Danish presidency dampens Serbian EU hopes

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Denmark's permanent representative to the EU said today (23 November) that he does not foresee the start of accession talks with Serbia under the coming Danish presidency, despite high expectations created in Belgrade by the arrest of war crimes fugitives.

The diplomat, Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, failed to mention Serbia in discussing enlargement priorities at an event on the upcoming Danish presidency organised by the European Policy Centre.

On Turkey, he said negotiations were "somewhat restrictive" as no new chapters had been opened for more than a year because of the ongoing stalemate over divided Cyprus.

Since EU-Turkey accession talks began in October 2005, 13 of the 35 negotiating chapters have been opened, and only one has been provisionally closed (see table).

"We can push on here, but I cannot promise any major breakthroughs," the Danish official said.

On Iceland, he said that he expected almost all chapters to be opened by the end of the Danish presidency. Denmark assumes the six-month rotating presidency on 1 January.

On Montenegro, the diplomat said that a decision to open negotiations would depend on the General Affairs Council and on the 9 December EU summit.

Tranholm-Mikkelsen, referring to Macedonia, only said that "we still have the name issue". The name dispute between Skopje and Athens has been an obstacle to open negotiations well before Macedonia obtained candidate status in 2005 (see background).

Asked why he omitted Serbia, the diplomat said: "I did not mention Serbia because I don't expect negotiations with Serbia under the Danish presidency. But indeed we are very conscious of the fact that the issue of candidate status is on the agenda and we have to se what comes out of that. I just don't foresee negotiations on accession under the Danish presidency."

The remarks may be seen as a disappointment in Belgrade. Following the arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladi? by Serbian authorities in May, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle expressed hope that Serbia become an EU candidate before the end of the year. But now Germany in particular links this step to normalising relations with Kosovo.

Stakes from EU summit

Yesterday, Belgrade and Pristina failed to resolve a standoff over managing their border during EU-mediated negotiations in Brussels. Without substantial progress in the coming days, Belgrade risks having EU governments refuse to give it status of membership candidate at the 9 December summit.

Belgrade-Pristina negotiations broke down earlier this year over border crossings between Serbia and the northern part of Kosovo, inhabited largely by the Serb minority.

Tensions have been simmering since July, when the Kosovo police tried to take control of two border crossings in the largely lawless north.

Serbs in the north have been manning barricades since then to prevent encroachment by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated institutions, challenging Western efforts to reverse the country's de facto ethnic partition. NATO efforts to remove the barricades have failed.

But diplomats say EU governments may want to see them removed before granting Belgrade the coveted candidate status. Another round of talks will be scheduled for next week.

If in theory Serbia is granted candidate status at the December summit, it could also begin accession talks during the first half of 2012, if all EU countries agree.

Iceland skipped the stage of candidate country. It received a positive opinion from the Commission on its membership application, a step normally preceding candidate status, in February 2010, and opened negotiations in July the same year.

Election concerns

According to BETA, the EURACTIV partner agency in Serbia, the Belgrade authorities have received a clear message from Brussels and Bonn that acceptance of Serbia's EU membership candidacy is closely tied to Serbia's position on the so-called parallel institutions in northern Kosovo. If Belgrade continues to insist on the stance that these are Serbian institutions connected to Belgrade, Germany probably will not consent to Serbia's candidacy in December.

The EU is a priority for Serbia, but Serbian President Boris Tadi? and his Democratic Party are not demonstrating readiness to accept such a turn regarding Kosovo now, ahead of elections scheduled for spring 2012, BETA reports.

Democratic Party officials are quoted as saying that the strategy of a country cannot change every now and then and that "sudden changes" that are not supported by the majority of the population are "neither recommendable nor possible".

Kosovo Serbs want independence, Russian citizenship

In the meantime, the Serbian authorities confirmed that ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, unhappy with Belgrade's handling of their interests, had been asking for independence of what they see as their part of the province.

Oliver Ivanovic, state secretary at the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo, was quoted as saying that he did not rule out this possibility, adding that this was "not a good idea".

Kosovo Serbs reportedly are considering applying for Russian citizenship. The Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that "thousands" of applications had been received.

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, recently pleaded in favour of Russia considering with utmost attention the request of the estimated 20,000 Serbs in Kosovo who reportedly applied for Russian citizenship.

Rados?aw Sikorski, Poland's minister of Foreign Affairs, released today (23 November) excerpts from a statement he made at the 14 November Foreign Affairs Council. Apparently, the Polish minister voices his frustration over the cautious approach on EU enlargement by some member countries. The excerpt reads:

"Some in recent weeks have talked about the enlargement of the EU as the source of our current problems. And I have to tell you frankly: I disagree with that analysis.

"The admission of 12 new members since 2004, I believe, has contributed to the well-being and prosperity in the old member states as well as the new member states. According to our calculations, the trade turnover between Western Europe and new member states has increased threefold and has contributed to at least 0,5% of GDP growth in the old member states.

"You could make an opposite argument, namely that the increasing of the size of the market for Western Europe has put off, delayed, the day of reckoning about the affordability of the welfare state. We believe that enlargement works and I’m very glad that the EP has kept enlargement and the Neighbourhood Policy high on our agenda."

Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro and Iceland are labelled as "candidate countries", whereas Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo are considered "potential candidates," according to EU jargon. Croatia already closed its accession talks and is due to sign its accession treaty at the 9 December EU summit.

Accession negotiations are ongoing with Turkey (since October 2005) and with Iceland (since July 2010). Macedonia was granted candidate status in December 2005, as was Montenegro in 2010. However, Macedonia was unable to start accession negotiations due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to a Greek province.

In fact, in the Commission documents, Macedonia and Kosovo do not even appear under those names: Macedonia is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Kosovo is referred to, under an asterisk, as "Kosovo under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99" because the country's unilateral independence has not been recognised by Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus.

  • 9 December: EU summit to take decisions on enlargement

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