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EU’s Juncker urges Kosovo solve border deal with Montenegro

February 28, 2018

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, speaks during a joint press conference with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci in Kosovo capital Pristina on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, during his first official visit to Kosovo. Jean-Claude Juncker is on Balkan tour visiting seven nations in western Balkans as a part of EU enlargement policy. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday called on Kosovo to ratify a border demarcation deal with Montenegro and improve ties with Serbia.

Juncker was near the end of a tour of Western Balkan countries which hope to join the European Union. The EU has drafted a new expansion strategy that envisages Serbia and Montenegro could be the next to join the bloc in 2025.

It was the first visit to Kosovo by an EU Commission chief and he was accompanied by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

The EU says the border deal is a precondition for Kosovo’s citizens to travel freely within its visa-free travel zone known as Schengen.

“The most fundamental issue is the ratification of the border demarcation with Montenegro,” Juncker said. “That is a fundamental issue, an important one because it is linked with the visa liberalization.”

Opposition parties say Kosovo loses territory with the 2015 agreement, though that has been denied by the previous government and international experts.

Lawmakers in Kosovo’s 120-seat Assembly again failed to vote Wednesday on the border deal, apparently due to the lack of the required two-third majority needed to ratify the agreement.

Montenegro, which has approved the deal, recognizes Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia, which Belgrade rejects.

Juncker also said that “ties between Kosovo and Serbia are fundamental” in their path toward Europe.

On Monday, while visiting Serbia, Juncker said the EU was seeking a “legally-binding” agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, adding that the EU is helping out in the talks launched in 2011 on normalizing ties between the two.

Juncker’s trip ends with an EU summit with regional leaders in Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 1.

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Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

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