Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade -
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has slammed the European Commission's proposal on the normalisation of the country's relations with Kosovo – a key chapter in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations.
Vucic said on October 12 said that if “impossible requirements” are set for Serbia, he will not take part in the planned October 13 meeting with his Kosovan counterpart Isa Mustafa, and it will be "time for new elections in Serbia", state news agency Tanjug reported.
Vucic is seen as a key player in the process of regional reconciliation, coexistence and stability. This includes normalisation of the Belgrade-Pristina relationship, where Vucic concluded four key agreements with Mustafa in August. However, he is fiercely resisting the new 36-point EU draft platform for Chapter 35 of the accession negotiations. This is a sudden change of stance that could indicate he is trying to appeal to Serbian voters in advance of possible early elections in 2016.
Vucic called the platform for Chapter 35 “an awful paper” and said its content is, de facto, more than a request for the formal recognition of Kosovo.
"If I see impossible conditions being set out that Serbia cannot meet as it would mean trampling upon its own flag, I will not be taking part in that and it will be time for elections," Vucic told journalists at the opening of a new factory in Jagodina, central Serbia.
Senior members of Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party (SNS) including Vucic have already indicated that they may call early elections. Although the SNS has a stable majority, the party may decide to attempt to further increase their majority in advance of planned reforms. Strengthening the government’s mandate would help Vucic to push through unpopular measures, including shutting down unprofitable state-owned enterprises.
A decision on whether a general election will take place at the same time as local elections scheduled for spring 2016 will be made by mid October, the SNS has said.
Kosovo, which was part of Serbia until it unilaterally declared independence in 2008, is one of the topics that provoke an emotional reaction from Serbian citizens. Taking a tough stance on the draft Chapter 35 platform therefore looks like an electioneering move.
Speaking on October 12, Vucic said he would discuss the issue with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, Germany and the US. He is due to visit Brussels on October 13 and is expected to join Mustafa for an informal dinner arranged by Mogherini.
However, he added said that the talks with Mustafa cannot include discussion of the draft platform as the document, drawn up by the European Commission and filed to EU members, is completely unacceptable because it contains a series of provisions anticipating the status of Kosovo.
The head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Michael Davenport denied that the draft negotiating platform for Chapter 35 constitutes a request for the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, saying that it instead covers the implementation of obligations settled in the agreements reached so far. “This is not about pressure, it is about the continuation of the dialogue and implementation of obligations deriving from the Brussels agreement from April 19, 2013 and other agreement achieved within the dialogue, all in view of ensuring comprehensive normalisation of the Belgrade-Pristina relations and it has always been so,” Davenport told reporters on October 12, Tanjug reported.
Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic has also said that he considers the draft platform for Chapter 35 to be unacceptable because most of the points are not status neutral and entail recognition of the province's independence, Serbian broadcaster B92 reported on October 11. Dacic is the leader of the SNS’s junior coalition party, the Socialist Party of Serbia.
“We consider the requests unacceptable. The [Belgrade-Pristina] dialogue is status neutral and anything beyond that is unacceptable for us, and I am convinced that the same is true of the EU countries that have not recognised Kosovo,” Dacic said in an interview with Belgrade-based daily Kurir. He specified that Serbia considers it unacceptable for the dialogue to be conducted by Serbia and Kosovo instead of Belgrade and Pristina, or for administrative crossings to be replaced with border crossings with accompanying signs.
EU accession has been the Serbian government’s main goal. However, a rift between Serbia and the EU over Kosovo could lead Belgrade to look towards Russia, which has refused to recognise Kosovan independence. Both Serbia and the majority ethnic Serb Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina are wholly dependent on Russian gas imports.
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