Serbia should be made a candidate for membership in the European Union but without a firm date for the start of negotiations: that, diplomats and officials say, will be the European Commission’s advice to member states next week.
National leaders will meet in Brussels on 9 December to discuss Serbia’s application and the Commission’s recommendation, as well as other matters to do with enlargement, and are expected to support the Commission’s proposal.
Serbia would then join Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey as an official candidate for EU membership, but would have to work hard to meet conditions for the opening of accession talks. Foremost among these is progress in improving relations with Kosovo, a former Serbian province.
Božidar Djelic?, Serbia’s deputy prime minister in charge of European integration, said that there is “absolutely no doubt that Serbia deserves candidate status”, but added that “some EU member states will want to wait [before starting negotiations] given the current situation in Kosovo”.
“That would be unfair, but that’s life,” Djelic? told European Voice. “We keep calm and carry on.”
Violent clashes broke out at the border between Kosovo and Serbia last week when NATO peacekeepers closed down an illegal crossing. “Firing live ammunition at an ambulance transporting the wounded is not the type of European integration that we in the Balkans dream of,” Djelic? said. NATO has said that its soldiers acted in self-defence after being attacked with explosives.
Serbian negotiators in Brussels last Wednesday (28 September) refused to talk to their Kosovo counterparts because of the incident, prompting the EU to blame Serbia for the breakdown in the talks. That is not the sort of publicity Serbia wants just days before the Commission adopts its recommendation. Yet, diplomats say, the government feels constrained by the need to demonstrate that it is tough on Kosovo, an issue that resonates with voters. A general election is to be held in April or May.
Recent months have shown that two strategies President Boris Tadic? and his government have been pursuing in parallel are now increasingly at risk of a collision: the first is to seek candidacy for EU membership, the second to keep all options open on Kosovo.
But the issue is difficult for the EU, too. Many member states are eager to bring Serbia – the dominant country in the western Balkans – closer to the EU, and fear a nationalist backlash against the government if its reforms are not rewarded. Because five member states – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – have followed Serbia’s lead and are refusing to recognise Kosovo, the EU cannot push Serbia too hard on Kosovo.
A diplomat said: “Kosovo is not part of the acquis because five EU member states don’t recognise it, so there’s not much the Commission can do about it. But of course it is a big part of the political assessment of where Serbia stands in relation to the EU.”
Were it not for Kosovo, Serbia’s record would be quite convincing, something the Commission recognises. The last two men wanted by the UN war crimes tribunal, Ratko Mladic? and Goran Hadžic?, were arrested earlier this year. On 26 September, Serbia’s National Assembly adopted a law on restitution that allows people or groups whose property was confiscated by Yugoslavia’s communist rulers to reclaim their property or receive comp-ensation.
On judicial reform, Djelic? said that his government has done what “other countries” – a reference to Croatia – “only did at the very end of their accession negotiations”.
There has been a 150% rise in corruption investigations in the year to September, compared to the same period last year, and a 23% increase in judgments handed down during the same period, he said.
Gay pride in Belgrade
Serbia’s government on Friday (30 September) banned a gay pride parade scheduled to take place in Belgrade on Sunday, in order to avoid disturbances after right-wing groups had threatened to attack the marchers. President Boris Tadic said that the government had to act to prevent “north African conditions”. Last year’s parade of some 1,000 people had to be protected by 5,000 riot police.
The EU delegation and member states’ ambassadors had urged the government to allow the parade to go ahead and meet its obligations to protect minorities. But the government, which faces an election in the spring, bowed to the homophobic tendencies that run strongly across the Balkans.
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