EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, warmly welcomed an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo toward normalizing ties, but now want to see concrete action.
There was much applause in Luxembourg for the accord between the two Balkan states that was agreed on last Friday (19.04.2013). Serbia's Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, and his Kosovar counterpart, Hashim Thaci negotiated rights for the Serb minority in northern Kosovo. Both sides want to normalize their tense relations because, only then, would the European Union offer them any chance at all of joining the block at a later date.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Monday (22.04.2013) that the accord was "good news, not just for the affected countries but also for all Europeans." His colleague from Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, noted that "after so much war and so many dictatorships the people in the region now had a perspective." "The European Union is the only one that can offer such a perspective. Europe is more than the euro; it is also a peace project for Europe," he added.
"There is no going back"
Of course, the bilateral accord alone is not enough, and Europe's foreign ministers want to see it put into practice. According to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, that will "not be easy." "The Rubicon has been crossed and there is no going back," Bildt said.
EU Commissioner for Expansion, Stefan Füle, recommended to the foreign minister's meeting that they reward the Serbs with the start of accession talks and begin negotiations with Kosovo on stabilization and association treaty, a precursor to accession talks. But, the EU members are cautious. Without tangible progress there will be no 'green light.' That is also a question of timing; in other words, no decision before the EU summit in June, by which time the Serbs and Kosovars will have to show that they are serious.
Oil for Syria's opposition
On another key issue, the foreign ministers also agreed to loosen sanctions on Syria to help the opposition. The restrictions imposed on the Assad regime during the now two-year conflict have weakened the regime but not done away with it – and they have also hurt the Syrian opposition, which now controls significant swaths of the country. The 2011 oil embargo, for example, has undermined attempts to improve the economy in those areas controlled by rebels. Lifting some sanctions now will allow the EU to deliver oil and machinery to these areas.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle believes this would help strengthen the opposition and people "would see that there is a real alternative to the regime of Bashar al Assad."
It was clearly important to Westerwelle and his colleagues that the opposition in Syria is also the right opposition. "A new Syria should be a democratic Syria; it should be a Syria that is tolerant toward other groups and, above all, toward all religions," Westerwelle said.
End of the arms embargo?
Concern about radical Islamist groups is an issue that drives ongoing discussions about the current weapons embargo imposed on Syria. Britain and France argue that the Syrian rebels need to be supplied with better weapons in order to have a chance against heavily-armed government troops, but the majority of the EU is still opposed. Westerwelle reiterated his concern that weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
At the same time, however, he hinted that Germany is flexible on this issue. "When other European partners arrive at a different conclusion, then we respect that, of course, and would not and could not block it."
The existing embargo expires in May, at which time the EU will have to decide whether to extend it, end it - or bend it.