EU ushers in Croatia as 28th state, but holds back Serbia

EU ushers in Croatia as 28th state, but holds back Serbia

As Zagreb signed an EU accession treaty, Belgrade was prodded to make further progress in defusing tension on the north Kosovo border and normalising relations with Pristina, after its 2008 breakaway.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy said today that the bloc's foreign ministers would make a decision in February to grant Serbia candidate status.

"The clear aim is to grant Serbia candidate status," Van Rompuy said, hailing "bold steps" by Belgrade in bringing in Balkan war fugitives and "first results" in efforts to improve relations with Kosovo.

Van Rompuy said the 27-nation bloc would continue to monitor Belgrade's moves to help ease regional tension, with foreign ministers to hand down a decision in February, to be confirmed by an EU summit the following month.

Belgrade had hoped to win the status of candidate EU nation at this summit and the postponement is likely to cause sharp disappointment.

But new unrest on the tense north Kosovo border late last month, in which some 50 NATO peacekeepers were hurt along with scores of civilians, led a handful of EU nations, notably Germany, to demand further progress.

The postponement is likely to cause sharp disappointment in Belgrade, which had been widely expected to move ahead this week in its long bid for European membership.

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