Serbia needs to step up efforts to settle its relationship with Kosovo and improve its judicial, political and economic systems to win a date to start European Union membership talks, the European Commission said.
The biggest of the six former Yugoslav republics formally became an EU candidate in March, joining other former federation partners in moving toward the world’s largest trading bloc. Slovenia has been a member since 2004 and Croatia will enter next year. Montenegro has started talks and the Republic of Macedonia is ready to begin negotiations the commission said today in a report.
“Serbia still needs to achieve further progress toward a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo, the key priority set out in the commission opinion on Serbia’s membership application,” it said in an annual progress report released in Brussels today.
This process “should gradually result in the full normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo,” the report said, adding that “addressing the problems in northern Kosovo, while respecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo and the particular needs of the local population, will be an essential element of this process.”
Kosovo, a former Serb province that unilaterally declared independence in 2008, is recognized by 22 of 27 EU member states and Germany wants unconditional resumption of dialog between the two sides. Serbs consider Kosovo, the home of their Orthodox church, as the cradle of their own culture and religion and reject any move to carve it from the nation.
A constructive approach to further dialog with Kosovo remains the key for Serbia’s EU accession, the commission said, noting “some progress” in reforms in “some areas” over the past year and “no further progress‘‘ toward ‘‘establishing a functioning market economy.’’
The wording of the EU’s comments on respecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo ‘‘can only be an obstacle to further dialog,’’ Premier Ivica Dacic told reporters today.
‘‘I’ve never seen territorial integrity without sovereignty,’’ Dacic said. ‘‘Serbia really has no intention to use violent methods’’ to challenge the existing delineation with the breakaway province ‘‘but demanding from us to accept such definition is unacceptable.’’ This opens the question of whether there is now ‘‘a requirement for soft recognition’’ of Kosovo as a state, he said.
Serbia will seek an explanation tonight of the wording during a visit by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, the head of the European Delegation in Serbia Vincent Degert told Bloomberg.
Once a pariah in the West under former President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia needs to improve the rule of law, step up the pace of public administration overhaul and improve the civilian oversight of security forces.
‘‘Organized crime remains a serious concern in Serbia, in particular regarding money laundering and drug smuggling,’’ the report said. Serbia needs to build up ‘‘the track record of investigations and convictions,’’ it said.
Serbian support for EU entry fell below 50 percent for the third time in a year amid concern about conditions attached to its entry. Support declined to 49 percent from 51 percent in December, according to a June 14-23 survey conducted by the Belgrade-based EU Integration Office.