( dpa ) - The European Union's top diplomats called Monday for the quick signature of a pre-membership deal with Serbia in an apparent softening towards the Balkan state ahead of a key vote there.
"Today, I hope very much and I will do my best (to ensure) that Serbia receives from the European Council of ministers a very constructive response, showing our commitment to get Serbia as close as possible to the EU," EU foreign-policy supremo Javier Solana said at a monthly meeting of the EU's 27 foreign ministers.
"We should today send a very strong signal of a European future to the Serbian people by deciding to sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) shortly," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told journalists.
But the proposal seemed unlikely to gain the unanimous approval it needs from member states, with Dutch officials speaking out strongly against it.
"We will not sign an agreement until there is full cooperation" with international war-crimes prosecutors, Dutch Europe Minister Frans Timmermans said.
On Sunday Serbs are set to go to the polls in a presidential election widely seen as a show-down between pro- and anti-EU forces.
And the EU diplomats' comments appear to tone down earlier declarations that the bloc would only sign the SAA - a document which opens the way to EU accession talks - with Serbia once Belgrade had begun cooperating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
So far, that has been interpreted by most as meaning that Serbia must arrest Bosnian Serb wartime leader Ratko Mladic, indicted for war crimes, to the Hague-based ICTY.
"I would be in favour of signing the SAA while at the same time of course maintaining the condition of full cooperation with the ICTY for ratification and for any further steps in EU integration," Rehn said.
" Serbia has made significant progress ... Today Serbia is close to full cooperation with the ICTY and that facilitates the signature of the SAA shortly," he said.
A number of EU member states supported that call.
"We want to send a clear signal and we continue to foresee Serbia's future within the EU rather against it. Serbia's future does lie with the EU," Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband said.
"The best signal is to have unanimity and consensus in the EU," he said.