Kosovo to test Slovenia leaders
Sixteen years after independence, Slovenia takes up the presidency of the EU, offering to act as a bridge with the Balkans.Source: BBC
The Serbian province of Kosovo is itself expected to declare independence within weeks, presenting the EU with a potential crisis, the BBC reports.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel has said he aims to resolve the Kosovo issue by the end of June.
The EU will send a civilian team to Kosovo to assist the Nato-led force.
Slovenia, like Serbia and Kosovo, was part of the former Yugoslav federation, and is well-placed to help mediate between the two.
The Serbian parliament has already voted overwhelmingly to condemn any declaration of independence by Kosovo, warning of repercussions for countries that recognise it.
Although the Serbian vote was seen as a warning to EU states, Rupel said it was intended for domestic consumption, ahead of presidential elections on 20 January.
Kosovo has a sizeable Serbian minority and there have been protests against the EU's plans for a police and justice mission.
Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and is the first former communist state to take on the presidency.
European affairs secretary Janez Lenarcic says his country will do all it can to speed up the process of membership for all the former Yugoslav states.
"Europe should be more proactive and assist these countries," he says.
In November 2007, Serbia initialled a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, taking a first step towards membership of the EU.
Slovenia will also have the task of pushing EU member states to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.
Lenarcic says that "for the sake of the European project we must not fail again".
With two significant tasks on its hands, Slovenia is likely to find the presidency a big challenge.
It has a population of two million and a tiny diplomatic network in Europe.
But it has increased the size of its delegation in Brussels to 170 and given 1,500 officials language and negotiation courses for their involvement in the six-month presidency.