BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday clashes between NATO soldiers and Serbs on the border with Kosovo showed Serbia was not yet ready to be a candidate for European Union membership.
“The path of Serbia into the EU can only lead through the normalization of its relations with Kosovo,” Merkel told the German parliament.
“I regret that Serbia has so far not lived up to these expectations sufficiently and therefore the conditions for being awarded the status of a candidate are not yet in place.”
Thirty German and Austria soldiers were injured on Monday, some by small-arms fire and Molotov cocktails, when hundreds of Serbs resisted an attempt by NATO peacekeepers to remove roadblocks erected by Serbs in the largely lawless north of Kosovo.
Serbs in the north reject the 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority and have been manning barricades since the government tried to send border police to the mainly Serb region in July.
Merkel said it was “unacceptable” for Serbia to contribute to the tense atmosphere surrounding the attack on the international Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers.
The reaction in Serbia to Merkel’s comments was one of disappointment, but the government said it would persevere with its efforts to join the European Union.
“This is a very serious message. We, however, need to study it and prepare future moves,” a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
“Regardless of this, Serbia will persist on its path to the EU, including efforts to find a sustainable solution for the final status of Kosovo.”
Serbian President Boris Tadic will be in Germany this weekend to attend the SPD party congress in Berlin.
Western diplomats have said the turmoil in Kosovo could cost Serbia official candidate status for membership of the EU when the bloc’s leaders next meet on December 9.
Progress on EU-mediated talks on practical cooperation could help convince skeptics Serbia is on the right track, but the latest discussions appeared stuck on Friday after two days of intense meetings that ran late into the night.
An EU diplomat said the talks would resume later in the day but it was unclear if any agreements would be reached.
Focusing on technical issues, the discussions aim to improve cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina in areas such as telecommunications, trade, education and membership in international institutions. Staffing hotspot border posts and customs traffic are also discussed.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday Belgrade had made significant strides in meeting requirements for closer EU ties, but progress in the EU-sponsored talks was crucial.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999, when NATO bombed for 78 days to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war under then-President Slobodan Milosevic.
More than 80 countries, including the United States and 22 of the EU’s 27 members, have recognized the state, the last to emerge from the remains of old federal Yugoslavia.