EU urges Serbs to vote for European future
The European Union on Monday urged Serbia not to plunge into "self-imposed isolation" and instead stick to a pro- European path in an upcoming general election. ( dpa )
" Serbia risks self-imposed isolation," said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. "This option is a road to nowhere," he added.
Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government formally stepped down and called for early elections in May after its coalition parties fell out over the issue of how to deal with Brussels following the support of many EU states for Kosovo's secession.
EU foreign ministers and commission officials meeting in Brussels were unanimous in calling on the people of Serbia not to turn their backs on Europe by supporting Serbia's nationalistic parties in the election.
"Europe needs Serbia and Serbia needs Europe. Were Serbia to sink into self-isolation, it would clearly be to the detriment of the economy (and) politics of Serbia, but also of the entire region," Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.
"We have an opportunity for the people of Serbia to choose their way forwards. I hope very much they will continue pushing for a deep and solid relationship with the EU," the 27-member bloc's top foreign policy official, Javier Solana, said.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said Serbia faced the choice of "either going towards Europe or staying nationalistic."
"Of course we want Serbia to choose Europe," he said.
And British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the EU should continue to offer Serbia "a hand of friendship."
"There is a shared view right across the 27 EU countries that we have a responsibility to ensure that the Serbian people know that we remain committed to ensuring that their country has a strong place in the EU of the future," he said.
The EU and Serbia have been engaged in talks aimed at signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), a precursor to membership talks.
In the mean time, Brussels has also offered Belgrade an interim political agreement, which Kostunica has refused to sign.
EU officials also expressed relief Monday that no major outbreaks of violence had occurred in Kosovo since the predominantly ethnic- Albanian province declared independence on February 17.
"The situation is still unstable, but it is even better than some had feared," Rupel said.
The EU is in the process of deploying a civilian mission tasked with building up Kosovo's institutions. The EU mission will eventually replace the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), but faces opposition from UN veto holder Russia, which views Kosovo's breakaway as illegal.
But EU officials conceded Monday that such a transition might turn out to be long and complex.