However, Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, rejected what he perceives as a trade off between independence for Kosovo in return for EU membership.

'Unacceptable' proposal 

Kostunica told the Beta news agency that it was "particularly offensive and unacceptable" to think Serbia would accept the violence he said would come with independence, for a quicker route to join the 27-nation bloc.

EU leaders, in written conclusions after the one-day summit, said that once Belgrade meets the conditions to sign a first-level agreement on closer ties, "progress on the road towards the EU, including candidate status, can be accelerated".  

However, a draft statement did not spell out support for Kosovo's independence in the light of differences among EU member states, with Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania all resisting recognition of a declaration of independence without a UN resolution.

The draft said: "The European Council agreed with the UN secretary-general that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable and thus stressed the need to move forward towards a Kosovo settlement which is essential for regional stability."

"The European Council underlines that the EU stands ready to play a leading role in strengthening stability in the region and in implementing a settlement defining Kosovo's future status."

Police mission
 
At the meeting, they decided to deploy a vast police mission to Kosovo.

Kostunica said the EU's comments
were "particularly offensive" [EPA]
"Preparations [will begin] for a ESDP [European Security and Defence Policy] mission, and for a contribution to an international civilian office as part of the international presence."

The proposed mission involves about 1,600 police and justice officials to supervise Kosovo's own security forces and courts.

After a December 10 deadline for internationally mediated talks passed without Serbia and separatist Kosovo Albanians agreeing on a future for the province, Kosovo is expected to unilaterally declare independence.

Kostunica said that his country's parliament would respond to the EU conclusions after a UN Security Council meeting on Kosovo on December 19.