European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said Serbia must resolve its dispute with Kosovo and implement a series of reforms before it can join the European Union.
Juncker, speaking after talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, said the Balkan country was on the right path, but that the EU could not accept any new members with unresolved territorial issues.
“Serbia has already covered an impressive part of the [EU-accession] path,” Juncker said on February 26, before adding that a number of problems “still have to be solved.”
He said Serbia needed to carry out judicial reforms and make improvements in the rule of law before it could join the EU.
Juncker is visiting Serbia as part of a tour of the Western Balkan countries aspiring to join the bloc. Juncker’s visit along with European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn came after the EU drafted a new strategy for the region that envisages Serbia and Montenegro joining the bloc in 2025.
“We need a compromise or we will continue to live in the past,” Vucic said, referring to Kosovo, the former province of Serbia.
Juncker said the EU was seeking a “legally-binding” agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, but that the scope of the deal was up to the two countries.
Juncker’s tour of the Western Balkans comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Belgrade last week for a two-day visit aimed at bolstering long-standing ties with Serbia.
During the visit, Lavrov welcomed Serbia’s drive to join the EU, but also vowed that Moscow would remain engaged with the Balkan country no matter what happens.
Although Serbia is seeking to join the EU, it continues to nurture close ties with Moscow and has said it will not join the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia.
Juncker has already visited Macedonia and Albania. He will travel to Montenegro before visiting Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
His trip ends with an EU summit with regional leaders in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, on March 1.