By Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia accused Germany on Wednesday of trying to amend the terms of Belgrade’s European Union membership negotiations that would mean effective recognition of its former Kosovo province as independent, a claim Berlin’s envoy dismissed as “unfounded”.
Ministers took to Serbian airwaves to denounce the alleged German maneuvers as an attempt to “humiliate” the Balkan country, feeding an atmosphere of political crisis with conservative Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic already eyeing a snap election to cement his hold on power.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO went to war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as sovereign, but signed up to a landmark accord in 2013 designed to settle relations between the two as a condition of Belgrade's further progress towards membership of the EU.
Implementation has been slow and often politically unpalatable. This week, with Vucic considering whether to call a snap election that looks likely to hand him a stronger mandate, his government rounded on Germany, accusing it of introducing new elements to the platform for Serbia’s EU membership negotiations, which Berlin says should begin with Chapter 35 on ties with Kosovo.
“We don’t dispute the fact that Chapter 35 should be opened first, but we dispute the content of the draft negotiating platform,” Marko Djuric, the government’s pointman for Kosovo, told Reuters. He earlier told Serbian media that Belgrade was being asked to effectively recognize its former province as sovereign, something it has said it will never do.
Djuric said the platform contained elements that had not been discussed during EU-mediated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, citing among things the abolition of Serbian institutions within ethnic Serb areas of Kosovo and the jurisdiction of Kosovo courts.
Germany’s ambassador to Serbia, Axel Dittmann, told Serbian B92 television the accusations were “unfounded”. Diplomats pointed to the text of the accord Serbia signed in 2013.
“Everything on the agenda is in line with what Serbia knows and what Serbia accepted,” an EU diplomat told Reuters.
Vucic scheduled a meeting with the Serbian Orthodox patriarch for Thursday, with reports saying Kosovo and the EU would be on the agenda.
“This is undoubtedly a great challenge for the Republic of Serbia,” Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told reporters.
But some analysts were skeptical. “This is about raising political tensions for things that have to be done,” said Jelena Milic of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)