news 19 Sep 12

Serbia Threatens 'EU vs Kosovo' Referendum

As pressure grows on Serbia to recognise breakaway former province, Vucic says Serbia may have to hold an 'either-or' referendum on the country's priorities.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister, has said that Serbia may hold a referendum inviting voters to choose between Kosovo and EU integration.

"A referendum is always possible as the last means through which citizens can voice their democratic will," Vucic told reporters.

The warning broadside came after a number of senior EU officials have suggested that recognition of Kosovo's independence may be a precondition for Serbia joining the European Union.

The official stance of Brussels remains that "normalisation" of relations with Pristina is the only precondition - but Belgrade clearly feels that the goalposts over Kosovo are being shifted.

Vucic spoke as Belgrade was expected to restart EU-mediated talks with Pristina by the end of September.

The EU launched a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo in March 2011 with the aim of normalising tense relations between Serbia and its former province, whose independence, declared in 2008, Belgrade does not recognise.

So far, the two sides have reached deals on freedom of movement, mutual recognition of university diplomas and on the representation of Kosovo at regional meetings attended by Serbia. However, the agreements have not been implemented so far.

Talks were put on hold following the May 6 general elections in Serbia, which resulted in the Democrats, led by Boris Tadic, losing power.

Vucic said that the new government intended to implement the existing agreements  "as long as they are in line with the Serbian Constitution", which describes Kosovo as integral part of Serbia.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is finishing its annual report on Serbia's EU progress, which is to be presented on October 10.

According to the Serbian daily, Danas, the Commission is likely to qualify Serbia's EU integration progress as limited.

"It will not explicitly recommend the European Council to grant Serbia a date for the beginning of its EU accession talks," the newspaper predicted.

Serbia became an EU candidate in March 2012 and is hoping to get the date for start of the EU accession talks this year.

According to a latest survey, Serbian support for EU membership has dropped below 50 per cent.

If a referendum on EU membership bid was held now, 49 per cent of Serbians who took part in a survey would say yes to joining, 25 per cent would say no, 19 per cent would not vote, and 8 per cent are not sure what their answer would be.

Support before was over 60 per cent and the highest percentage was in December 2003 – 73 per cent. Support has been declining since December 2010.

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