Serbia unlikely to get EU accession talks date
Foreign ministers are preparing to put off the start of accession talks with Serbia for at least another six months.
A draft decision - seen by EUobserver - to be taken at the General Affairs Council on enlargement in Brussels on Tuesday (11 December) says the talks can only start if Serbia first normalises day-to-day relations with Kosovo and no sooner than June next year.
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It notes that the negotiations on EU entry are conditional on "the key priority of taking steps towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo ... so that both can continue on their respective paths towards the EU, while avoiding that either can block the other in these efforts."
It adds: "The Council will review progress in the high-level dialogue in spring 2013 with a view to decide in June 2013 on the opening of accession negotiations provided that all the above issues have been dealt with in a satisfactory manner."
Serbia's nationalist government restarted the dialogue with Kosovo's leaders in October.
It covers areas such as co-operation on telecommunications, border crossings, financial aid for Kosovo Serbs, protection of religious heritage sites and access for the EU police mission, Eulex, to the Kosovo Serb enclave in north Kosovo.
The EU draft decision welcomes the "progress" achieved in the talks so far.
But with north Kosovo still a no-go area for Eulex and for Kosovo police due, in part, to Serb paramilitary structures supported by Belgrade, the frozen conflict in the region remains a major obstacle for both countries to move forward on EU integration.
An EU diplomat told this website the draft decision could still be changed.
"The EU is split in two camps on this. Austria is leading the side that would like to give Serbia an accession talks date more quickly," he noted.
"On the other hand, Spain has different concerns about the language on Kosovo - they are against anything that sounds like support for Kosovo statehood, because of Catalonia [a Spanish breakaway region which is looking to hold a referendum on secession]," he added.
The foreign ministers will on Monday also discuss the Middle East Peace Process, Syria, Ukraine, Russia and Mali.
Diplomatic sources indicated there is no prospect of EU punitive measures on Israel over its decision to build 3,000 new settler homes in a sensitive area of the West Bank.
The UK raised the idea of sanctions last week. But the Czech Republic is opposing even a strongly-worded EU statement on the settler issue.
The ministers will meet the leader of the newly-formed Syria opposition council, but they are not expected to formally recognise the group as the legitimate authority in the country. "We are not ready for such a big step," the EU diplomat noted.
They are likely to agree a set of concrete conditions on rule of law and democracy for Ukraine to meet in order for the two sides to sign an Association Agreement next year.
And they are expected to give the go ahead for EU military intervention against Islamist rebels in north Mali.
They will also discuss human rights problems in Russia ahead of the EU-Russia summit on 21 December.
The discussion comes after the US adopted a bill on blacklisting Russian officials implicated in the murder of Russian anti-corruption crusader Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.
But the EU diplomatic source said the Russia debate will be of a "more general nature ... there is no appetite to tackle the Magnitsky issue despite the US move."