EU welcomes Kosovo barricade dismantling
Brussels - EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele welcomed the dismantling of barricades on the tense north Kosovo border as ministers discussed Serbia's hopes of being accepted this week as a candidate to the European bloc.
"Today's positive development" was discussed by European affairs ministers mulling whether to recommend that EU leaders meeting at a summit on Thursday and Friday grant Serbia candidate status, Fuele said.
He gave no clear indication of the conclusions drawn by the ministers ahead of the summit, though he welcomed an EU-mediated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo which last produced a deal to co-manage crossings on the disputed border last Friday.
"There is an expectation it [the dialogue] will continue to deliver new results."
Asked if the 27 ministers at the talks favoured Serbia being named a candidate to the EU, Poland's European Affairs minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, who chaired the meeting, said: "I will not tell you 'Yes' or 'No' because that is a decision for the European Council [of leaders]."
But he said the commission's belief that Serbia had taken key steps toward meeting EU criteria "has been received in a positive way" and that an Austrian proposal to delay a decision until a March summit had been swept off the table.
"I think there is an expectation that this improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo is an unstoppable process," he added. "Every day counts."
In conclusions issued after the talks, ministers welcomed a raft of measures taken by Belgrade and said they took "note of the positive assessment of the Commission and the recommendation to grant candidate status which will be considered by the European Council".
The ministers however added that they expected "Serbia to address the question of regional co-operation".
They also stressed that improvement in relations with Kosovo would be key to taking the next step in moving toward the EU, the opening of accession talks.
Germany, Austria, Britain and the Netherlands have been hesitant to declare Serbia a candidate this week following a new surge of unrest on the border in November that left scores injured, including some 50 Nato peacekeepers.
Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo threw up barricades as a protest against a bid by the ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina to take over customs control at two posts linking the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo with Serbia.
Both Serbia and Kosovo's Serbs have rejected the former Serbian province's unilateral proclamation of independence in 2008.