• Nikolic took power in May from EU darling Tadic in a surprise twist (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Nikolic: EU does not demand Kosovo recognition

14.06.12 @ 18:40

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Serbia's new leader has said his country can one day join the EU without recognising Kosovo.

Tomislav Nikolic made the remarks after meeting top EU officials in Brussels on Thursday (14 June) on his first state trip after his inauguration on Monday.

"I was assured that the European Union will not demand from us to recognise Kosovo officially, but will demand from us to have better relations [with it]. That's good for us all. I don't know. Maybe you know these people better than I do. But I do believe them," he told press.

On day-to-day relations with Kosovo, he said he will screen previous agreements before deciding whether to honour them.

"I [will] support all agreements that are not against the constitutional order of Serbia and that are not harmful to Serbian citizens ... We have to have some clarifications from our negotiator in Belgrade about some critical points," he said.

The deals - on issues such as customs checkpoints or exchange of land registries - were brokered by EU diplomats and endorsed by Nikolic's pro-EU predecessor Boris Tadic.

Some details - whether Kosovar customs officers can wear national insignia, whether documents refer to "border management" or "boundary management" - are significant in terms Serbia's non-recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Nikolic came to Brussels under a cloud.

The former Slobodan Milosevic ally said in the run-up to his EU debut that the town of Vukovar in Croatia belongs to Serbs. He also said that Srebrenica - which EU institutions designate as a Serb "genocide" of Muslims - was not genocide.

On the day, he told European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso that EU membership is his top priority and that he aims to start accession talks in autumn.

For his part, Barroso said "normalisation of Serbia's relations with Kosovo remains an absolutely central condition of moving to the next step [accession talks]."

When asked what he thinks of the Vukovar and Srebrenica statements, Barroso voiced general sympathy for people the region.

"We are speaking about a part of Europe that has lived extremely painful experiences ... in the not so distant past. We have to think of the young people in this region who want to travel, who want to study, who want to work. This is the most important," he said.

The commission the same day gave Kosovo a "roadmap" of what it has to do to get EU visa-free travel in future.

The move comes amid popular feeling in Kosovo that Kosovar Albanians were the victims of Serb aggression but that EU-Serbia integration is moving faster.