Thursday

20th Sep 2018

Agenda

EU's Kosovo-Serbia talks restart This WEEK

  • Mogherini with Thaci (r) and Vucic in previous EU talks (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Resumption of Kosovo-Serbia talks, with a controversial deal in the air, marks the return to work of EU institutions after the summer break this week.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini will hold talks with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci and Serbian head of state Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels on Friday (7 September).

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Thaci is expected to outline a proposal for a territorial swap that would see Serbia take in ethnic Serb parts of northern Kosovo in return for giving an ethnic Albanian enclave, the Presevo Valley, in southern Serbia to Kosovo.

The deal, which will, in any case, take months to finalise, could pave the way for Serbia and the five EU states that do not recognise Kosovo to change their minds and to unlock Kosovo and Serbia's EU accession bids.

But it already faces a backlash in Kosovo, where the government of prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, as well as three opposition parties (the Democratic League, Vetevendosje, and the Social-Democrat Party), have vowed to oppose it.

It also faces a difficult birth in Serbia, where Vucic said last week he would "never accept a solution which would be humiliating for our country and our people," in a nod to nationalist sentiment.

Brexit angst

Future enlargement prospects aside, the imminent shrinking of the EU, due to Brexit in March, will also feature on this week's agenda.

Negotiators Dominic Raab (UK) and Michel Barnier (EU) have not yet announced the date of their next meeting, but are expected to hold further talks as the clock tics toward the end of the year, by when a deal must be in place if there is to be one at all.

The weekend saw Barnier tell German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Britain's proposal for a trade deal that covered goods, but not services, was unacceptable.

"[It] would be the end of the single market and the European project", he said.

But British prime minister Theresa May has little space to make further concessions amid a thinly veiled leadership bid by her former foreign minister, Boris Johnson, and the hard-Brexit wing of her party.

Johnson said in his column in The Telegraph, a British newspaper, that her proposal already amounted to a defeat because it meant Britain upholding EU laws on trade in goods.

"We have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank", he said.

Italian debt

In other events, EU finance and economic affairs ministers will meet in Vienna also on Friday for informal talks on the future of the euro under the auspices of Austria's EU presidency.

The discussions come amid French proposals to create a new eurozone finance ministry and special EU budget after the next European elections in May and amid German scepticism on that plan.

They also come as Europe waits to see whether Italy's populist government intends to violate fiscal discipline by proposing to spend over and above the EU's 3-percent-of-GDP debt rule.

"If exceeding the 3 percent ceiling is necessary to ensure safety in this country, then yes [it could be done]," Giancarlo Giorgetti, a senior Italian official, said on Saturday.

EU ministers responsible for youth policies will meet in Vienna on Monday to discuss how to expand Erasmus, Europe's international education programme - one of the EU's most popular schemes.

The talks come in difficult times, amid rising anti-EU feeling in several states, with elections in Sweden on Sunday set to hand up to 20 percent of votes to the far-right Sweden Democrats party.

The EU's popularity will be at the core of European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker's, "state of the union" speech in the European Parliament on 13 September next week.

He plans to urge EU states to abandon summer time clock changes on the back of a Europe-wide consultation which saw almost 5m people back the idea.

He will spend this week in talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin (Tuesday) and with European Parliament chiefs and EU diplomats in Brussels (Thursday) to test the waters ahead of his address.

Elsewhere in the EU capital, MEPs will hold a handful of committee meetings as the European assembly slowly comes back to life.

'Western diseases'

Juncker's commissioners will also begin travelling around Europe, with one of them, Hungary's Tibor Navracsics, who is responsible for youth and education, heading to a congress in Krynica, Poland, on Tuesday to meet Polish president Andrzej Duda.

The innocuous meeting could serve as a weather vane for Poland's EU intentions, as the country's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party prepares for the next stage of its confrontation with Brussels over judicial reforms which, critics say, give PiS undue control of Polish courts.

For his part, the PiS chairman and de facto Polish leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, sounded a combative note on Sunday.

"We're being attacked internally and from the outside ... in ways that discount the reality and aim to demean Poland," he said at a party congress in Warsaw.

"[EU membership] ... doesn't mean we should repeat the mistakes of the West and become infected with social diseases that dominate there," he added, alluding to EU efforts to welcome and integrate refugees in the bloc.

'Dealbreaker' issues multiply in Brexit talks

As chief negotiators Raab and Barnier meet again in Brussels on Friday, UK demands for guarantees on the future relationship have put chances of no-deal Brexit over 50 percent.

Opinion

Kosovo-Serbia deal: addressing the fears

Window of opportunity for Kosovo-Serbia deal is wide open, but not for long, the Kosovar president's chief of staff writes for EUobserver as talks resume on Friday.

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