Monday

21st Jan 2019

'Map of southeast Europe is finished,' Germany tells Serbia

Germany has made the strongest public link so far between Serbia's acceptance of Kosovo independence and its EU membership bid, amid speculation that a final deal will involve a new status for the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle on a visit to Serbia on Thursday (26 August) told students at a speech in Belgrade University that the country has to "face reality" on Kosovo secession.

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"A day will come for representatives of Belgrade and Pristina to sit at the same table and speak about the EU. It may now seem like a utopia for you, but it can be achieved. Reconciliation can succeed if you face reality. Independent Kosovo is a reality and the opinion of the International Court of Justice has uniquely confirmed it," he said.

"The map of southeastern Europe has been laid down and completed."

Later in the day following a meeting with Serb Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, he told press that: "In our view, one can only be a member of the European Union if one aims for co-operation and is prepared to resolve neighbourly difficulties co-operatively."

The Belgrade visit was part of a wide-ranging tour of the western Balkans that will also see the minister visit Pristina on Friday.

The diplomatic peregrination comes amid developments in the International Court of Justice and the UN that could move the Kosovo-Serb conflict into its end-game.

The court last month said that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 did not violate international law.

The UN is expected to discuss in September a draft Serb resolution invalidating the ICJ statement, with Serb foreign minister Vuk Jeremic continuing to talk tough on Thursday, telling reporters after meeting Mr Westerwelle that: "We are ready for a constructive dialogue with everyone, especially our European partners ... but we won't accept any changes [of UN resolution 1244 on Kosovo] that would give Kosovo an independent status."

Experts believe that Serbia is getting ready to make a deal that may involve swapping ethnic-Serb-dominated land in northern Kosovo for ethnic-Albanian-dominated land in southern Serbia and autonomous status for Serb Orthodox churches in Kosovo, however.

"There is a greater sense of political realism on the Kosovo issue today ... to the point that some officials appear to be looking creatively for ways to free Serbia honourably from the burden Kosovo has become," the International Crisis Group, a leading NGO, said in a report on Thursday.

"Neither Pristina nor Belgrade proposes this openly, but officials in both capitals have begun to speak of it quietly."

Another major issue in EU-Serb relations is Serbia's arrest of war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic, widely believed to be hiding in the country.

If Serbia hands over the fugitive, the move could be used as a card to strengthen its hand in the last stages of negotiation on Kosovo and its EU future.

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