Serbia: EU opens the gates another crack
10 December 2009
After years of gridlock, the EU 27 have now decided to get the Serbian accession talks going again. Whilst delighted by the EU’s green light for Serbia’s free trade agreement, the Serb press says Belgrade still has a long way to go before it can hope for accession.
On 7 December, the European Union decided to implement a free trade agreement with Serbia, which the Netherlands had put on ice for a year and a half. This thaw is a step towards application of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) signed in 2008, which is, in turn, a prelude to accession. Politika admonishes, however, that Serbia still has a long way to go before the SAA can really be put into operation. The main condition, the daily reminds us, is “full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY) and with the efforts to arrest General Mladic”, the ex-Bosnian Serb military chief accused of genocide.
“Serbia also needs to resolve the problem of Kosovo’s final status,” explains Politika. “What is its final status? Clearly, the one that would be acceptable to Serbia. And that could take years, even decades. But it is hardly likely Serbia can join the EU without resolving that problem.” The Bosnia-Herzegovina situation will loom large in the negotiations as well. “Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Serb entity in Bosnia, has been pursuing a policy of non-cooperation with the central institutions in Sarajevo, which raises the question of Belgrade’s leverage with him,” notes Politika. “But the real problem is the inherent instability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the dearth of new ideas from the international community” on how to deal with that.
EU divided on how to proceed
The paper doubts any new ideas are forthcoming from Brussels. After all, it adds sarcastically, “the new EU president’s charismatic personality” and the “new foreign representative’s wealth of diplomatic experience” go to show that those who appointed them are not keen on changing much with regard to enlargement. “The EU’s big countries are weary of enlargement and, for the time being, not showing any signs that might be just a passing weariness.” Still, insists Danas, Serbia has made some significant headway. “Its parliament is becoming more and more effective, the justice system reform is no longer a dead letter, the nation’s institutions are gaining in independence, and a political consensus is shaping on the need for EU accession.”
That being said, the 27 are divided over how to proceed. “The Netherlands, Germany, and perhaps France and Great Britain feel Serbia should not apply to the EU till the Council of Ministers has ratified the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, and at all events not before June 2010,” reports the Serb daily. “Unless Ratko Mladic is arrested in the interval. On the other hand, Italy, Spain and Greece see no reason to wait and feel Belgrade ought to be on the same train as Montenegro and Albania, whose bids have arrived in Brussels.” In this context, opines Politika, “Serbia would be well advised to concentrate on economic integration so as to make its economy more competitive, attract investors and promote growth.” So the free trade agreement could be Serbia’s big break. “The Serbian people are bound to be the chief beneficiaries,” foresees the daily Blic, emphasising the progressive dismantling of tariff walls. “The first sectors to feel the effects of the lower prices will be the food, textile, timber and furniture industries. The free trade agreement will also bring competition between Serb businesses into play, bringing prices down too. Furthermore, it opens the door to foreign investors and favours exports.”