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Europe

EU Presses Serbia to Confirm Closer Ties with Bloc

The EU urged Serbia to confirm it sought closer ties with the 27-member bloc ahead of a looming Serb parliament vote on whether to sever Serbia-EU ties in a dispute over Kosovo.

Pro-EU students demonstrate in Belgrade

Not everybody in Serbia is in favor of severing ties with the EU

The European Union is attempting to defuse the dispute and maintain public support in the Balkans for joining the bloc in the future by setting out incentives on visas, education and transport.

The 27-member bloc urged the Serbian government on Wednesday, Mar. 5, to make it clear it saw the country's future with Europe ahead of the parliamentary vote.

"We ask the Serbian government to reaffirm its commitment to closer ties with the EU. We are ready to move on once Serbia is ready to do the same," said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. He also announced proposals for eventual phasing out of EU visa requirements, doubling scholarships to the bloc and boosting transport links.

The Serb parliamentary draft calls for Serbia to give up its ambitions to join the EU unless its member states annul their recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Serb nationalists warn the EU over Kosovo

"We, the representatives of the people of Serbia warn the EU that only a whole, not a fragmented Serbi can and wants to negotiate on European integration," it states.

Serbs in Belgrade protest against the West's support of independent Kosovo

Belgrade has seen huge demonstrations to protest the West's support of Kosovo

The document also condemns the EU's deployment of up to 2,000 staff -- including police officers and judicial staff -- to Kosovo. The German government agreed on Wednesday to send 180 police officers to the newly independent state as part of the EULEX mission, which is regarded as illegal by many in Serbia.

The resolution, which was submitted by the nationalist Radical Party on Tuesday, is backed by the party of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and by the Socialists of late President Slobodan Milosevic. They hold 144 of the assembly's 250 seats. The pro-Western Democratic Party of Serbia's President Boris Tadic opposes the move.

Serbia has initialled a pre-membership Stabilization and Association Agreement, but the EU has blocked the signing of the accord until Belgrade delivers remaining war crimes suspects from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s to the Hague tribunal.

But there are now growing concerns in Brussels that Belgrade could shun the EU and turn towards Russia.

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