Gay rights not decisive for Serbia-EU talks
Brussels on Thursday (4 October) gave Belgrade a tongue-lashing on gay rights, but the issue is unlikely to decide when Serbia can start EU entry talks.
Peter Stano, the spokesman for enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele, said the EU "regrets" Serbia's decision to ban a gay pride parade due on Saturday - the second year in a row the country has stopped the event.
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He added that respect for sexual minorities is one of the "core foundations of the European project."
He also urged Belgrade to bring to justice far-right activists who made threats of violence and for Serbia to hold a "constructive" national debate on toleration.
The discussion on gay rights comes at a delicate time.
The commission will next Wednesday publish its annual report on Western Balkan countries' progress on EU enlargement.
Early drafts of the paper indicate it will not recommend a date for starting accession talks with Serbia, saying it must first make progress on fighting organised crime and implement previous deals on better day-to-day relations with Kosovo.
An EU source said a date might still be inserted at the last minute and that the commission is keen to "keep countries [such as Serbia] engaged in the process" of pro-EU reforms.
The contact added that even if the Serbia report includes a few harsh words on gay rights, the pride march will not be the deciding factor on when to open the accession negotiations.
"This is an important area. But it's just one element and there are other more important issues," he said.
For their part, Green, liberal and centre-left MEPs also lined up to attack Serbia's gay pride decision.
"It is another lost opportunity for Serbia which perpetuates an image this country does not deserve," Jelko Kacin, the Slovenian liberal MEP tasked with drafting an EU parliament report on Serbia next week, noted.
Meanwhile, a contact at Serbia's EU embassy in Brussels told EUobserver the decision has nothing to do with politics.
"It is not aimed at harming and denying anyone's human and civil rights and freedoms, but it has been made in order to protect the safety of citizens of Belgrade and prevent possible clashes and riots," he said.
"Serbia respects commissioner [Fuele's] position and seriously considers every recommendation coming from the European Commission," he added.
Respect was wanting in recent statements made for internal Serbian consumption, however.
In September, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said: "Screw the kind of Union for which gay pride marches are the entry ticket."