BELGRADE – The president of the European Parliament called on Wednesday on Serbia and Kosovo to step up efforts to improve relations between the neighboring nations, which he implied would help the former’s chances of joining the bloc.
During a speech in the Serbian capital in the midst of a convention on the European Union-Serbia strategic partnership, Antonio Tajani emphasized the need for Pristina and Belgrade to normalize their relations, a decade after the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo – recognized by only 111 out of the United Nations’ 193 members – declared its independence from Serbia.
“Disagreements between us, when they arise, are no longer resolved by force, but around the negotiating table,” said Tajani.
“You know as well as I do that achieving this objective is crucial to the future and stability of Kosovo, Serbia, the region and Europe as a whole,” he added, referring to the commitment he said had been shown by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi to moving towards comprehensive normalization of relations.
The matter of Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a majority-Albanian population, has long been at the center of Belgrade’s foreign policy agenda due to its ideological importance as the mythical birthplace of the Serbian nation and significance to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Between Feb. 1998 and June 1999, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – made up by the former socialist republics of Serbia and Montenegro – fought a bloody war against the Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla group, which received air support by NATO, resulting in the displacement of over 1.5 million civilians.
Tajani said that his visit to Serbia was based on two components, one political and the other economic, focusing on the strategic trade partnership between the Balkan nation and the EU and the need for the former to make judicial reforms to guarantee the rule of law and free speech.
“As a former journalist, there is one fundamental value which is particularly close to my heart: freedom of the press,” he explained. “It is vital to maintain and foster an environment conducive to freedom of expression. That, in turn, implies support for non-state bodies, for human rights defenders and for independent journalists. “
Tajani said the EU was closely monitoring Serbia’s economy – which grew by 2 percent last year – and underscored that the bloc was Serbia’s most important trade partner, making up to three-fourths of investments in the Eastern European country.
Serbia formally applied for EU membership four years ago, with negotiations expected to conclude as early as in 2025.