Auteur: By Valentina Pop
BRUSSELS - Leaders are to grant Serbia EU candidate status in March 2012 provided it steps up talks with Kosovo, while Montenegro's membership talks will start in June pending a crackdown on corruption and crime.
"With a view to granting Serbia the status of candidate country by March 2012," EU leaders ask for more progress in talks with Kosovo, according to draft conclusions seen by EUobserver.
Serbia had hoped to be given candidate status at this EU summit after earlier this year handing over top war crimes suspects to The Hague and last week agreeing to joint customs and immigrations checks with Kosovo.
But Germany - backed by Austria, Denmark, Finland and the UK - said the Kosovo deal was too little, too late after Kosovar Serbs injured Austrian and German Nato soldiers with live ammunition and rocks last week.
The three other "if-s" attached in the EU draft conclusions - implementation "in good faith" of the customs deal, "inclusive regional co-operation" and allowing EU police and Nato troops to "execute their mandate" in north Kosovo - indicate that even the March date is not set in stone.
"It won't happen if they start shooting German troops again," one senior EU official told this website on condition of anonymity.
The March date is important because Serbian President Boris Tadic - the EU's biggest ally in Belgrade - faces parliamentary elections in May.
For his part, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen earlier this week said Serbia should get status this year.
But a senior Nato official at the same press breifing in Brussels said people do not buy Serbia's line that it does not control the north Kosovo militants.
"We welcome President Tadic's call on the Serbs to remove the blockade and we want to see that happening. Serbia still has links in this part of the world, we would appreciate its help to restore freedom of movement," the official said.
Meanwhile, Montenegro - which split from Serbia in 2006 but, unlike Kosovo, is recognised by Belgrade as an independent country - will start EU membership talks in June 2012, the draft conclusions said.
The EU leaders noted it still has work to do on tackling organised crime and corruption.
A special report by the European Commission in the first half of 2012 will also looking at how the new country protects fundamental rights and guarantees the independence of its judiciary.