EU needs to support Serbia as well, Slovenian minister says

Other News Materials 24 January 2008 17:56 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - The European Union needs to send Serbia signals of its support, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said in Vienna on Thursday.

Speaking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Rupel said that signing a stabilization and association agreement (SAA) with Serbia "within the next days, if possible" would constitute a sign of EU support.

However, it remained unclear whether signing the SAA agreement could proceed on January 28 as envisaged by the Slovenian presidency, Rupel admitted.

"We will meet on the 28th ... but there are still some problems," he admitted, talking to journalists after a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

"It should be made possible for Serbia to proceed into the EU as quickly as possible", Rupel said, reiterating Slovenia's position.

One step towards increasing Serbia's currently low status was loosening visa regulations for Serbian nationals, he added.

" Slovenia is interested that Serbia tries to become a candidate for EU membership as soon as possible," he said.

Slovenia, like Serbia, part of Yugoslavia until in 1991, is the first of the new Eastern European member states that joined the Union in 2004 to hold the EU presidency.

Rupel's remarks came in view of Serbia's presidential elections and the looming independence of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo.

"The EU will play an important role in Kosovo," Rupel said, and, eyeing the strong Russian and US positions on the issue, stressed the EU position that Kosovo was a European concern.

Kosovo's leaders announced their plans to declare independence after the end of Serbia's presidential elections. The run-off between incumbent Boris Tadic and his nationalist competitor Tomislav Nikolic is scheduled for February 3.

A majority of EU members support Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia.

The EU hopes to strengthen the position of pro-European Tadic.