Ireland backs EU deals for Serbia and Kosovo ahead of key talks

Balkan neighbours should be brought closer to EU membership, says Creighton

Mitrovica, Kosovo: 
Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic and
 his
 Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci will meet in Brussels this evening to accelerate implementation of a landmark deal signed in April to improve relations, amid fears that the process is stalling ahead of the June 27
th
-28
th
 EU summit.

Mitrovica, Kosovo: Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci will meet in Brussels this evening to accelerate implementation of a landmark deal signed in April to improve relations, amid fears that the process is stalling ahead of the June 27 th -28 th EU summit.

 


Key talks today between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo will help convince all EU states that the Balkan neighbours should be brought closer to membership of the bloc next week, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said yesterday.

Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci will meet in Brussels this evening to accelerate implementation of a landmark deal signed in April to improve relations, amid fears that the process is stalling ahead of the June 27th-28th EU summit.


Hopes for official date
At that gathering, the last major event of Ireland’s EU presidency, Serbia hopes to be given an official date for the start of EU accession talks, and Kosovo hopes to be offered a stabilisation and association agreement, a key first step towards EU membership.

But the lack of concrete moves to implement the April accord is fuelling concern among countries including Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, that Serbia and Kosovo may be reluctant to put the ambitious plan into action if the EU gives them what they want at the summit.

Both sides blame the other for an impasse over issues ranging from a new dialling code for Kosovo and energy supplies, to an amnesty protecting Serbs from prosecution for crimes committed during the 1998-9 war, which saw the mostly ethnic-Albanian province break from Belgrade’s rule.

But Ms Creighton said the sticking points did not reveal a lack of commitment from either side, but reflected the sensitivity of the April deal, which saw Serbia effectively acknowledge Pristina’s sovereignty over the whole of Kosovo in return for some autonomy for its Serb minority.


Independence
Belgrade still refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence, but it has now agreed to end its de facto control over Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.

“Obviously, lots of technical details need to be worked out. But some very important symbolic steps have already been taken, like the closure of some [Serb-run] police stations in northern Kosovo, and both countries have sent envoys to each other’s capitals,” Ms Creighton said.

“It is important, however, that some of the finer points are moved forward at this meeting,” she told The Irish Times ahead of today’s talks.

“Some member states in the past have had great concerns over implementation, but I think this time it’s different. I hope this meeting will go some way to convincing other member states of that.”


Cause for hope
Ms Creighton, who this week met senior officials in Serbia and Kosovo, said there was optimism in both countries that the EU would next week reward them for their efforts; Mr Dacic said recently that Serbia would feel “deceived” if it was not given a date for accession talks.

“Political leaders there have staked a lot on negotiations over the last couple of months and with the April agreement. They’ve put a lot on the line and taken difficult steps. Now they are hoping the EU will respond and take the long-awaited decisions next week,” Ms Creighton said.

Serbia and Kosovo had made “historic advances” in recent months, and Ireland believes it is “crucial” that they be given the EU deals that they desire, she added.

“I’m very hopeful that any outstanding concerns for member states can be allayed and agreement can be reached at the EU Council,” she added.