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news 19 Feb 13

Serb Officials Travel to Secure EU Start Date

As Brussels readies to decide on whether to grant Serbia a start date for EU accession talks, Serbian officials are heading to EU capitals to muster support.

Bojana Barlovac BIRN Belgrade

Serbian officials are travelling to Brussels and Berlin this week, to persuade their would-be EU partners of their willingness to "normalise" relations with Kosovo - Serbia's main precondition for further progress on the EU path.

Prime Minister Ivica Dacic is due to meet his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, for the fifth time in Brussels on Tuesday, Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, confirmed.

"Last time, they talked about the situation in the north of Kosovo [and] I expect they will continue the debate on that subject, as well as on the practical implementation of already reached agreements," Kocijancic said.

EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo started in March 2011, three years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

Serbia has vowed never to recognise Kosovo as a state, but says it is open to deals that improve daily lives on both sides of the [from Serbia's point of view unrecognised] border.

So far, the two sides have reached deals on freedom of movement, university diplomas, regional representation, customs, and on trade. But not all deals have been implemented.

Meanwhile, Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister, is travelling on Wednesday  to Germany, a key decision-maker on a potential start date for EU accession talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted that Serbia abolish its so-called "parallel structures" in the Serb-run north of Kosovo.

The northern segment of the ex-province of Serbia is beyond the remit of the Pristina government, does not acknowledge its institutions, or recognise its independence from Serbia, proclaimed in 2008.

Belgrade, meanwhile, finances a network of so-called "parallel institutions" there, including schools, hospitals, post offices and local government authorities.

In December, EU foreign ministers said they would not recommend a date for talks until they saw more signs of progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

The European Commission will present its report on the issue to the Council on April 16, culminating on June 28 with a decision on whether to give Serbia a start date.

Serbia obtained EU candidate status in March 2012 and is hoping to get a start date for accession talks in June 2013.

On Monday, Vincent Degert, head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, said that Belgrade had achieved significant progress and had made steps towards the EU.

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