Tadic keen to press ahead with EU agreement

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Boris Tadic, the Serbian president-elect, was on Monday night hoping to capitalise on his success in Sunday’s election by pressing ahead with a co-operation agreement with the European Union.

But it was unclear if he would secure sufficient backing from Serbia’s fragile coalition government, in which Mr Tadic’s Democratic party shares power with Vojislav Kostunica, the nationalist-leaning prime minister.

Nevertheless, EU leaders held out the prospect of a faster path to membership for Serbia after Serb voters did what Brussels had hoped for and chose the pro-European candidate over the pro-Russian extreme nationalist.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, told Mr Tadic: “Your victory comes at a critical moment for Serbia and the western Balkans . . . We wish to accelerate Serbia’s progress towards the European Union.”

Mr Tadic’s allies had hoped a delegation could travel to Brussels on Thursday to sign a symbolic co-operation accord.

But a question mark hung over whether Mr Kostunica might try to block the trip because of his concern about EU support for the imminent independence of the disputed territory of Kosovo.

While Mr Tadic is opposed to Kosovo’s independence, he fought the election on a promise of pursuing EU integration regardless of Brussels’ Kosovo policy. But Mr Kostunica sees EU plans for a law and order mission for Kosovo as unacceptable.

The EU’s 27 governments on Monday agreed the financial and legal apparatus for the mission, in which 1,800 policemen, judges, prosecutors and customs officials are to bolster Kosovo’s stab­ility after independence. The operational plan is due to be approved within two weeks. Diplomats said it was possible the EU’s 27 foreign ministers would give their final approval on February 18.

The proposed EU mission has come under fire from Russia, which says any changes to the inter­national community’s presence in Kosovo requires a UN Security Council mandate.

Russia supports Serbia’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence but about 20 EU states, including France, Germany, Italy and the UK, are expected to recognise Kosovo.

Cyprus, fearful of implications for the dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on its territory, is most opposed.

Mr Tadic’s office said “some doubt” remained about whether the co-operation agreement with the EU would be signed this week.

The preliminary agreement is seen as a substitute for a formal EU pre-accession pact that Brussels cannot sign because the Netherlands insists Belgrade first arrests Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime commander accused of genocide.

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