Berlin pressures Serbia to normalise relations with Kosovo

David McAllistair [EPP] [EPP Group]

A leading German MEP has said that the upcoming meeting between Belgrade and Pristina on 23 June might be the key to open EU-Serbia accession negotiations. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

In its efforts to open talks Serbia should now invest all its efforts in political dialogue with Pristina, beginning with the June meeting, European Parliament rapporteur for Serbia David McAllister (EPP, Germany) told an audience in Belgrade (8 June).

As a well-informed European source told EURACTIV Serbia, McAllister, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, brought his message not just from the European Parliament, but also from Berlin.

Apart from the political requirements, the improvement of the economy was also seen as an engine to boost Serbia’s EU integration process, McAllister said.

Candidate status for EU membership was accorded to Serbia in March 2012. But negotiations have been stalled since January 2014. The complex issue of normalisation of relations with Kosovo, which unilaterally claimed independence from Serbia in 2008, is often cited as one of the key reasons for that.

>> Read: Summit to clear way for accession talks with Serbia in 2014

Speaking at the Economic Summit of Serbia, McAllister said that the upcoming meeting of prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vu?i? and Isa Mustafa, could have a decisive impact on whether Serbia manages to open the first chapters in the EU accession negotiations. For tangible improvements, both sides need to be constructive.

>> Read: ‘Historic’ Albanian visit to Serbia leaves bitter aftertaste

Both Belgrade and Pristina need to increase their efforts to prove their credibility and commitment, McAllister said.

The 23 June meeting is part of the political dialogue between Kosovo and Belgrade. Serbian daily Danas writes that prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo could sign agreements previously reached at technical level, including one assigning an international phone code to Kosovo. For the time being, Kosovo uses the codes of other countries, such as Monaco.

Resolving the open issues with Kosovo will be addressed in chapter 35 of the negotiating documents – “other issues” – which is usually the last chapter to be closed. This chapter’s political implications will likely become a significant challenge for Serbia.

McAllister cited Merkel several times in his address, as he stressed the importance of regional cooperation as the precondition for peace, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans.

The rapporteur also praised the mutual visits of the Albanian and Serbian prime ministers Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vu?i?. Rama visited Belgrade in November 2014, the first Albanian leader do so since 1946. In May 2015, Vu?i? became the first Serbian leader to visit Albania. Relations between Serbia and Albania tend to be tense, and Kosovo features highly among the reasons for the disputes.

Economy as a Challenge

Apart from Kosovo, Serbia’s authorities are in intense consultation with Brussels to finalise the action plans for opening chapters 23 and 24 on rule of law, justice, fundamental rights and security.

Serbia finalised its screening process in March 2015. The European Commission has by now tabled 12 out of 35 screening reports, while the remaining screening reports are in preparation and planned to be presented to Belgrade by the end of the year.

During his visit to Belgrade, McAllister pointed out the economy as the top priority for Serbia in the EU integration process.

Vladimir Gligorov, Professor at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, said that in view of the fiscal and external imbalance, the low competitiveness, as well as presence of the state in the various aspects of the economy, adjustment periods would last from three to five to as much as ten years. This period will, as he outlined, be marked by low growth.

Montenegro ahead of the others

Discussing the importance Brussels attributed to regional cooperation, but also the enlargement fatigue in the EU, participants at the economic summit questioned whether the Western Balkans countries would be accepted in the EU as a group, as had happened in some previous enlargements.

McAllister, and Head of the EU Delegation in Serbia Michael Davenport, said that this was unlikely and that every country would be assessed separately.

In this respect, Montenegro is ahead of the others with negotiations already underway.

The remaining Western Balkan countries are slower to advance, with Macedonia waiting whole decade for opening negotiations. This process is in large part due to its name dispute with Greece. Albania was granted candidate status in 2014 but Brussels says further progress is needed for opening the negotiations.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, stalled by political divisions in the country, needs a new approach that enables delaying the needed constitutional changes in order to advance with the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Kosovo is at the end of the line, waiting for the proposed Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) to be adopted internally by the EU before it is expected to enter into force in 2016.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of a 1998-1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo was an international protectorate patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.

After Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, the two million-strong republic, 90% of whose population are ethnic Albanians, 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. Of all UN members, 110 have recognised Kosovo so far.

In December 2008, the EU deployed a rule of law mission, dubbed EULEX Kosovo, with the intention of taking over post-crisis management in the territory. The aim of the operation is to assist and support the Kosovo authorities with the rule of law, specifically regarding the police, the judiciary and customs.

The EULEX mission is the largest EU civilian mission ever launched. The 3,000-member operation has the power to take on cases that the local judiciary and police are unable to handle.

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