Catherine Ashton in Belgrade Talks Serbia’s EU Integration

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has welcomed Serbia’s EU membership application and stressed that cooperation with the UN war crimes court, ICTY, is central to Serbia’s further progress toward the EU.

Speaking about Serbia’s EU integration at a press conference in Belgrade on Thursday, Ashton said that “much needs to be done, but I believe that there is a [Serbian] commitment to necessary reforms, and thus my commitment to our partnership in this endeavor.”

Ashton started her three-day Western Balkan tour in Sarajevo on Thursday. She is in the region to hold a series of meetings with political leaders and civil society representatives. After Belgrade, Ashton is scheduled to visit Kosovo’s capital Pristina on Friday.

She underscored that the visit indicated that the Western Balkans is one of the main priorities of the EU foreign policy and is also very important to her personally.

President of the Foreign Ministry Council for Foreign Policy Sonja Liht told broadcaster B92 that Ashton’s visit was very important, because “it is always important to be on the EU’s agenda as a country and region.”

“Unlike Solana, who contrary to Ashton did not have his own budget to invest in certain activities, Ashton’s function is much stronger, it includes two important functions, that of a head of diplomacy and security policy and that of a vice-president of the EU Commission,” said Liht.

Liht said that Kosovo is a topic that remains on the EU agenda even though “the EU as such may not have a unique stand, but this does not mean that it will not have an active role in the attempt to find a solution for this serious problem.”

Ashton, however, said that “different views on Kosovo should not be an obstacle for practical issues.”

Following the meeting organised by the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, led by Liht, and the Balkan Fund for Democracy, Ashton met with Serbian President Boris Tadic and the country’s Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic.

Cvetkovic said that Belgrade received firm assurances that the EU will help Serbia in the European integration process after he had informed her about Serbia’s progress last year and presented the government’s plans for further steps towards EU.

“We have firm assurances that the EU will support us on the path of European integration in general and that it will be a reliable partner in the period to come,” Cvetkovic said.

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