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>> The Financial Times


EU MEMBERSHIP PLAN DRIVES KOSOVO OFFER

The Financial Times - July 31, 2007 by Christopher Condon in Budapest, Neil MacDonald in Belgrade and George Parker in Brussels Slovenia will try to persuade Serbia to give Kosovo independence in exchange for a chance to join the European Union. Officials in Ljubljana hope to use Slovenia’s presidency of the EU next year to break the logjam over the United Nations-administered breakaway province, in exchange for EU candidate status for Serbia After the failure of talks between Belgrade and separatist Kosovo Albanian leaders this year, Martti Ahtisaari, the UN mediator, urged the UN Security Council to impose independence, with EU-led supervision to protect Serbs and other minorities in the province of 2m people. But Russia, Serbia’s veto-holding ally on the Security Council, has blocked three pro-independence draft resolutions put forward by the US and EU countries. Nevertheless Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia’s foreign minister, is optimistic. “I have never felt as confident as I feel now dealing with my colleagues from Serbia.” As the only ex-Yugoslav republic in the 27-nation bloc, Slovenia hopes it can broker closer ties with other former Yugoslav countries. Eight years after the end of the last Balkan war, efforts to solidify the region’s peace badly need a jump start. The EU is struggling to overcome the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, inter-ethnic political deadlock in Macedonia and the status of Kosovo. Although the EU endorsed the Ahtisaari plan, many EU members have resisted pushing Serbia too hard over Kosovo, fearing a resurgence of extreme Serb nationalism and a return to economic isolation for the largest ex-Yugoslav republic. Slovenia’s chief advantage in approaching each of these is its intimate familiarity with the region. Slovenes share a similar language and culture with most former Yugoslavs, especially Croats and Serbs. Yugoslav-era political connections remain as well. Unlike Croatia or Bosnia, Slovenia won its independence almost without bloodshed. No deep scars of war prevented it from re-establishing relatively good relations with its former Yugoslav partners. Ljubljana is motivated by growing commercial interests across the region. Slovenian investments in the western Balkans accounted for nearly two-thirds of the country’s outgoing foreign direct investment in 2006. “Slovenia has a similar interest in a region in the way Portugal has an interest in Africa,” said Janez Jansa, prime minister. Slovenia’s understanding of the region, however, guarantees very little. Its plans for Serbia and Macedonia could be overly ambitious. Even shepherding Croatia closer to EU membership may prove problematic. Despite generally good relations, Ljubljana and Zagreb have rowed over their borders. Croatia has accused Slovenia of obstructing Croatia’s EU accession talks to gain the upper hand in a maritime dispute over Piran Bay, Slovenia’s sole sea outlet, which Ljubljana denies.





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