Serbia: February Northern Kosovo referendum will postpone March Belgrade’s EU candidacy

A referendum called in northern Kosovo could have decisive influence on EU’s decision on Serbia’s bid to become candidate for membership, writes a newspaper in Serbia. Serbs in northern...
A referendum called in northern Kosovo could have decisive influence on EU’s decision on Serbia’s bid to become candidate for membership, writes a newspaper in Serbia. Serbs in northern Kosovo, where they form a majority, will on February 14-15 vote on whether they accept the Kosovo Albanian institutions based in Pristina.
BELGRADE | PRISTINA – Monday, January 9, 2012 | by Vedat Xhymshiti
Serbia         | Kosovo

Northern Serbs parallel elections in 2008 
(File Photo/Vedat Xhymshiti)
Belgrade daily “Vecernje Novosti” writes today that if they turn out in force and reject this, “it will mean a new irritation to German and strengthening of its hard-line attitude against Serbia’s candidature”.

Serbian President Boris Tadic told the newspaper that the referendum could jeopardize diplomatic efforts to become EU candidate.

The referendum will happen as the EU Council of Ministers meets in Brussels in mid-February, while the European Commission recommendation in March will depend on this meeting’s recommendation.

International policy professor and former ambassador Predrag Simic told the daily that the referendum could once again postpone the EU decision: 
“Since Angela Merkel’s visit until today, everything that is happening in northern Kosovo and Metohija is practically influencing the German position on the Serbian candidature.”

Former ambassador in Germany Ognjen Pribicevic also thinks the referendum will have influence, but says the policy of Belgrade is decisive:
“Everyone in the international community knows that official Serbia does not have the same policy as municipal leaders in northern Kosovo. The decisive (factor) will be the diplomacy between Brussels, European capitals, Washington and Belgrade.”

Serb north dominated Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic, however, believes that the referendum will have no influence on the EU decision in March:
“Angela Merkel said it openly what Serbia needs to do to become candidate: to abolish ‘parallel institutions’ and establish good neighborly relations. These stories that Serbs from Kosovo will now slow down Serbia’s EU road are entirely baseless. In this way, officials from Belgrade are attempting to justify their bad policy.” 

Serbian interior Minister and Deputy PM Ivica Dacic is advising Serbs in the north to coordinate their every important move with Belgrade:
“This is necessary so that the whole undertaking is not detrimental for Serbian national and state interests. We must measure our every move by the goal that we wish to achieve.
Nobody’s talking about whether or not Serbs are entitled (to a referendum). It’s about what a referendum will achieve. If it’s to say we do not accept Pristina’s authority, everyone’s clear on that. Even (Hashim) Thaci.”
Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs oppose Kosovo independence, but Serbian officials agreed to “integrated border control” to be manned by Serbian and Kosovo police and customs and European Union mission in Kosovo (EULEX).
EU has tied Serbia’s bid for membership to establishing “good neighborly relations” with Kosovo and to removal of barricades set up by local Serbs in protest against placing of Kosovo police and customs at the border.
December 2011 NATO – Kosovo Northern Serbs claches.
Scores of Serb civilians and NATO soldiers have been injured in ensuing clashes and one Kosovo policeman was killed in July.
July troubles started when Kosovo sent special police units to the northern border to enforce a trade ban with Serbia but were turned back by armed Serbs. Then NATO troops, mainly German soldiers, intervened to try to calm the situation.

Thirty German and Austrian soldiers were injured in early December 2011, when hundreds of Serbs resisted an attempt by NATO to remove roadblocks they had put up in the north.
Germany has the biggest military contingent in Kosovo, with some 1,800 soldiers serving in NATO’s peacekeeping mission in the former Serbian province. The NATO commander there is German.
Kosovo is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Serbia refuses to recognize it and Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs, who dominate in a small slice of the north, continue to function as part of Serbia.

The row with Kosovo cost Serbia its EU candidate status. EU leaders assessed that Serbia had not done enough to improve relations with its former province.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999, when NATO bombed for 78 days to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war under then-President Slobodan Milosevic.
More than 80 countries, including the United States and 22 of the EU’s 27 members, have recognised the state, the last to emerge from the remains of old federal Yugoslavia.
source: The Guardian | Tanjug | B92 | Al Jazeera | Vedat Xhymshiti |

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