The Czech and Serbian foreign ministers met in Prague on Monday, discussing Serbia’s candidacy for EU accession and the two country’s relations. The tensions over Czech Republic’s recognition of Kosovo back in 2008 seemed to be a thing of the past. Serbia became an official candidate for EU accession in March of this year, and it is looking to strengthen ties with all of its European supporters.
At the press briefing following the meeting, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Serbia’s Ivan Mrkić were satisfied with the outcome of the talks. Re-affirming the two countries’ historical ties and good relations, Minister Schwarzenberg promised unequivocal support for Serbia in its quest to join the European Union:
“On this road, Serbia can always count on the Czech Republic. This is a fixture of Czech foreign policy and no matter who the foreign minister will be, we will always support Serbia.”
I asked Vladimír Bartovic, deputy director of the Prague-based Europeum Institute for European Politics, about whether the highly amicable atmosphere at the press briefing was a true reflection of reality.
“The relations between the Czech Republic and Serbia are on a very good level, there are no bi-lateral issues that could harm these relations. The recognition of Kosovo by the Czech Republic had no severe consequences on their relations. The Czech Republic is one of the biggest supporters of Serbia’s membership in the European Union.”
Mr Bartovic said that the historically good relations and keeping EU’s promises were two reasons why the Czech Republic has supported Serbia’s bid for EU membership, but there are also others:
“There are many reasons why the Czech Republic supports the enlargement of the EU to include the countries of the western Balkans, not just Serbia, but other countries as well. Of course, the historic ties are stronger with Serbia than with other states in the region.
“There is the security argument. It is in the interest of the Czech Republic to have the western Balkans region be a secure one. Then there is the economic argument. Serbia’s membership in the EU would broaden the internal market of the European Union, thus giving better conditions for Czech exporters and investors.”
But the issue of Kosovo’s independence, and the fact that Serbia still has not recognized it, is the ever-present elephant in the room. The Serbian Foreign Minister visit comes on the eve of the second informal talks between the Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić and his counterpart from the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi. Although these talks are happening behind closed doors, and there are no declared expectations from the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, they may play a big role in Serbia’s accession bid.
According to Mr Bartovic, the Czech Republic will side with other EU members and will insist on its friend making amends with its former province.
“Although the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia is not an official condition for Serbia to be able to enter the European Union, de facto, the normalization of relations with Kosovo – and normalization in this sense is basically a recognition of Kosovo’s independence – will be a condition for at least several EU members. The Czech Republic understands the necessity of this normalization just like the rest of the EU.”
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