EU leaders agree to open accession talks with Serbia
Early-stage discussions on EU membership to begin with Kosovo despite German resistance
Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed that agreement to open accession negotiations with Serbia. Photograph: AP
EU leaders agreed yesterday to open accession negotiations with Serbia by the end of January and to begin early-stage discussions with Kosovo, despite residual resistance from Germany.
Following agreement earlier this week at the EU’S General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, leaders yesterday gave their backing to the bloc’s latest enlargement plans, fourteen years after the Balkan wars ended. The decision, which needs final sign-off in December, comes three days before Croatia joins the European Union.
Serbia and Kosovo’s accession plans have been gathering momentum this year following the signing of an EU-brokered accord in April. While Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Serbia does not recognise its status as an independent state.
Both sides have signed up to an accord pledging to “normalise relations,” ahead of the commencement of accession talks, and will be required to implement a series of steps by the end of the year.
While an October date for the start of accession talks was initially considered, Germany favoured a later date for the commencement of talks. It also requested that the decision be conditional on further sign-off by European leaders by the end of the year. Any EU decision on enlargement needs full unanimity from member states.
Speaking after yesterday’s summit, chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU would look again at Serbia in December and agree the negotiation framework, though she noted the progress that had been made in Serbia.
French President François Hollande stressed that accession was still a long way off. “We are opening the possibility of accession, but not in the near future,” he told reporters.
Nonetheless, there was widespread praise for what was seen as a historic agreement for the Balkans.
Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton , who has been representing Ireland in EU enlargement discussions over the last number of years, said it was a historic agreement. “Given the risk and sacrifice that were made by the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo in signing up to the accord, it was absolutely crucial that the EU delivered on its end of the deal today. “
While the EU would continue to monitor the implementation plan, significant steps had already been taken, she said, including the decision to close Serbian police stations in Northern country, and the exchange of special envoys.
“Fourteen years ago there were bombs in Belgrade. It proves that the EU enlargement policy, through the promise of joining the EU, can play a role in transforming a region.”
“We are at a historic moment for the Balkans and for Europe as a whole,” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said, praising Belgrade and Pristina’s “courageous” decision to sign up to the agreement in April.