Way opens for Serbia's EU entry
In another development that brings Serbia closer to Europe, EU nations agreed Monday to extend visa free travel to Serbia as well as Macedonia and Montenegro.Belgrade -- Serbia's way into the European Union opened up this week, after being blocked for over a year, with a positive report on its cooperation with the UN war crimes court and the lifting of visas for the EU.
"Serbia is advancing," a European diplomat told AFP following Thursday's report by the UN war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz who said Belgrade had increased cooperation with his office.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is hunting for Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, wanted for crimes against humanity.
Brammertz's report of progress was welcomed by The Netherlands, significant because The Hague -- which hosts the ICTY -- has blocked a key trade and aid pact between Serbia and the EU over the outstanding arrest warrants.
The pact is seen as the first step on the road to membership of the 27-nation European Union. It was signed by Serbia in April 2008 but has been stalled since then.
"A priori The Netherlands would agree to lift its veto," said the diplomat in Belgrade, on condition of anonymity.
A diplomat in Brussels said this could happen as soon as Monday, when EU foreign ministers meet.
"Our understanding is that it (the Brammertz report) is also positive enough for the Dutch to agree to lift their block," he said. "I understand that is what's likely to happen on Monday."
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said meanwhile he would discuss with his European colleagues what the report "means for taking decisions concerning Serbia's integration process" into the EU.
Brammertz is expected in Brussels on Monday to respond to questions of the EU foreign ministers, who will debate Serbia's European prospects after his report, according to several sources.
The minister wants to listen to Brammertz "before he decides what it means," a Dutch diplomat said.
Another European diplomat cautioned however that Belgrade would need to reach the level of "full cooperation" with the court before EU ministers ratify the trade and aid agreement, even if it is implemented.
And even if the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is unfrozen next week, Serbia could expect years of negotiations before it gets the chance to join the EU, which has said it intends to include all western Balkans nations.
But Ivan Vejvoda, head of Belgrade-based analytical centre The Balkan Trust for Democracy, said that for several weeks all signals have showed that the accord will really be released.
This could enable the pro-European government in Belgrade, which has been in power since July 2008, to submit its candidacy for EU membership by the end of this year or early next year, Vejvoda said.
The agreement would be "emblematic because, for the first time, Serbia would officially implement a contract" with the European Union, the Belgrade diplomat said.
Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on November 5 that his country would apply to join the EU bloc this year, with a view to joining by 2014.
In another development that brings Serbia closer to Europe, EU nations agreed Monday to extend visa free travel to Serbia as well as Macedonia and Montenegro.
The visa move has been eagerly awaited by the citizens of Serbia, the largest of the three ex-Yugoslav republics.