Serbia is committed to joining the EU, but also adamant about not recognizing Kosovo's independence, said the Balkan country's foreign minister on Saturday after an informal meeting with his EU counterparts.
Which path will Serbia take? Serbian FM wants EU membership, but only with Kosovo
"Despite all the challenges and despite all the difficulties that we are going through, we remain committed to the path of European integration," Vuk Jeremic told journalists on Saturday, March 29, after meeting with EU's foreign ministers over breakfast in Brdo, Slovenia.
"It was a very friendly, constructive discussion," Dimitrij Rupel, foreign minister of EU President Slovenia, told reporters afterwards.
There was complaining on both sides, Slovenia's foreign minister said
"Mr. Jeremic of course complained a little bit, the Europeans complained a little bit, but in the end I think we said whatever we wanted to say," Rupel said.
The Serbian foreign minister gave no sign of giving ground on the most divisive issue in the relationship between Serbia and the EU -- the support of almost all EU member states for the independence of Kosovo -- which Serbia insists is an indivisible part of its territory.
"We continue fighting for what we believe is rightfully ours," Jeremic said. "Serbia is not going to use force, but Serbia will not go away, diplomatically and politically, in the fight to preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Jeremic, an ally of Serbia's pro-European President Boris Tadic, left for Belgrade before European foreign ministers met with other Western Balkans leaders, including Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
A Slovenian presidency official said the Kosovo delegation was officially attending under the aegis of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and its German head, Joachim Ruecker.
A major diplomatic breach
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (right) shook hands with Croatia's Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic
Following the row over Kosovo's independence bid, Serbia withdrew its ambassadors from the EU states which recognized Kosovo, a move which has not yet been repealed.
Jeremic indicated that that line was not likely to soften until at least after a UN General Assembly meeting in September.
"We're going to work hard to make it obvious that a majority of UN members are for our point of view," he said, adding that EU nations' recognition of Kosovo played into the hands of nationalists running in Serbia's May 11 parliamentary elections.
While the majority of EU countries recognized Kosovo, the issue of its unilateral declaration of independence remains divisive within the 27-member block with Romania, Spain, Greece and Cyprus so far refraining from recognizing the province's secession.
Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva on Saturday said Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence was "abnormal" and called on his country's government to consider any recognition carefully.
"The unilateral declaration of independence is something very abnormal and there are no provisions for it in international law," he told Antena 1 radio station.
Don't forget Bosnia
The EU took over the peacekeeping duties in Bosnia from the UN in 2003
Meanwhile, the EU's envy to Bosnia-Herzegovina said that the 27-member bloc risked losing sight of what was happening in the rest of the volatile region by focusing solely on events in Serbia and Kosovo.
"With all the attention on Serbia and Kosovo, Bosnia must not become a secondary issue," Miroslav Lajcak said.
Bosnia is not yet a candidate for EU membership but has been offered a pre-candidacy Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which offers substantial trade and economic support in return for legal and economic reforms in line with EU rules.
The EU initialled the SAA in December 2007, but has refused to sign it until a key reform of the police service is implemented. Bosnia's parliament is to vote on the reform on Wednesday.
EU attempts to stabilize the Western Balkans by broadly backing Kosovo's independence while offering Serbia an SAA had caused deep concern in the Bosniak (Muslim) community, Lajcak said.
This is because Serbia has not yet managed to arrest Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who have been indicted on war crimes charges by international prosecutors in the Hague.
"As long as they're at large, the war is not over and Bosniaks can't see our moves as fair and just," Lajcak warned.