Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Da?i? said he would ask EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton today (22 April) to set a day for his country to open EU accession negotiations. The moves follows an agreement to improve relations with Kosovo, BETA, the EURACTIV partner in Serbia, reports.
Da?i? said the government would meet today to approve the EU-brokered deal reached with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on Friday (19 April).
He added that if the government approves the agreement, the National Assembly would debate the deal "in the coming days."
"If the parliament does not approve the government's decision, it means that the government no longer has support," said Da?i?.
The Serbian leader said the document, which has 15 articles, was the final version of the agreement offered to Pristina and Belgrade by Ashton.
"It is the most favourable document for the Serbian side so far," Da?i? said. He added that the agreement's 14th paragraph now specified that Serbia could not bar Kosovo from integrating with Europe.
Previously, this item had required that Serbia refrain from blocking Kosovo's membership in international organisations like the United Nations. He said the future Serb municipalities in Kosovo would have broad powers over police and the judiciary, have their own property, accounts, assembly and operate a council as a form of government, with full supervision over education, culture and planning.
The degree of self-rule for the mostly Serbian-populated northern Kosovo appears to be most difficult element of the negotiations. It is unclear if Belgrade and Pristina would read the agreement in the same manner.
Thaci hailed the agreement as guaranteeing "the recognition of Kosovo's international statehood, sovereignty and territorial integrity." He further stressed that it was an "historic agreement" that paved the way to the further normalisation of relations.
At the Brussels talks, Da?i? was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i?, who is leader of the powerful Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), founded by the country’s President Tomislav Nikoli?.
Ministers from SNS will support the agreement with Pristina, said SNS leader Aleksandar Vu?i?. However, he did not rule out the possibility of a referendum on the agreement reached.
Some 200 protested in Belgrade on Sunday (21 April) over the Brussels agreement.They raised banners, “We will not surrender Kosovo” and “Kosovo is Serbia, we need no EU”.
However, the biggest tensions are reportedly in northern Kosovo, where local Serbs feel betrayed by Belgrade.
In the meantime, the 120-member Kosovo parliament backed the Brussels agreement. In a vote held early on Sunday, 85 MPs supported the agreement and only seven voted against.
The EU has made clear that normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina will also be a key consideration for commencing negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo.
Serbia-Kosovo features on ministerial agenda
Eamon Gilmore, the foreign minister of Ireland, the country holding the rotating EU presidency, welcomed the agreement reached on Friday. He said Serbia and Kosovo had “gone a long way” to fulfilling the conditions for progress set for them at the level of EU heads of state and government last December.
Gilmore said he would be looking forward to hearing further details from Aston at today’s meeting of EU foreign ministers which he will chair in Luxembourg.
The EU-mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina began in March 2011, with lower-level meetings taking place in Brussels.
After a new Serbian government was formed in July 2012, the dialogue was raised to a higher level and the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, Ivica Da?i? and Hashim Thaci, met for the first time in October. At a meeting in December, Da?i? and Thaci agreed to exchange liaison officers.
Agreements have been reached on several issues – the free flow of people and goods, customs stamps, the acknowledgment of diplomas, integrated border management in Northern Kosovo, and the representation of Kosovo at regional conferences.
- European Union: Remarks by Catherine Ashton on the EU-facilitated dialogue
- Irish Presidency: Irish Presidency welcomes breakthrough in Serbia-Kosovo negotiations
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