17th Jul 2019

EU to sign pre-accession deal with Serbia

  • The move is seen as a bid to boost Serbian president Boris Tadic's pro-EU Democrats ahead of the elections (Photo:

The EU will later this afternoon sign a pre-accession deal with Serbia, after The Netherlands and Belgium dropped their opposition to the move earlier on Tuesday morning.

"[Serbian] President Tadic will arrive early in the afternoon and we will sign the SAA [Stabilisation and Association Agreement] at 16:00 hours," Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told journalists in the margins of a EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.

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"The negotiations took quite some time, as it is a difficult subject," and "nobody" wants to drop the so-called ICTY conditionality towards Serbia, he added referring to the country's obligation to cooperate fully with the UN war crimes tribunal, particularly by handing over war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic.

The Netherlands and Belgium, which were especially strict on that point, dropped their objection earlier this morning, making the signing of the pre-accession deal possible.

However, the implementation of the SAA will depend on "the assessment of the Council [the EU's member states]" on Serbia's cooperation with the UN tribunal, Mr Rupel stressed.

The signing is "a great opportunity" and a "strong signal for Serbia to join us [EU]," according to the Slovenian foreign minister.

The process to follow is a "complicated procedure", but it still "leads here, to the EU," he continued.

For his part, Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic welcomed the "historical moment" and the fact that his country was not offered just "an empty shell", but a real deal.

The move is likely to be interpreted as an attempt to strengthen the pro-Western forces in Serbia ahead of the early elections in the country on 11 May, when President Boris Tadic's Democrats will face off against the radical and nationalist parties in Serbia.

The nationalist forces were boosted following the recognition of Kosovo's independence by a majority of EU states despite Serbia's strong opposition to the move. Serbians see Kosovo as the cradle of their civilisation and an integral part of the country's territory.

The SAA is a pre-accession tool designed for the Western Balkan countries as a first step towards eventual EU membership.

After Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina is set to be the next country in line to sign such a document. The adoption of a controversial police reform by the Bosnian parliament earlier this month – set as a condition by Brussels – cleared the way for this move.

Bosnia's SAA could not be signed on Tuesday because of technical issues concerning the translation of the document into the EU's 23 official languages.

Besides Serbia and Bosnia, only Kosovo has not yet signed an SAA.

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