EU to offer Serbia fast track to candidacy: draft

A098234.jpgBRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders are set to offer Serbia a fast track to candidacy for membership in the bloc and pledge to step up preparations for a police mission to stabilize Kosovo, a draft statement for Friday’s EU summit said.

The text, obtained by Reuters hours before the 27 EU leaders meet, said negotiations on the breakaway Serbian province have been exhausted, the status quo is untenable and a settlement of Kosovo’s future status is essential for Balkan stability.

On Serbia, the EU was set to say that once Belgrade meets the conditions to sign a first-level agreement on closer ties: “It reiterated its confidence that progress on the road towards the EU, including candidate status, can be accelerated.”

The statement, drafted by the EU’s Portuguese presidency after foreign ministers debated Kosovo on Monday, may still be amended during the summit.

It did not spell out support for Kosovo’s independence in the light of differences among EU member states, with Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania all resisting recognition of a declaration of independence without a U.N. resolution.

However, the draft said: “The European Council agreed with the U.N. Secretary-General that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable and thus stressed the need to move forward towards a Kosovo settlement which is essential for regional stability.”

Kosovo, which has been under U.N. administration since 1999 when a NATO air war drove out Serbian forces to end ethnic cleansing, was a unique case and did not create a precedent, it said.

“The European Council underlines that the EU stands ready to play a leading role in strengthening stability in the region and in implementing a settlement defining Kosovo’s future status,” the draft statement said.

“It stated the EU’s readiness to assist Kosovo in the path towards sustainable stability, including by intensifying its preparations for an ESDP mission, and for a contribution to an international civilian office as part of the international presence.”

ESDP is the European Security and Defence Policy, and the proposed mission involves about 1,600 police and justice officials to supervise Kosovo’s own security forces and courts.

In wording meant to boost pro-European reformers in Belgrade, EU leaders were set to say that a stable and prosperous Serbia “fully integrated into the family of European nations is important for the stability of the region”.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on Thursday he expected Kosovo’s status would only be resolved after a Serbian presidential election set for January 20 and February 3, and other EU sources said a settlement would be delayed to avoid fuelling a possible nationalist backlash in the Serbian vote.

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