Serbia Slaps Down Talk of Kosovo ‘Office’ in Belgrade

While a Brussels diplomat says the EU will insist on Serbia to allow Kosovo to open an ‘office’ in Belgrade, Serbia says this is the first it has ever heard of the idea.The EU is adding the opening of a Kosovo representative office in Belgrade as a precondition for Serbia’s further EU progress, Balkan Insight has learned from a Brussels diplomat.

“This is an informal precondition that Serbia must meet if it wishes to start the EU accession talks,” the source said – remarks that top Serbian officials have hurried to dismiss as inaccurate.According to the diplomat, the de facto embassy forms part of the preconditions that Brussels has called “normalisation of relations with Pristina”.

Serbia became an EU candidate country on March 1 and was then told that further progress will depend on “normalisation” of relations with Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Serbia has said it will never recognise Kosovo’s statehood but will not resort to violence to regain control over what it insists is still a province of Serbia.

Meanwhile, normalisation of ties is understood to include Serbia abandoning the so-called parallel institutions it finances in the Serb-run northern part of Kosovo, continuation of EU-led Belgrade-Pristina talks, and implementation of already reached agreements in the dialogue.

Belgrade and Pristina started EU-mediated talks in Brussels in March 2011. So far, the two sides have reached deals on freedom of movement, mutual recognition of university diplomas and representation of Kosovo at regional meetings. The talks are due to continue once Serbia gets a new government following the May general election.

In a sign that the EU may be upping pressure on Serbia over Kosovo, on May 29, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak published an article in the EU Observer saying that priority must be given to “normalization of relations with Pristina” as Serbia continues on its EU path.

“Many representatives have tried to find a balance between the national interest in European integration and this issue. However, this is no longer a progressive method. Full focus on accession to the EU will be necessary in order to succeed,” Lajcak wrote.

Meanwhile, Belgrade claims that no such condition – opening a Kosovo representative office – has been put on the table during any of its talks with EU officials.

“This has not been mentioned formally or informally, and if it had been brought up, our answer would have been clear,” Borislav Stefanovic, the outgoing Serbian government’s chief negotiator with Kosovo, said.

Goran Bogdanovic, outgoing Serbian minister for Kosovo, also confirmed that the EU had never asked Serbia to allow Pristina to open a representative office in Belgrade.

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