EU status for Serbia likely
BRUSSELS SERBIA was poised to win official European Union candidate status on Tuesday, a giant step in its drive to put the troubled years of the Balkans wars behind for a new future in the EU club.
One of the last ex-communist states of eastern Europe still outside the bloc, Serbia’s application to become an EU candidate nation was under review by European affairs ministers meeting in Brussels.
Provided Lithuania and Romania lifted last-minute objections, the ministers were widely expected to approve Serbia for entry, a decision that will need final approval from EU leaders meeting at a summit on March 1 and 2
But after two hours of debate on the issue, ministers were forced to postpone a decision because of Romanian objections as any EU vote requires unanimity, a diplomatic source said.
Bucharest was seeking guarantees for the respect of the Romanian Vlach minority.
“Romania is the only country holding out,” said a source close to the negotiations.
“Romania has been asked to go back and consult and hopefully it will accept.” A separate spat over diplomatic and trade issues with Lithuania, which is also one of several eastern European countries wary of Belgrade’s friendship with Moscow, was laid to rest, the source said.
“The strategic goal for my country is to become a member state,” Serbian President Boris Tadic, who is largely credited with bringing the country closer to Europe, said on the eve of the crucial vote.
“It is very important to creating better conditions in southeast Europe,” he added.
“Our region suffered very much in the 1990s.” It was Tadic, whose pro- European coalition dominates the Belgrade parliament, who last year cleared a crucial hurdle in Serbia’s bid — the arrest of wanted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, after almost two decades on the run.
Their handover to international prosecutors came on the heels of another historic concession when Belgrade last year agreed to sit at an EU table with breakaway Kosovo, while staunchly refusing to recognise its 2008 declaration of independence.
But Belgrade’s belief that it would earn an EU pat on the back by being declared an official candidate at a December summit turned sour, when the likes of Germany and Britain demanded more from the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue.
“We encourage Serbia to build on that dialogue and to improve relations with Pristina for the sake of regional stability,” EU president Herman Van Rompuy said at the time.
Last Friday brought a key breakthrough however in almost a year of efforts to defuse tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
In an 11th-hour deal just days before this week’s EU summit deadline, Belgrade agreed to allow Kosovo to speak under its flag in regional meetings and to sign international agreements like any other fully recognised nation.
The accord enables Kosovo to take part in meetings and organisations under the title “Kosovo*” — the asterisk referring to a footnote that is “without prejudice” to it not having UN recognition but that its independence has been recognised as legal by the International Court of Justice.
“The German government will support the green light today because we think that this agreement, which has been done, is positive,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
“We think Serbia delivered with the agreement and Europe should deliver now.”