European Union: Kosovo Stands between Serbia and EU Membership

Article excerpt

In its annual report, the European Commission recommended that Serbia become a formal candidate for EU accession. But a diplomatic deadlock over Kosovo's sovereignty is a major impediment to moving forward.

Serbia must re-engage with the Kosovo government it regards as illegal in order to move closer to European Union membership, the European Commission (EC) stated on Tuesday.

In its annual report on the country's progress, the commission recommended that Serbia should become a formal candidate for EU accession, with the caveat that the diplomatic deadlock over Kosovo must be broken. The EC cautiously praised Serbia's development in other areas, as well as the arrest and extradition of indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, long seen as the most important precondition to the launch of membership talks.

The Council of Ministers, the EU's main decisionmaking body, is expected to approve candidate status in December, but when negotiations will actually start, and how swiftly they will move forward, is another question.

While the suspension of talks between Belgrade and Pristina, the Kosovan capital, is likely to prove temporary, the fundamental issue of sovereignty remains unresolved, and will be a major impediment to Serbia's accession process unless a lasting solution is found. With other reforms also pressing, progress toward membership will be a long, slow grind at best.

Kosovo declared independence under a predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership in 2008, but Serbia considers the region a breakaway state. Belgrade runs so-called "parallel structures" in parts of Kosovo inhabited by Serbs, including municipal governments and courts. Much of the north of the region is effectively still ruled by Serbia.

But while several EU members also refuse to recognize the statelet, the EU as an institution supports independence and provides logistical support to the Pristina government.

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo have deteriorated sharply in recent months, and talks were called off in September after a farcical customs dispute and clashes on the disputed border, during which NATO peacekeepers opened fire on Serb protesters.

Serbian President Boris Tadic has stuck to his policy of heralding his government's success in moving Serbia towards the EU while retaining a "red line" over Kosovo. …