14th Nov 2018

Dutch stance on Serbia 'very unfair,' says minister

The Netherlands' refusal to unfreeze the trade related part of a pre-accession deal with Serbia was "unfair" to Belgrade, but the country still intends to stick to its EU accession agenda and hopes to join the bloc by 2014, Serbian deputy prime minister Bozidar Djelic has said.

"Factually, the Dutch are unfair to Serbia," Mr Djelic told EUobserver on the margins of an EU conference on the Roma people in Brussels on Tuesday (16 September).

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"Because it's not by chance that 25 member states support the implementation of the interim agreement; that the entire European Commission shares that position, and that the [UN] chief prosecutor [Serge] Brammertz presents a report during which he demonstrates Serbia is doing everything it can to cooperate with The Hague [war crimes] tribunal."

The Netherlands on Monday blocked the unfreezing of an interim deal - part of a pre-accession agreement signed in April - aiming to facilitate economic and trade relations between the EU and Serbia.

Despite the arrest of top war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic in July, it still does not see Serbia's cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal as sufficient, demanding that remaining war crimes suspects Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic be arrested before giving the green light to a possible further rapprochement between Brussels and Belgrade.

Belgium - another country which had previously expressed reluctance to a gesture towards Serbia - was ready to support the unblocking of the deal, if the Dutch did so, and in the end, "it stayed neutral," Mr Djelic said.

Serbia in the EU in five years?

Considering that the deadlock came despite the support of the vast majority of EU states, "don't be surprised if today the disappointment in Serbia is real," the deputy premier added.

However, he stressed that Belgrade will not be discouraged by this "very unfair decision," and on the contrary intends to intensify its efforts in order to be granted the status of an EU candidate as early as next year.

"We are not asking for privileges, we are conducting deep and credible reforms ... We want to be fully EU-fit by 2012 to ask to enter in 2014," he added.

Serbia also keeps insisting it is doing everything it can to catch Mr Mladic and Mr Hadzic.

"I think that if anything, Mondays's discussion between Mr Brammertz, all EU members, and the European Commission, definitely killed the myth that we actually hide them. No, we do everything to locate, find and extradite the two remaining war indictees," Mr Djelic said.

He expressed some reservations about statements coming from the EU that the bloc's foreign ministers may unfreeze the trade agreement at their next meeting in October however, something which EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was "almost sure" of.

"I think it's more realistic that the EU will come back to this issue towards the end of the French [EU] presidency," after a written report on Serbia's cooperation with the UN tribunal that Mr Brammertz is to present to the UN Security Council in December, the minister said.

Netherlands blocks EU-Serbia trade deal

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday failed to unfreeze the trade related part of a pre-accession deal with Serbia, following the Netherlands' opposition. The Hague wants that Serbia first cooperates fully with the UN war crimes tribunal, estimating that the arrest of top fugitive Radovan Karadzic was not enough in this respect.

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