EU offers Serbia a "timetable" for accession talks

By bne IntelliNews December 12, 2012

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Failing to agree a date for opening talks, EU foreign ministers tried to offer Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia a boost in their bids for membership and association on December 11, stating the bloc will consider opening accession negotiations in the spring if appropriate reforms are implemented.

Instead of a date, EU ministers will recommend to the European Council to open accession talks with Serbia during the Irish presidency (which starts on January 1 and will last six months), "if it continues making progress". Asked whether this means that the talks would begin in June, or at any other concrete time, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters that "this is not about a date, but about a timetable".

Serbia and Kosovo were praised for their renewed bilateral talks, with EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule calling Belgrade "brave" and announcing that "this time there is no mismatch between words and deeds." Serbia is seeking EU membership, while Kosovo aspires to an association agreement - even though five EU countries don't recognize it as an independent country.

Fule wrote on Twitter following the Brussels meeting to discuss the issue - which lasted almost five hours - that there was "a clear timetable for Serbia", and specified that "if progress continues, opening of EU accession negotiations (will be) possible in next EU presidency".

According to unnamed sources, "an overwhelming majority of ministers were in favor of setting a date for negotiations with Serbia", but Germany remains the country that has "the greatest reservations" about giving Serbia a date, and wants to see "more tangible results in arranging Belgrade's relations with Pristina". In particular, Berlin would like to see the Serbian authorities "start withdrawing their presence" from northern Kosovo - which is dominated by ethnic Serbs.

The meeting came to a similar conclusion over the start of Stabilization and Association Agreement talks with Kosovo and Macedonia. The promise for Macedonia is a "significant breakthrough," after Greece for years blocked any progress over a dispute over its name, which is shared with a Greek province, Fule said. He said he hoped there is now an "opportunity" to settle the fight.

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