EU foreign ministers have welcomed Serbia and Kosovo’s progress in the normalisation of relations, and made a positive recommendation to open accession talks with Belgrade in January.
The final decision on the issue will be made by EU leaders on Friday (28 June), but it is becoming increasingly certain that Belgrade will not, as it hoped, get an exact date for starting the negotiations, after reaching the agreement on normalising relations with Pristina on 19 April.
“The June European Council is expected to decide on a date for the start of the accession negotiations taking into account the Council’s recommendation of holding the first intergovernmental conference with Serbia at the very latest in January 2014,” the EU foreign ministers said in a statement on Tuesday. “The European Council will also be invited to decide if it wishes to confirm the EU negotiating framework to be adopted by the Council.”
The foreign ministers commended Belgrade and Pristina for the steps made toward normalising relations.
They recommended to the European Council to invite the Commission to start preparations for negotiations with Serbia.
Ashton awaits ‘historic decision’
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, welcomed the decision in a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić on Wednesday. “To open accession negotiations with Serbia is a historic decision – historic decision for Serbia, historic decision for Europe too,” she said.
Earlier, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said the European Commission would do everything to prepare a mandate, or “framework for negotiations with Serbia,” as early as October and to start the screening of reforms in Serbia.
Füle said the EU ministers had unanimously made the decision on opening accession negotiations with Serbia no later than January 2014, but did not rule out the possibility of the talks starting sooner. He further said that there were no new conditions for Serbia related to the decision on launching the talks.
The EU ministers recommended that negotiations be opened with Kosovo on the SAA, and the mandate on that would be adopted by the European Council on Friday.
"Tabled before us is a very ambitious mandate, including all elements of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which are political dialogue, justice, freedoms, security, economic and trade policy, and cooperation in all important fields,” said Füle.
Füle stressed that the recommendations for initiating negotiations with Serbia and Kosovo confirmed the credibility of the European policy on accepting new members, while Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said that the decision sent a very strong positive message to Serbia and Kosovo to “continue fulfilling the obligations set for progress on the road to Europe.”
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić has said he is sure that the EU will "give Serbia a historic chance."
"A pat on the shoulder is not enough for us. We are asking them to give us the chance to live and survive," Nikolić said in a public address ahead of the EU summit.
Nikolić also said that the EU had a historic responsibility to ensure the successful development of the Balkans, and added that Serbia expected all of the EU's members "to unambiguously prove that they stand for peace and stability in the region."