Serbia starts EU membership talks
21.01.14 @ 13:22
Berlin - It was on the UN sanctions list and bombed by Nato in the 1990s Balkan wars, but Serbia on Tuesday (21 January) officially started EU membership talks at a ceremony in Brussels.
It will take several years of talks before it can join.
But the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, who flew in to the EU capital, described the event as the "most important moment for Serbia since the end of World War II.”
He said his country is now seen for what it wants to be - an EU member state - instead of people focusing on its role in past conflicts.
"This cabinet took office 18 months ago and nobody expected this from us. We surprised you, because expectations were very low," he noted.
He added that he had never heard "such nice words about Serbia" since the times of the Yugoslav-era Communist leader Josip Tito, who was popular in the West for his liberal policies compared to the rest of the Soviet bloc.
"I am sorry there was nothing to sign today, else I would have sent the pen to the museum," Dacic quipped.
He promised to continue Serbia’s normalisation of relations with Kosovo - the main sticking point in recent EU-Serb relations, but dodged the question whether his government will ever recognise the independence of its former province.
Dacic noted that EU member states themselves have "different positions" on Kosovo status.
"Nobody in Brussels asked us to change our position. Our goal is the normalisation of relations with Pristina, we need that," he said.
The government in Belgrade will continue reforms and aims to wrap up EU negotiations by 2020, he added.
For neighbouring Croatia, who joined the EU in July 2013, it also took six years to complete accession talks.
For his part, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele praised Serbia for its efforts on Kosovo.
He said the start of accesion talks is a "well-deserved recognition" of the developments.
He said this time around talks will start with the most difficult "chapters" - justice and home affairs - which will be also the last ones to be closed.
"There are new elements in the accession process based on lessons learned. These changes have the goal to strengthen the credibility of this process," Fuele said, referring to ongoing corruption problems in the last three EU countries which joined, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.