Serbian state broadcaster RTS.
Kosovo PM Thaci told reporters that Pristina had put forward proposals that would have integrated all citizens, including ethnic Serbs, into the life of Kosovo. But he said the proposals were met with "hesitation" on the Serbian side. He said talks with Belgrade could continue as soon as next week, "if Serbia agrees with our principles," according to RTS.
EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, who chaired the talks, said the gap between the two sides was "very narrow, but deep". She said it was the last formal meeting that she would call between the parties, but she did not rule out that a solution could be found. "A number of proposals were put on the table," Ashton said, noting that the premiers will consult in their capitals and "let me know in the next few days of their decision."
Tension between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and remaining ethnic Serbs has led to violence in recent years, notably along the northern border with Serbia. Most ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo reject the authority of the Kosovo in Pristina, and look to Belgrade to protect their interests.
But Serbia has been told it must normalise relations with Kosovo before it can start talks about joining the EU (though Brussels stops short of insisting that Serbia recognize Kosovo as an independent state).
The European Commission is expected to present in April three reports to the member states for consideration regarding Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia. It is on the basis of the content of these reports that the European Council in June will consider the next steps in moving the enlargement process forward.
The report relating to Serbia will be used by the Council to determine whether enough progress has been made for it to decide on setting a date for opening accession negotiations with Belgrade. The focus will be on the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, a process which, as stated in the December Council conclusions, should gradually result in the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia with the prospect of both being able to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities.
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