EU ready to look at Serbia accession talks
(BRUSSELS) - Serbia has made enough progress in normalising relations with Kosovo for the EU to look at the possibility of opening accession talks with Belgrade, EU president Herman Van Rompuy said Friday.
The EU will "uphold its commitment to Serbia (and) ... review progress in the spring with a view to a possible decision to open accession negotiations. Time is of the essence," Van Rompuy said after meeting Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.
Serbia is an EU candidate for membership and Kosovo hopes to formalise ties but the EU says both must pursue dialogue and produce concrete results first.
Dacic met his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci Thursday in talks chaired by EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, agreeing to another round and making some progress on expanding a tentative accord on the sensitive northern border.
Van Rompuy said he welcomed Belgrade's "continued commitment ... to the EU agenda" and Dacic's efforts in the talks with Thaci.
"I strongly encourage both prime ministers to make the best use of this time and accelerate the work," he said in a statement.
Despite the progress, however, "normalising relations with Pristina now remains the key requirement for Serbia and the opening of accession negotiations," Van Rompuy said.
"Great challenges are ahead but I am encouraged because I saw today in Prime Minister Dacic a man with a vision for his country's future. I am convinced he will do all that he can to bring Serbia closer to the EU," he added.
Earlier this week, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic rejected outright an idea floated by Dacic that Belgrade agree to Kosovo's bid to join the United Nations.
Dacic had said Serbia wanted a "comprehensive and complete settlement" with Kosovo ... in that case, it is possible to negotiate all the issues."
Ashton said meanwhile that her talks with Dacic and Thaci were "long and constructive".
"We agreed to meet for an intensive dialogue in February, in which we hope to make significant progress on issues we have identified," Ashton said.
Building on the border accord, Dacic and Thaci "came to a provisional understanding on the collection of customs duties, levies and VAT," she added.
Ashton has taken the lead in sponsoring the talks aimed at normalising ties since Kosovo's unilateral proclamation of independence in 2008.
Pristina has won recognition from some 90 states, including the United States, and from 22 out of the EU's 27 members.