Serbia to start EU membership talks in January
18.12.13 @ 10:12
BERLIN - EU foreign ministers have agreed to start membership talks with Serbia in January - a long-awaited move rewarding progress on relations with Kosovo.
"This is an important step forward for Serbia," EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele told press after the ministers' meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (17 December).
"I applaud both prime ministers on remarkable efforts to normalise relations this year, with the facilitation efforts of [EU foreign affairs chief] Cathy Ashton, and I am pleased the Council has acknowledged these efforts," he added.
He said the upcoming Greek EU presidency plans to organise the first Serbian accession conference on 21 January.
He declined to speculate how long the process will take, or to draw parallels with Croatia, which started talks in 2005 and joined the EU eight years later, in July this year.
But he said the Kosovo problem will not be a "delaying factor."
Serbia, along with five EU countries, does not recognise Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.
But Kosovar and Serb leaders agreed a landmark deal in April to co-operate on day-to-day issues, including to dismantle paramilitary groups in Kosovar Serb enclaves.
Fuele noted that the EU is also in talks with Kosovo on an association agreement - a precursor to future accession.
"I am confident we can conclude these negotiations in spring," he said.
Tuesday's decision on Serbia comes after Germany delayed the move in summer due to a flare-up in Kosovo-Serb tensions.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on Wednesday that "we demanded this summer visible progress in the implementation of the normalisation agreement … We can now say Yes."
She added that Germany will also support Albania to get official EU candidate status and to help its government to fight organised crime and corruption.
Fuele noted that a decision on Albania's status will be taken in June.