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Serbia inches closer to EU candidacy

Stringer/Belgium / Reuters

Serbia's President Boris Tadic and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Brussels on Feb. 28, 2012. Romania threatened on Tuesday to derail European Union plans to grant Serbia membership candidate status in a row over minority rights in the former Yugoslav state.

European Union foreign ministers are recommending that Serbia be allowed to become an official candidate for membership in the 27-member bloc after the country reached a key agreement with its former province of Kosovo.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted congratulations to Serbia after a meeting of the EU's foreign ministers.

Nicolai Wammen, minister of European affairs for Denmark, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said Serbia had fulfilled the conditions demanded by the bloc.

The ministers were expected to confirm Serbia's candidacy, an essential step toward membership, but couldn't overcome objections from Romania.


Bucharest unexpectedly refused to sign an agreement on granting Serbia the coveted status of candidate to join the 27-country bloc, in a row over minority rights in the former Yugoslav state, EU diplomats said.

"This is not a critique," Romania's foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu told a Romanian daily, adding that Romania wants to encourage Belgrade to improve its attitude toward minorities.

There are about 30,000 ethnic Romanians living in Serbia. Some members of the 40,000-strong ethnic Vlach community also consider themselves Romanian, while other Vlachs think of themselves as Serbian.

Romanian President Traian Basescu has urged Serbia to grant ethnic Romanians living on its territory the right to education in the Romanian language and access to services in Romanian Orthodox churches.

"We ask (Serbian authorities) to grant them the right to tuition in Romanian, to have an Orthodox church, to have a newspaper in their language, to have the right to tune into Romanian television or have a broadcast in Romanian," Basescu told a gathering of ethnic Romanians last year after meeting Serbian President Boris Tadic.

Belgrade appeared to have been taken unawares by the Romanian move and had no immediate reaction.

But other EU capitals insisted Serbia should be rewarded for years of democratic reforms, the capture of war crimes fugitives and efforts to mend fraught relations with Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008.

In a compromise, foreign and EU affairs ministers meeting in Brussels left it to their heads of state and government to make a formal decision when they meet on Thursday and Friday.

Serbia had been expected to be made a formal candidate in December, after it captured two top war crimes suspects. But ministers delayed, saying they wanted to see more progress in talks between Serbia and Kosovo.

The BBC reported Serbia agreed on Friday to allow Kosovo to participate in west Balkan regional meetings, even as it still refuses to recognize its 2008 self-declared independence.

An EU proposal to have Kosovo's nameplate at meetings followed by an asterisk was also accepted, according to the BBC. There will be an added footnote explaining the territory's disputed status.

Some 80 countries have recognized Kosovo since it declared independence in 2008, but the European Union has no official position toward Kosovo's status. Romania does not recognize the former province's independence.

Winning EU candidate status is a largely symbolic step toward the start of accession negotiations, which often require years as applicants seek to harmonize their laws with EU rules and meet other requirements.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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