Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Da?i? yesterday slammed the European Commission for what he saw as a demand to recognise the territorial integrity of Kosovo in 'Enlargement strategy' published on the same day. But after a meeting in Belgrade with Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle held today (11 October), he appeared reassured. EurActiv Serbia reports.
Da?i? said on Wednesday that he was "upset" at the report's wording on “territorial integrity” and that this problematic formulation could become an obstacle to continuing the dialogue with Pristina.
Serbia apparently saw in the report a new condition that it should recognise the “territorial integrity” of Kosovo, its former province which it still considers part of its territory (see background).
The 2012 Enlargement strategy paper reads on its page 26: “Addressing the problems in northern Kosovo, while respecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo and the particular needs of the local population, will be an essential element of this process”.
A Commission blunder?
After receiving Füle in Belgrade, Da?i? said that that the mention of territorial integrity did not apply to the status of Kosovo, explaining that the request merely meant that the European Commission did not want the partitioning of Kosovo. The Northern part of Kosovo is populated mainly by Serbs and the Commission progress report on Serbia in fact deplores that Belgrade continues to fund and maintain its structures in Northern Kosovo.
Rumours of possible partition of Kosovo, with the North being integrated to Serbia in exchange of some Serbian Albania-populated territories in the region of Preševo becoming part of Kosovo have been circulating over time, but never obtained political support.
Da?i? insisted that there are no new conditions for Serbia’s EU accession.
"Commissioner Füle informed me that there are no new conditions for the continuation of the dialogue and that the dialogue, if Serbia participates in it, will be status neutral,” the Serbian official said after the meeting. This diplomatic jargon means that the status of Kosovo will not be an obstacle to regional cooperation.
“The answer is that there are no new conditions, that those are conditions of the European Council that clearly say that a visible and sustainable improvement of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is necessary and that is not disputable for us. The sentence about Kosovo’s territorial integrity was disputable for us, bearing in mind that it could lead to a conclusion that there are new conditions. And that is unacceptable for us,” Da?i? stressed.
He explained that Serbia was ready to continue the dialogue with Pristina if there were no new conditions.
However, the problematic wording continued to make waves. Democratic Party leader Boris Tadi?, who is also the former Serbian president, described the EU's position that Serbia should respect Kosovo's territorial integrity as bad news for Belgrade. He added that it was another piece of bad news that the report on Serbia's progress did not include the possibility of obtaining a date for opening accession talks.
The Leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia, Vojislav Koštunica, who is known as eurosceptic, said Serbia should "unequivocally" dismiss the EC's demand as "no country in Europe would accede to a demand to respect the territorial integrity of a portion of its own territory."
Kosovo seceded from Serbia on 17 February 2008, nine years after the end of the 1998-1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo became an international protectorate patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.
After Kosovo declared independence, the 2-million-strong republic, 90% of whose population is ethnic Albanian, established many of the trappings of statehood, including a new constitution, army, national anthem, flag, passports, identity cards and an intelligence agency.
However, the Serbian-populated northern part of Kosovo (the area of Mitrovica) remains largely outside the control of Pristina.
Most EU countries - except Spain, Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia - have recognised the independence of Kosovo.