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5th Mar 2024

Serbia back on EU course, Brussels says

Serbia has taken a significant step on the road to EU membership, Brussels said after the country's reform- and Europe-oriented parties ended a three-month election deadlock and agreed to form a new government.

"Once a new government is formed, Serbia's path to the EU will be revitalised immediately", EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said in a written statement (11 May).

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He added the talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) – a gateway to EU candidate status - could also be re-opened at once.

According to media reports, the coalition deal has been struck among three parties - the Democratic Party led by president Boris Tadic, the Democratic Party of Serbia led by prime minister Vojislav Kostunica and neo-liberal G17 Plus party.

Both politicians were negotiating a power-sharing deal since January election, but wrangled over who would control the ministry of defence, home affairs, as well as the intelligence services.

Earlier this week, the negotiations appeared to stall after Mr Kostunica had backed the leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic, to become country's parliament speaker - something Brussels called "a worrying signal".

If the parties had failed to form a coalition by 14 May, Serbia would have faced new elections. But this is likely to have played into the hands of nationalists - especially at a time when the UN Security Council is discussing the future of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

EU rewards

Brussels has signalled that pro-Western Serbia will soon see some rewards, with the commission's Olli Rehn saying the two sides can "straight away" start moving on the visa facilitation and readmission agreements, as well as on a roadmap for visa-free travel.

At the same time, Mr Rehn has called on Serbia's leaders to "choose a European future, instead of letting the country fall back to its nationalist past", adding he expected Belgrade to fully cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal (ICTY).

Commissioner Rehn made it clear that Serbia could re-open SAA talks with fugitives still at large, but that the process could only be concluded once they are in the dock.

"Its completion [SAA talks] will depend on the well-known condition of full cooperation with the ICTY", Finland's Rehn said.

Serbia opened the Stabilisation and Association Agreement talks with the EU in 2005, but Brussels called them off in May last year citing Belgrade's failure to fully cooperate with the Hague-based body and arrest war crimes suspects Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

According to media reports, president Tadic' Democratic Party - seen as the most pro-Western - will be in charge of a national body, responsible for the hunt for the two fugitives.

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