Serbia redefines its Kosovo policy

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Belgrade has agreed on documents that form the basis for further talks with the Kosovo government, balancing between Serbia's obligations for European integration and its position of not recogniing Kosovo's independence, EurActiv Serbia reports.

The government and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić on 9 January settled the text of two documents - a draft resolution and a platform on Kosovo.

The draft resolution, which the Serbian parliament will debate on 12 January, contains core principles for political talks with Kosovan representatives. The government's platform, which will not be publicised, offers guidelines to all Serbian negotiators.

Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dačić said that in the resolution, Serbia was proposing a way to overcoming an existing parallelism and paralysis of Kosovo's institutions. The Serbian minority in Northern Kosovo has its own institutions, and Pristina's authority does not extend to Serbian-populated area.

"We need institutions recognised by both Belgrade and Pristina and this document shows how we believe this problem can be resolved," Dačić said at a news conference on 9 January.

Serbia insists on the formation of an autonomous community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo.

The draft resolution says that Serbia is prepared for additional concessions to improve relations between ethnic Kosovan Serbs and Albanians, but will not yield when issues jeopardising state and national interests are in play.

The first of the resolution's five basic principles for political negotiations with Pristina is that Serbia "does not and will never recognise" Kosovo's unilaterally declared independence.

The second says that negotiations should ensure that all Kosovan national communities "become stronger, thrive and live in peace and security".

Third, the Serbian Government is authorised to continue implementing agreements already made with Pristina, and Serb representatives are obliged to reach any future "whole agreement" with Pristina, within the resolution's framework.

The fourth principle is that talks and agreements with Pristina should contribute to Serbia's European integration. Finally, Kosovan Serb representatives should be consulted before any agreements are concluded.

Serbia PM: 'Our aim is to get a date for the beginning of negotiations'

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, who has been negotiating with Kosovo's Premier, Hashim Thaci, in Brussels under EU auspices since October 2012, insisted on the "European dimension" of the talks with Kosovo at the press meeting.

"Our aim is to get a date for the beginning of negotiations (with the EU). We cannot fight if we are outside the process, and common sense tells us the EU is our logical choice," Dačić said.

Progress in the Serbia-Kosovo talks is a condition for any advancement of Serbia's relations with the EU.

The draft resolution and platform stem from unofficial "non-paper" positions that Nikolić and his aides adopted in mid-December. Nikolić consulted international actors, primarily the EU, as well as ruling coalition partners and the opposition about the document, leading to several corrections of the text.

A provision on the possibility of suspending so-called "technical" talks between Serbia and Kosovo was removed from the draft platform, along with a "nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed" caveat to political dialogue.

The adopted documents are a compromise between the spoitions of Nikolić and Dačić. Nikolić was able to demonstrate his "hard-line" position on Kosovo, largely because, as head of state, he is not obliged to directly participate in the talks. Dačić, however, is directly involved and does not want to risk jeopardising his negotiating position with the EU - and thus his personal ratings - by taking rigid and maximalist stances.

The adopted documents put Dačić in a more acceptable light for the EU, and strengthen his position as Belgrade's interlocutor with Brussels.  Nikolić was offered an "honorable way out" allowing him to secure the Serb consensus on Kosovo, a crown of sorts in his presidential career.

Thus tailored, the documents have the potential to win maximum political support in parliament. They could even bring the ruling coalition new domestic support, as they prioritise the protection and improvement of the Kosovo Serb lot, rather than territory, as had previously been the case.

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