BELGRADE, Serbia, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Serbia must normalize relations with Kosovo, not necessarily recognize the breakaway state's independence, to gain European Union membership, officials said.
Michael Davenport, head of the EU delegation in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, said it is realistic for the initial chapters, or steps, toward membership could take place in early 2016, Tanjug reported Friday. The Serbian news agency said Davenport told the Belgrade newspaper Vecernje Novosti Serbia's bid for EU membership will depend on the country's "efforts, political will to carry out reforms and capacities of your government to conduct negotiations."
"That requires that a negotiating framework be formed as soon as possible, and in that case, the goal to join the EU by 2020 would have a chance of success," Davenport said.
"The requirement for progress in the dialogue is being interpreted to a great extent as part of meeting the Copenhagen criteria for membership, that being regional cooperation."
The EU official said it will be important that neither Belgrade or Pristina tries to block the other's efforts to join the EU, and that it will be a comprehensive normalization of relations between the two sides that will be required for membership rather than Serbian recognition of Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008, Tanjug said.
Davenport said agreements already reached on customs, integrated border management, mapping of boundaries, registries and cooperation with the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo must be implemented.