Germany sides with Kosovo against Serbia
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has bluntly told Serbia it cannot open EU accession talks unless it cedes control of north Kosovo.
"An agreement on starting negotiations on Serbia joining the EU, which it would like to see this summer, will be significantly delayed if it does not reach a deal with Kosovo," he said in Berlin on Tuesday (16 April), according to French and German news agencies.
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He indicated that even if Serbia is left on the shelf, the EU should start talks on a pre-accession pact, a so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement, with Kosovo.
"When one country [Kosovo] delivers results and another doesn't, the one that is taking steps... that is doing its homework must not be held responsible for the lack of good will by the other," he added.
The German minister spoke alongside his Kosovo counterpart, Enver Hoxhaj, with a large Kosovo flag hanging next to the German flag in the background.
Germany is among 22 EU countries and almost 100 UN members which recognise Kosovo. The five EU countries which do not are Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
Berlin's remarks come on the eve of final-final talks in Brussels about the future of the ethnic-Serb-dominated enclave in north Kosovo.
An "EU-facilitated dialogue" on Kosovo-Serbia relations formally ended without agreement two weeks ago.
But EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton is to chair an extra round of talks between Serb Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci in the EU capital on Wednesday, in the hope that consultations between Belgrade and Pristina in recent days will bear fruit.
At stake is a report by the European Commission on Serbia's progress on EU integration.
If the commission paper does not hail a deal on north Kosovo, Germany has warned time and again that it will say No to launching EU entry talks with Serbia at an EU summit in June.
The commission was due to file the report on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting by EU foreign ministers next week. But it has put the paper on hold in case there is a breakthrough in Ashton's initiative.
North Kosovo is home to about 40,000 Serbs who reject Pristina's rule and who run their own paramilitary forces with alleged Serbian support.
Pristina's solution for the Serb enclave is to bring it fully to heel, while promising to channel financial investment into the region to improve living conditions.
On paper, Kosovo and Serbia are to come to a negotiated solution on the territory.
But in practice, Germany and the US have ruled out Serbia's proposal - to create an autonomous Association of (Serb) Municipalities in Kosovo with their own budget, legislative assembly, courts and police force.
The US has also ruled out an alternative Serbian plan - to swap control of north Kosovo for Kosovar control of the ethnic-Albanian-dominated Presevo Valley in southern Serbia.
Whether Westerwelle's latest remarks will help Ashton to get a deal remains to be seen.
But for his part, Dacic in an interview with German media last week complained about Berlin's role in the situation.
"Germany is imposing unnecessary conditions in addition to those that have already been placed … There is a misconception that you can solve all the problems of the Balkans by constantly putting pressure on Serbia," he said.