Kosovo deal bring Serbs closer to EU

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Serbia and Kosovo have reached agreement on two key issues that will significantly improve Serbia’s chances of becoming an official candidate for European Union membership next week.

The agreements allow Kosovo to represent itself in international conferences and spell out the details of how Serbia and Kosovo will manage their joint borders and border crossings.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the agreements as “a major step forward”.

The EU wanted Belgrade to make progress in the talks with Kosovo before backing its membership bid. EU foreign ministers will meet next week to consider whether Serbia has fulfilled its conditions.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has vowed to never recognise its secession. The two sides have been in regular talks for the past year on normalising ties.

Serbia’s president Boris Tadic hailed the agreement saying it showed that “Serbia is a factor of stability in south-eastern Europe. We never wanted to boycott or hinder the participation of Pristina [the Kosovan capital] in the international forums”.

The EU said it was not necessary for Serbia to recognise Kosovo, but ruled there must be an easing of tensions with Pristina before Belgrade could be given EU candidate status.