Serbia And Kosovo Meeting In Brussels - Results

Serbia And Kosovo Meeting In Brussels - Results

Andrew H. Sweet

The European Commission moved on Thursday to reassure Serbia of its future European Union membership after an internal document in Brussels showed that EU states could no longer agree to guarantee six Balkan countries a place in the bloc.

Serbia, the largest non-EU Balkan country with about seven million people, is seen as the linchpin in the region and the EU hopes Belgrade's influence in the Balkans could help others to reform. The other five aspiring EU members are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia.

In February 2018, the European Commission said Serbia could join the EU by 2025, though it added this was a very ambitious goal. That now looks out of reach as slow progress in rule-of-law reforms are holding up accession negotiations.

In a positive step, Kosovo agreed on Thursday to withdraw police units from its northern border with Serbia to end an escalation over free movement between the two countries that prompted NATO to step up its patrols.

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"We have a deal," said Miroslav Lajcek, the EU's envoy dealing with one of Europe's toughest territorial disputes. "After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been reached," he said on Twitter, where he posted the details.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar was in Brussels to show support for E.U.-led talks, which he said showed the potential for more progress in the Balkans.

However, Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic played down hopes of any broader breakthrough for now. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence.

"I think the agreement is fair for the citizens. I would like us to be able to find more lasting solutions. That would not include recognition of Kosovo," Vucic told a news conference in Serbia, where he was hosting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

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