EU agrees on Kosovo mission
The European Union has given the political green-light to a 1,800-strong police and civilian mission to be deployed in Serbia's breakaway region of Kosovo, although differences remain over the possible recognition of Kosovo's independence.
"This is the clearest signal that the European Union could possibly give that it intends to lead on the whole issue of Kosovo's future, its status and its role in the region", Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates - whose country currently holds the EU presidency - said on Friday (14 December), after EU leaders agreed the move on the European Security and Defence Policy mission (ESDP).
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According to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, "Europe has saved its unity on the question of Kosovo".
German chancellor Angela Merkel, for her part, said she had "not expected" a decision when she came to the summit Friday morning, while the country's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that the decision was "the real news this evening".
However, it remains unclear when precisely the EU's mission, consisting of 1,800 policemen, prosecutors and judges, can be deployed on the ground.
While Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said the mission would be deployed "just after Christmas ", Bulgarian foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin indicated a less ambitious time-frame - "before the end of the summer ".
According to Slovakia's foreign minister Jan Kubis, the specifics of the mission should be concluded in January next year, after a round of consultations with the UN body.
The EU mission - designed to strengthen stability in the region and ensure that Kosovo's future settlement observes democratic standards - will be legally based on current UN Resolution 1244.
The same resolution introduced the UN administration over the Serbian province back in 1999.
The costs are estimated at €165 million just for the first year of its presence.
However, EU leaders continue to be divided over the mooted "coordinated" declaration of independence of Kosovo.
Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain have all reiterated their concerns over such a move - each of them worried by possible consequences for their own countries.
Portugal's Jose Socrates stressed that the fact the EU is sending a mission to Kosovo does not mean that the bloc is ready to recognise the province's independence.
According to president of Cyprus Tassos Papadopoulos "the fate of Kosovo must be an agreed solution with the Serbs. If not, it must be a resolution by the Security Council. That's the only accepted path".
Divisions on Serbia
The summit also highlighted the persistent divisions among member states concerning whether to link the further integration of Serbia with the arrest of remaining war crimes suspects, notably general Ratko Mladic.
Last week, outgoing UN chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte called on the EU not to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) - the first step to EU membership - with Belgrade unless it arrests the general charged with genocide and war crimes.
Some countries, such as the Netherlands, support this stance, but others insist that Serbia's SAA should be signed even if general Mladic is not arrested, provided that Serbia presents enough proof that it has done all it can to capture him.
Bulgarian prime minister Sergei Stanishev called on "some European countries" to show more solidarity and comprehension with member states geographically close to Serbia - such as Bulgaria itself, who have an interest in Serbia's European future becoming a reality as soon as possible.
Bulgaria hopes the SAA with Belgrade could be signed at the end of January and called for more flexibility on the issue of capturing the war crimes suspects.
In their conclusions following the meeting, EU leaders encouraged Serbia to "meet the necessary conditions to allow its SAA rapidly to be signed" and "reiterated [their] confidence that progress on the road towards the EU, including candidate status, can be accelerated".
They stopped short of making a specific reference to the condition of cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal.