Friday

18th Jan 2019

Western Balkans summit imperilled over Kosovo

  • Kosovo has not been recognised by five EU member states because of their own issues with regions seeking autonomy (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Several EU member states are considering whether to attend the Western Balkan summit in May in Bulgaria at the highest level, as they object to the presence of Kosovo, one of the potential candidate countries for European accession.

Spain's prime minister Mariano Rajoy has already signalled at the EU summit last month that he might not attend the Sofia summit because Madrid does not recognise Kosovo.

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Kosovo, a former Serbian province which declared independence in 2008, has not been recognised by Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania because of their own issues with regions seeking autonomy.

The issues is especially sensitive since Catalonia recently attempted to break away from Spain.

These countries are considering diplomatic ways to display their reservations at the Western Balkans summit scheduled for 17 May.

One option could be for their officials to take part only in the working dinner the day before the summit, and have another member state represent them at the summit itself.

The Western Balkans summit is the centrepiece of the EU's rotating president, Bulgaria, which has put the region's integration high on its agenda.

Bulgaria is seeking to reassure countries that it respects Kosovo's 'status neutrality', a term referring to the notion that the EU does not prejudge Kosovo's status. Kosovo officials always participate in regional meetings with a footnote referring to status-neutrality.

Bulgaria wants to have all 28 member states present at the highest level and send a message of unity on EU integration of the region.

Previous Western Balkans summits were not attended by all heads of governments and states.

Serb options

Serbia, a candidate country, is also weighing its options.

Speaking on Tuesday (3 April) Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade awaits the outcome of meetings between Serbian and Kosovo officials next week before he decides.

Serb prime minister Ana Brnabic earlier on Monday said that the possible presence of Kosovo's representatives at the EU summit on Western Balkans in Sofia is "political nonsense".

Serbia might attend if Pristina establishes the association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo in accordance with an earlier agreement negotiated with the help of the EU, she added.

Belgrade accuses Kosovo of stalling the implementation of the 2013 deal on special rights for municipalities with Serbian majorities.

Recent EU-brokered talks between Kosovo and Serbia in late March have led to no progress on normalising relationships.

Later EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini travelled to Belgrade last month to sooth tensions after ethnic Serbs walked out of the Kosovo government, set up roadblocks and following the arrest and expulsion of a senior Serb politician in northern Kosovo.

'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

At the first summit in 15 years with Western Balkan leaders, EU chiefs made it clear that enlargement is not at hand - but offered economic incentives to keep the region close to the bloc.

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