Serbia's president has welcomed the EU's decision to formally name his country as a candidate to join the 27-member bloc. However, he stressed that this didn't bring Belgrade any closer to recognizing Kosovo.
Serbian President Boris Tadic has welcomed the European Union's decision to grant his country official candidate status.
Speaking to reporters in Belgrade, President Tadic said the move had come as a result of the positive developments in Serbia over the past few years.
"The reforms we implemented in all domains of society won the approval of the EU," Tadic said.
At the same time, though, he warned that while this was a "big" moment in Serbia's history, it wasn't "epochal," and the country still had some way to go before achieving its goal.
"It will be epochal when we complete the two remaining steps, when we acquire the date to open accession negotiations and when we become part of the EU," the president said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who were among the leaders at the EU summit in Brussels that approved Serbia's candidate status, praised Belgrade for its progress towards meeting the EU's criteria.
"Serbia has turned a page," Cameron said, while Sarkozy noted that Serbia had emerged from "the most difficult possible turn of the century."
This week's decision to grant formal candidate status to Serbia came months later than Belgrade had hoped. EU leaders balked at the move at a summit late last year, mainly due to renewed tensions between Serbia and its former southern province, Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008. The main stumbling block was removed a few days ago, after Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement that will allow its former province to attend international meetings. It also includes provisions for jointly managing their common border, where clashes had broken out last year.
On Friday, however, Tadic stressed that these were strictly practical measures that in no way signaled a new political direction.
"Serbia's position is crystal clear," Tadic said. "Under no circumstances, not tomorrow and not in the future will it recognize Kosovo."
pfd/slk (dpa, AP)