30th Mar 2017

EU promises to reopen Serbia integration talks

The EU has promised to reopen integration talks with Serbia after Belgrade helped capture a high-level war crimes fugitive last week, but even moderate Serb politicians are saying they will not trade EU entry for Kosovo independence.

"Serbia has now demonstrated clear commitment to full co-operation with the ICTY [the UN war crimes tribunal]," enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said in a written statement this weekend. "The commission can resume negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement [SAA] with Serbia."

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The date of the SAA-relaunch will be fixed after UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte files a new report on Serbia's ICTY compliance in early June, with Ms Del Ponte flying to Belgrade on Monday (4 June) for a five day visit to meet political and intelligence chiefs.

Mr Rehn's promise comes after Bosnian Serb and Serbian security forces last week captured Zdravko Tolimir in Bosnia. The 59-year old was an aide of the UN's most-wanted fugitive, Ratko Mladic, during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. Mladic and four others are still on the run.

The EU froze Serbia's SAA talks last May, accusing Belgrade of sheltering fugitives. The situation has seen former parts of Serbia, such as Montenegro, make progress toward EU entry while Serbia stands still. Even Kosovo, via a so-called "SAA tracking mechanism," has been more active on the integration front.

The SAA process was launched by the EU in 2000 to bring lasting peace to the post-war Western Balkans region by offering the then five countries a promise of EU accession.

The EU and US are also pushing the UN to give independence this year to the Serbian province of Kosovo. The UN and NATO have run Kosovo since 1999, when NATO troops intervened to stop a crackdown by Serb forces on the majority ethnic-Albanian population.

Moderate Serb president Boris Tadic has warned the EU that its vision of a separate Serbia and Kosovo one day living next to each other as EU members will not fly, with Serbia and Russia currently trying to block the UN move on Kosovo's status.

"We are not giving up [on] Kosovo, and at the same time we are not giving up [on] the European Union," Mr Tadic told Finnish president Tarja Hallonen on Saturday after Mr Rehn's promise, AFP reports. Mr Tadic had delivered the same message to Ms Merkel in Berlin on Friday and Mr Prodi in Rome on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the country's nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, and the radical party - which has a majority in parliament - have been more outspoken on the issue. By "keeping Kosovo part of Serbia, all of us preserve Serbia itself" Mr Kostunica told his party in late May, Reuters reports.

The latest study on the situation by NGO the International Crisis Group warns that Mr Kostunica is ideologically closer to the radical party - which has in recent months advocated keeping Kosovo by force if necessary - than the democratic party of Mr Tadic.

"The Serbian government is prepared to choose Kosovo over Europe," Sabine Freizer, ICG's Europe director told Reuters. "The west needs to prepare to live with an isolationist and nationalistic Serbia in the coming years."

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UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte has indicated she is persuaded of Belgrade efforts to capture a top war crimes suspect, suggesting she expects ex-general Ratko Mladic to be in the Hague's war crimes court "within weeks."

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The EU and Serbia have moved a step closer despite regional tensions, with a Serb minister calling the EU "the best place in the world".


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