As many expected, Serbia will need to make more progress before EU accession talks can begin.
By Lily Lynch for the Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 26/09/12
Serbia's accession talks may be delayed by the EC. [Reuters]
As the date for the release of the European Commission's progress report on Kosovo approaches, many theories are making the rounds. All, however, said that Serbia needs to make further progress in its relations with Kosovo -- a key condition outlined by the EC.
A full report on Serbia's progress toward EU accession will be published on October 10th.
"The timing does not depend on the report on progress but on the progress made in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The moment the key priority is fulfilled, the Commission will be able to recommend the opening of the negotiations," EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule's Spokesman Peter Stano told Belgrade daily Večernje novosti.
According to local media, the EU will likely postpone the opening of accession talks with Serbia until the end of 2013. The same report also indicated that the EC had described Serbia's progress toward EU membership as "limited."
"Everyone who is following the process, and knows something about how the EU evaluates progress knows this is not a surprise," Maja Bobic, the secretary-general for the Belgrade-based European Movement, told SETimes.
Earlier this month, officials from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union), said that Belgrade would need to sign a binding statement with Pristina that would serve as an agreement to maintain good neighbourly relations before EU accession talks could be opened.
However, on Monday (September 24th), the Union said there will be no new obligations for Serbia to join the EU.
"The only authoritative conditions for us are those that are very clearly and precisely determined in the European Council's conclusions from last December and March this year," Stano said.
According to the sources, Fule's team may leave the door open for accession talks, meaning that Serbia will not have to wait for the next annual report to start the next phase of its integration process.
Ian Bancroft, co-founder at Transconflict, said that the delay should be expected. "Given Serbia's failure to implement the agreements reached to date in the ongoing dialogue with Pristina, it is no surprise that its progress towards membership remains stalled," he told SETimes.
In addition to improving dialogue with Pristina, it is expected that the EC will require Serbia to demonstrate further progress in the fight against corruption, reform the justice system and the protection of human rights.
Serbia's new government has already begun tackling corruption by identifying more than 20 flawed privatisations for investigation. The EU demanded that Serbia initiate this process a year ago, but the previous administration failed to make any progress.
While some have criticised the new government's calls for the investigations by claiming that they are selectively targeted and political, others have lauded them for tackling an EU requirement that previous governments have failed to address.
Meanwhile, others said that this year's elections slowed reforms, with politicians preoccupied with campaigning and forming a new government. Some are optimistic that now that the new government has been formed, the necessary reforms can continue.
"I don't think the government ever had an earlier date for starting the talks. I think before the election they wanted voters to think progress was going to come faster than it was," Djordje Popovic, a law student, told SETimes.