EU foreign ministers seek common stance on Kosovo

(dpa) - The European Union was Monday struggling to forge a common response to Kosovo's declaration of independence amid reluctance among some member states to recognize the new state.

The ministers were being confronted with two texts: one from the Slovenian presidency of the bloc and one from Spain, which has said it will not recognize the Serbian province.

The Slovenian text, noting that the "status quo is unsustainable," invited member states to "establish their relations with Kosovo as an independent state under international supervision."

By contrast, the much shorter Spanish text made no explicit reference to independence, stating merely that member states should be left free to decide on their relations with Kosovo "in accordance with national practice and international law."

Earlier Monday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos had warned that his country would not be recognizing "the unilateral proclamation of independence of the Pristina assembly because it does not respect international law."

Both texts acknowledge that Kosovo represents a unique case which does not set any precedent.

Spain, which has to deal with a strong separatist movement in its Basque region and faces a general election next month, has been arguing that independence should first be recognized by the United Nations.

Other EU member states that are unwilling to recognize Kosovo include Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said he hoped ministers could reach "a common position on Kosovo" during Monday's talks.

Brussels has been trying to soften Belgrade's strong opposition to what Serbian President Boris Tadic has called the "dismemberment" of its state by offering it a fast-track approach to EU membership.

"I think it's very very important that Serbia knows that it is not going to be part of Russia, it is going to be part of Europe," Moller said Monday.

But while his French colleague, Bernard Kouchner, called the latest development "a great success for Europe and the Kosovars," the meeting's chairman, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, acknowledged the difficulties ahead, saying: "We don't know what we will do on Kosovo yet."

On Sunday Kosovo formally declared independence from Serbia, nearly nine years after NATO bombers put an end to ethnic strife in the predominantly ethnic-Albanian province and ushered in UN rule.

Ahead of the announcement, EU member states agreed unanimously on Saturday to set up a 3,000-man policing and justice mission - the largest civilian task force in the bloc's history - in Kosovo to help build up the newborn state's fledgling institutions.

It will be "a mission of law, (and) contribute to the stability of the Balkans," EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said.

But member states remained divided over how they should react to Kosovo's move in the absence of a UN ruling, with a few opposed to Kosovo's independence.

"We in the EU have a special responsibility. ... It's easier for other countries than members of the EU to have a position," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

"We have said on so many occasions that we want the Serbs, Kosovars, Bosniaks, Macedonians, everyone in the EU. Today we are going to discuss how to push for a faster approach," Rupel said.

Kosovo's push for independence has divided global opinion, with countries such as Russia warning that any acceptance of the move could spark other separatist declarations. Ministers were keen to play down that prospect on Monday.

"This is a sui generis case," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said.

His comment came just hours before officials in the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia announced that they would soon be following Kosovo's lead.

Ministers held a first round of talks in the morning and were due to return to the Kosovo issue later, after lunchtime discussions focussing on the Middle East and Myanmar.

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