07 December 2006

Kosovo needs status deal to start talks with EU, commission says

Deutsche Presse Agentur, Wednesday, November 8, 2006


Brussels- The European Commission on Wednesday called for a "politically and legally clear" status settlement for Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, saying this was vital for starting negotiations on aspired European Union membership.


EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said that Kosovo needed a status treaty "to enter into contractual relationships with the EU" for negotiating a stabilization and association deal, seen as the first step on the long way to EU accession.


The commission also urged Serbia to "take a constructive approach on Kosovo" while commending Belgrade for responsible behaviour following Montenegro's independence last June.


Negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo are stalled with Pristina demanding full independence for the Serb province inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians who want independence Kosovo, and Belgrade refusing it and instead offering some sort of autonomy for the province.


In a progress report on Kosovo, the commission said that the focus on the status issue has delayed reforms in key areas such as the rule of law, economy and public administration.


Kosovo's administration remained weak and judicial bodies made little progress in civil and criminal justice, the report said, adding that corruption remained widespread.


Pristina must also step up its fight against organised crime, the trafficking of human beings and drugs, agriculture statistics and property rights, the commission said.


The EU executive also urged Kosovo to end the discrimination of minority groups and to improve the conditions for the return of war refugees and displaced persons.


The commission also said that Kosovo made little progress towards becoming a functioning market economy and urged Pristina to tackle the high unemployment rate.


A report on Serbia highlighted Belgrade's failure to arrest Bosnian Serb wartime leader Ratko Mladic and several other war crimes suspects and deliver them to International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.


Negotiations on a stabilization and association pact with the EU will be resumed "as soon as full cooperation with the ICTY is achieved," the commission reiterated.


It also said that Serbia's constitution presented "some areas of concern, notably in relation to the independence of the judiciary."


Belgrade must also step up its fight against corruption and implement civilian control over the military.


In addition, the commission pressed Serbia for more economic reforms, including strong fiscal adjustment.


More work was also needed in areas such as taxation, state aid, public procurement, intellectual property rights, consumer protection, food safety, environment, information society and financial control, the EU executive said.


Serbia must make more efforts on visa policy, border control, asylum, police and security services reform, the fight against organised crime and the protection of personal data, it added.


The 25-member EU in May suspended talks with the union of Serbia and Montenegro on a stabilization and association pact over the failure to arrest Mladic and other war crimes suspects and deliver them to the ICTY.


Negotiations with Montenegro, however, were resumed in September.