18th Oct 2018

Serbia to apply for EU membership on Tuesday

  • Serbian president Boris Tadic will travel to Stockholm to submit the EU membership application (Photo: European Commission)

The Serbian government has announced its decision to formally apply for EU membership next week.

"The Serbian government has decided apply to join the EU," Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic told journalists on Saturday (19 December).

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"A large majority of our European partners support us for putting forward our candidacy," he added. "This is a great day for Serbia and its citizens. I'd like to congratulate Serbian citizens."

The move was hailed as "a historic step" by Swedish premier Fredrik Reinfeldt who chairs the rotating EU presidency. He will welcome Serbian President Boris Tadic on Tuesday (22 December) in Stockholm, when he officially hands over the application.

Belgrade said last month it would apply to join the bloc, but debate had been ongoing over the timing of the event.

Some member states such as the Netherlands have been advising the Serbs not to make the step before handing in war crime suspects who remain at large. But Italy and Greece are said to support the move.

The Saturday decision was proof of Serbia's firm commitment to EU integration, which "no one could doubt now," Mr Tadic argued.

Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, is still seen in some capitals as the black sheep among the former Yougoslav countries, especially for the role it played in the Bosnia and Kosovo wars.

But ever since Mr Tadic was elected president in 2004 and re-confirmed in 2008, the country has stuck to a pro-European course and co-operated more with the international tribunal for war crimes in The Hague.

The most tangible improvement in EU-Serbian relations is the decision to lift visa requirements for Serbs, which came into force this weekend.

In a symbolic gesture, Swedish interior minister Tobias Billstrom welcomed a group of 50 Serbian citizens in the early hours of Saturday morning at the Brussels airport, after a two-hour delay due to what Belgian authorities called "exceptional weather conditions" - 10 centimetres of snow.

"It is hard to overestimate the significance of the fact that, from 19 December onwards, citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can travel to the Schengen area without a visa. This means that the three countries are more closely tied to the EU and relations between the citizens of our countries and exchange between us are strengthened," said Mr Billstrom.

The trip was facilitated by the Swedish EU presidency and the 50 participants - most of whom have never travelled outside the country - will also fly to Stockholm on Tuesday.

Another success for Belgrade was registered earlier this month, when EU foreign affairs ministers removed restrictions against a trade agreement with Serbia.

The agreement was signed in April 2008 and was never ratified due to a Dutch objection, even though its terms were implemented internally by Serbia in a situation playing to the EU's financial advantage.

The Netherlands had taken a tough line on Belgrade's failure to hand over two war crimes suspects, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

Mr Mladic is implicated in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which Dutch peacekeepers were blamed for a lack of action. The 67-year-old fugitive is still on the run.

But a positive report from UN chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz on the way in which Belgrade is co-operating with the war crimes tribunal in the Hague helped persuade the Netherlands to back down.

EU lifts hurdle on Serbia's path to accession

EU foreign affairs ministers on Monday removed restrictions against a trade agreement with Serbia after the Netherlands put aside objections related to Belgrade's performance on war crimes probes.

Three Balkan countries to get visa-free travel by Christmas

Serbs, Macedonians and Montenegrins will be able to travel visa-free to Europe from 19 December, EU interior ministers decided on Monday. Albania and Bosnia will still have to do more on border control and police reforms, while Kosovo can only hope for easier visa procedures.

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