Serb minister love-bombs EU
The EU and Serbia have moved a step closer despite regional and geopolitical tensions in the Western Balkans.
Ministers from both sides began talks on Serbia’s alignment to EU norms in education and culture at an event in Brussels on Monday (27 February).
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Serbia is now in negotiations on eight out of 35 chapters in the EU accession rulebook.
Malta's deputy prime minister Louis Grech, speaking for the Maltese EU presidency, said there was also “progress” in three other areas - on customs union, company law, and intellectual property rights.
Jadranka Joksimovic, Serbia’s chief of EU integration, said some of these chapters might be opened by the end of June.
She noted that Dutch, French, and German elections, where anti-EU and anti-immigrant forces were on the rise, could make Europe less welcoming.
“We realise this will have an impact on the negotiation process in the short term,” she said.
She added that Serbia’s EU aspirations remained undimmed, however. “The EU remains the best place in the world for living [standards] and for work [opportunities] and Serbia wants to be part of this club,” she said.
EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said Serbia’s own upcoming elections could pose a problem.
The “campaign phase” should “not lead to a standstill in all this work [EU reforms],” he said.
He spoke amid nationalist tension in the Western Balkans, in which Serbia and Kosovo recently threatened to use military force in a row over a Serbian train.
The train, painted with the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia", was stopped from entering Kosovo at the last minute.
Hahn said the situation remained “fragile” and “shaky”.
He said it was a “very good sign” of “increased interest” in the region that EU leaders would discuss the Western Balkans at a summit in March.
Monday’s widening of Serbia’s EU talks also comes amid Russia’s push-back against Western influence in the former Yugoslavia.
Serbia’s chief EU negotiator on Thursday underlined that it would have to revise its bilateral trade agreements with Russia if it were to join the European Union.
Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic, a pro-Russia nationalist, said one day earlier that the EU would force it to recognise Kosovo’s independence and to impose sanctions on Russia if it were to join.
“I’m the first person to speak about these two conditions … these are the conditions that you will hear about tomorrow,” he said.