Tuesday

24th Jan 2017

Serbia gets EU candidate status, Romania gets nothing

  • War crimes grave in Bosnia: the EU decision was hard to imagine even this time last year (Photo: Ayuto)

EU leaders on Thursday (1 March) with 13 little words took a step hard to imagine in 1999, when Nato planes were bombing Belgrade, or even this time last year, when Serbia was still sheltering war crimes fugitives from The Hague.

"The European Council today agreed to grant Serbia the status of candidate country," they said in a formal communique at a summit in Brussels.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The next step, opening accession talks, could come in December if Belgrade cleans up on corruption and keeps improving day-to-day relations with Kosovo. But the final step, EU entry, a few years down the line, will depend on more difficult issues - the status of Kosovo and the status of Kosovar Serbs in north Kosovo.

Asked on Thursday in Brussels if Serbia will have to recognise Kosovo to get into the EU, Swedish Prime Minster Fredrik Reinfeldt said: "The Kosovo issue will be at the heart of these discussions."

Peter Feith, the top envoy in Pristina of Kosovo-recognising countries, in an interview with EUobserver late last year said Serbia's support for the Serb enclave in Kosovo is also a big problem: "We cannot tolerate a new candidate for membership of the EU that is bringing in a frozen conflict."

For his part, Serb President Boris Tadic - set to clash with nationalist hardliners in elections in April - underlined the economic benefits of EU integration. "We have to take care of our citizens, their standard of living ... We are moving toward the EU for the future of our children," he said on Thursday in a statement on his website.

Romania had earlier said Serbia should be held back because it is mistreating its so-called "Vlach" Romanian minority group.

But diplomats from other member states saw it as a gambit to get the Netherlands - an important architect of Western Balkan integration - to drop its veto on letting Romania join the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

Some EU countries sympathise with Romania on the subject because it has fulfilled technical criteria for Schengen entry.

"I don't think you should move the goalposts in the process," Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt told press at the summit.

'Political will'

EU Council chairman Herman Van Rompuy, after chairing a special Dutch-Romanian meeting on Thursday, said there is "strong political will" to make a "positive decision" on Schengen in September.

But in the end Romanian President Traian Basescu backed down without any real concessions.

Dutch leader Mark Rutte said he will only lift the veto if the European Commission in July says Bulgaria and Romania have done enough to fight corruption. "We need two [commission] reports that point in the right direction," he noted.

An EU official told this website: "It's hard for one country from Central and Eastern Europe to stand up alone to one of the large, old member states."

Interview

'Don't push Turkey away', says writer Elif Shafak

Novelist and essayist Elif Shafak said that isolating Turkey would "play into the hands of populism" and that liberals everywhere should defend their values with "emotional intelligence".

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament committee backs EU-Canada deal
  2. UK MPs must vote on Brexit trigger, court rules
  3. Greek island mayors plead for the transfer of migrants
  4. Tzipi Livni cancels Brussels trip amid war crimes probe
  5. Romania's president plans referendum on prisoner pardons
  6. Sweden to host EU social summit
  7. US Congress may Trump-proof Russia sanctions
  8. Fury over UK 'cover up' of failed missile test

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  2. World VisionEU Urged to do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  3. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  4. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  5. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  6. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  7. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  9. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  10. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  11. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  12. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London