EU diplomats: Serbia to get candidate status
EU diplomatic sources say objections raised by Lithuania, Poland and Romania are not serious enough to stop ministers recommending that Serbia gets official candidate status.
French foreign minister Alain Juppe jumped the gun on Monday (27 February) by telling press in Brussels one hour before internal talks on Serbia that the Balkan country is heading for the upgrade.
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"There was an agreement today ... At least, there were no further objections," he said.
Lithuania, Poland and Romania later at the meeting raised concerns that Moscow has too much influence on Belgrade and that Serbia is mistreating its so-called "Vlach" Romanian minority.
One EU diplomat told this website on Tuesday morning the complaints are "not party stoppers," however.
He said the negative remarks are due to the fact all EU countries wanted to air views at a "historic" moment for the Union and to increase pressure for reform. "It's good that countries raise these things so that we don't get carried away in a sort of whoopee," the source noted.
"I am sure we'll have a good conclusion," a diplomat from one of the three objecting EU countries said. "We are not blocking Serbia, but on the condition of enhanced monitoring by the [European] commission," a contact from another objecting country added.
Serbian President Boris Tadic and EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton also voiced optimism late on Monday at a press briefing in the EU capital. "I really hope that tomorrow we will see the General Affairs Council [Gac] move forward," Ashton said.
In terms of process, if EU foreign ministers at the Gac on Tuesday endorse the move, EU leaders are likely to rubber stamp it at a summit later this week.
Serbia will then qualify for EU pre-accession money and might get the green light from EU leaders in December to open accession talks.
Serbia has problems with corruption and judicial reform. But the elephant in the room is the future status of Kosovar Serbs in north Kosovo, who reject central control by Kosovar Albanian authorities - a problem described as a "frozen conflict" by some EU diplomats.
The EU candidate decision is to come after Belgrade last year handed over its top war crimes fugitives and last week agreed to let Kosovo speak under its independent flag in multilateral meetings and to sign international agreements as if it was a normal country.
Its participation in meetings is to come with a footnote that this is "without prejudice" to the fact it does not have UN recognition, but also that the International Court of Justice says its declaration of independence was legal.
Ashton noted that the European Commission will shortly produce a feasibility study on how the EU can sign legal pacts with Kosovo despite the fact that five EU countries do not recognise it.
An EU official earlier told this website: "We are the best in the world when it comes to squaring the circle. Perhaps there could be a legal agreement accompanied by a declaration that it [for instance, a trade pact] only applies to this and this, but not that [status]."
For their part, Kosovar Albanian nationalists from the Vetevendosje (meaning "Self-Determination") political party have held protests in Pristina to say the footnote on international meetings fortifies non-recognition.
"The EU is feeding the little octopus [Serbia] so that it can separate it from the big octopus [Russia], but the problem is that the little octopus has its tentacles deep inside Kosovo," Albin Kurti, a Vetevendosje leader, told this website in the Kosovar capital late last year.