EU Commission recommends start of Serbia membership talks

Move follows agreement to cede foothold in Kosovo

The European Commission recommended today that negotiations begin with Serbia on membership of the European Union. Photograph:
Marko Djurica/Reuters

The European Commission recommended today that negotiations begin with Serbia on membership of the European Union. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

Mon, Apr 22, 2013, 14:31

The European Commission recommended today that negotiations begin with Serbia on membership of the European Union.

After months of on-off negotiations, Serbia agreed last week to cede its last remaining foothold in Kosovo, its former province, striking an historic accord to settle relations in exchange for talks on joining the European Union.

"The Commission considers that Serbia has met the key priority of taking steps towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo," the European Union's executive body wrote in a joint report on the Serbia-Kosovo talks.

"The European Commission therefore recommends that negotiations for accession to the Union should be opened."

Launching negotiations to join the EU represents a milestone for Serbia, which has taken longer than most other Balkan states to emerge from the ruins of the conflicts that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Croatia, another former Yugoslav state, is set to join the EU from July this year, becoming the 28th member. Accession is likely to bring large benefits in terms of foreign investment and trade opportunities.

Serbia will be hoping for similar benefits once its accession talks are complete, a process that is likely to take at least a couple of years.

While all parties to the negotiations over Serbia and Kosovo are hoping the terms of the agreement will hold firm, there are already concerns about potential backsliding.

Serb municipal lawmakers in northern Kosovo, which Serbs consider a cradle of their nation, have demanded a referendum on whether Kosovo should be part of Serbia, or whether Belgrade should accept the conditions set down by the European Union.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore today chairs a meeting of the General Affairs Council . Mr Gilmore that while the issue would be discussed, any decision on the commencement date for accession talks is unlikely to emerge from today’s meeting.

“Progress has been made last week on the Pristina-Belgrade discussions, so that should now clear the way for a discussion today. We will have a report from the Commission on the outcome of those negotiations and their assessment on what now needs to be done. I expect that we will move to discuss when accession discussions can start with Serbia and when discussions can start on an association agreement with Kosovo.”

The Minister will also attend a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg this afternoon at which the issue of Syria is likely to be discussed. The meeting takes place as reports of further massacres in a town on the outskirts of Damascus surfaced over the weekend.

Asked whether it was time to reconsider the arms embargo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs highlighted the need for a political solution to the crisis. “The situation in Syria is very bad. We had further reports over the weekend of a further massacre. We have to continue to bring that to an end, to get a political solution to the crisis in Syria,” he said, adding that by the end of May the European Union would consider the issue of sanctions in Syria.

The meeting of EU foreign ministers takes place as European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso meets US Secretary of State John Kerry in Brussels. The European commission president is expected to announce a new package of EU humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees.

Last month, the French and British ministers for foreign affairs wrote to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton calling for the arms embargo to Syria to be lifted.