Sunday

28th Feb 2021

Serbia gets political support for EU bid

Leaders from Germany, France, Italy and Austria have voiced their support for Serbia to become a future member of the EU, with member states due to discuss the issue at next week's summit.

Austria, France and Italy on Thursday (23 February) issued a joint statement in favour of granting Serbia candidate status, a significant step on the path towards joining the bloc.

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The letter, sent to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the bloc should "honour ... promises made in December, give credit to Serbia's recently redoubled commitment and efforts, and grant Serbia candidate status."

Separately, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle praised Belgrade - which applied for EU membership in 2009 - for its efforts to address outstanding issues with its former province Kosovo, AFP reported.

“The next step is the status of candidate of EU. Germany would like to see this step taken at the next meeting of the European Council,” said Westerwelle.

Serb police officers removed two roadblocks on the Kosovo border on Thursday. Cars are now flowing between the two countries but other barricades along the border still remain.

The two crossings have seen a recent spate of violence when in January 50 people were injured following attempts to block traffic from entering Kosovo. Serbia, along with five other EU countries, does not recognise Kosovo’s independence.

The freedom of movement and border security is one of many criteria required to join the EU. But Kosovo Serbs set up around a dozen more roadblocks last July to protest against the presence of Albanian customs officers at border crossings.

The European Commission in October last year recommended Belgrade receive a candidate status and for the country to start accession negotiations.

The commission says Serbia has made progress on its political and economic fronts but still faces major challenges in implementing and enforcing legislation.

“If sufficient progress is achieved in time, it would be possible for the forthcoming council to confirm positively a decision to grant candidate status to Serbia," said EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule in January following a meeting with Serbia’s foreign minister.

The commission highlights that areas of environment, agriculture and rural development, justice, freedom and security and financial control need vast improvements.

Nato soldiers and EU policemen operate crossing points into Serbia although reports indicate that smuggling is rife in the area.

According to Nato, organised crime groups smuggle cigarettes and traffic people between the borders from a northern Kosovo enclave dominated by ethnic Serbs.

The EU has been giving Serbia around €190 million annually in pre-accession assistance since 2007. The funding aims to improve roads, build power stations, support higher education and align Serbia’s judiciary system with EU standards.

A previous version of this article said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had signed the letter. This mistake has since been corrected.

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