Romania tried unsuccessfully to block Serbia from gaining the status of EU candidate at the General Affairs ministerial meeting held yesterday (28 February), drawing accusations that it lacked "European spirit".
The dramatic meeting of the European affairs ministers who deal with enlargement ended up with a decision that Serbia should be granted candidate status at the 1-2 March EU summit. In addition, the conclusions say that a 'feasibility study' would be launched for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo, as a first step on its way to EU integration.
The breakthrough became possible after Belgrade and Pristina "normalised" relations on 24 February. Serbia does not recognise its former province Kosovo as an independent state (see background), but has agreed for a formula allowing the representation of Kosovo in regional forums, as well as the management of the borders between Kosovo and Serbia.
Bucharest unexpectedly refused to agree both on Belgrade receiving candidate status and on launching the feasibility study on Kosovo.
Diplomats said the Romanian delegation had expressed concerns over the rights of about 30,000 ethnic Romanians living in Serbia. Some members of the 40,000-strong ethnic Vlach community also consider themselves Romanian, while other Vlachs think of themselves as Serbian.
Romania is one of the five EU countries that does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state.
Danish Europe Minister Nicolai Wammen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, insisted that Serbia had met all the requirements to be considered an official candidate for membership.
Reportedly, German Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Westerwelle accused Romania of introducing "internal politics" in the EU context.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was quoted as saying that "Romania lacks European spirit". But later, he was the first to tweet that agreement was found, and congratulated Serbia.
"I am confident that the decision will be confirmed by heads of state and government at the European Council on Thursday," Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said after the meeting.
"We can only be impressed by the progress achieved by Serbia and the significant results as regards to effective, inclusive and representative regional cooperation," he said.
Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office,expressed his concern about the treatment of Roma people in Serbia and urged the EU to secure fundamental rights are properly assessed as part of the criteria.
"Only last week we learnt that 33 families in Belgrade are at risk of being forcibly evicted. All discrimination against Romani people must cease. The EU should use the accession process to improve the lot of Serbia’s Romani population. Unfortunately, the EU failed to achieve this with Bulgaria and Romania where the issue was left on the sidelines."
Kosovo seceded from Serbia on 17 February 2008, nine years after the end of the 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 republic established a new constitution, army, national anthem, flag, passports, identity cards and an intelligence agency.
Some 90% of the population is ethnic Albanian. However, Serb-populated northern Mitrovica remains largely outside the control of Pristina.
Most EU countries - except Spain, Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia - have recognised the independence of Kosovo.
- Council of the European Union:General Affairs Council Conclusions, 28 February