Serbia: One step away from candidate status


Analysts expect that the EU's decision on Belgrade's status will be important for relations with Kosovo and the entire region.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 27/02/12


Serbia's EU path was one of the main issues discussed during President Boris Tadic's meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday (February 23rd) in Belgrade. [Reuters]

Germany's support of Serbia's EU candidacy, given after Belgrade reached an agreement last week on Kosovo's regional representation, clears the final obstacle for Serbia to become a candidate for EU membership this week.

Germany blocked Serbia's candidacy in December, citing tensions in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo. Serbia has never recognised Kosovo's independence, although more than 80 nations have, including most EU members. Border peace is a key component for EU membership.

But Germany announced on Thursday (February 23rd) that it will support Serbia's EU candidacy at this week's EU summit. The debate is scheduled for Tuesday, and all 27 EU nations must agree to allow Serbia to be a candidate.

"Serbia's European prospect is good for Serbia, the Western Balkans and for the EU itself, and that is the reason why Germany will support it," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Belgrade.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said that Germany's support was needed for "clearing up misunderstandings" and reaching an agreement with Pristina. "Serbia is now one step away from EU candidacy," Jeremic told the Belgrade media on Friday.

Analysts believe that the EU's decision on Serbia will affect relations between Belgrade and Pristina, as well as the whole region. Ian Bancroft, founder of the organisation TransConflict, which works on the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region, believes the granting of candidacy to Serbia is a positive step, but stresses it will not solve all problems.

"Even if Serbia gains candidate status, full implementation of the agreements made to date -- combined with the challenges of the north -- will continue to hinder Belgrade- Pristina relations. Both sides face significant internal opposition to the negotiations, and there is also a great deal of scepticism as to whether they are actually delivering genuine, profound change, whilst the issue of recognition is always lingering in the shadows," Bancroft told SETimes.

"If Serbia does not gain candidate status in March, then the negotiations will likely freeze for at least six months, thereby losing much of the momentum that has been created thus far," Bancroft added.

The president of the European Movement in Kosovo, Behlul Beqaj, said candidate status for Serbia can have a positive impact on relations with Kosovo, but under certain conditions.

"The candidacy will have a positive impact if the coalition led by President Boris Tadic wins the next election in Serbia, otherwise the relations between Kosovo and Serbia will depend on the manner in which the problem of northern Kosovo municipalities is solved. I believe the Serbian opposition would only fortify the Serb structures in the north, which would cause shockwaves in both Kosovo and relations between Belgrade and Pristina," Beqaj told SETimes.

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Former Serbian Ambassador to Germany Ognjen Pribicevic firmly believes Serbia will gain candidate status in March and finds that to be "good news" for the entire region.

"With Belgrade's coming close to the EU, the whole region is coming closer to Brussels as well. That closeness of the EU can only do Pristina, and the region, good. That means the calming of tensions in the Balkans," Pribicevic told SETimes.

Bancroft also thinks the candidate status given to Serbia would have a positive effect on the Balkans as a whole.

"A positive decision on Serbia would further strengthen the EU's leverage in the region, after doubts started to seep in about its commitment to further enlargement. With Croatia set to join in 2013, it is an important opportunity for the EU to re-assert the European perspective amidst lingering doubts fostered by the eurozone crisis. The Western Balkans, therefore, increasingly provides one of the few domains in which the EU can feel a positive sense of self."

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