Is it too late for Serbia to join the EU?

Is it too late for Serbia to join the EU?

Boris Tadic makes it clear that with Ratko Mladic now heading to the Hague, it’s time for Brussels to live up to its side of the implicit deal and put Serbia on the path to EU membership:

“I simply ask the EU to fulfill its part. We fulfilled our part and we will continue to do so,” said the Serbian President.

“No one has the right any more to place Serbia on the pillar of shame,” Tadi? emphasized, adding that “no one has the right to say that this country is without the rule of law, and no one can say that we are a nation which is unable to face its past.”

Tadi? said that Serbia “should be given the same path to EU membership accorded to another former Yugoslav republic, Croatia.“

“We are demanding that Serbia, just like Croatia, simultaneously be given the date for the start of the entry talks and not just the candidate status. When I say we demand I mean we deserve it,” Tadi? underscored.

“There are no obstacles left,” Tadi? noted, adding that “stopping Serbia would be purely political.“

It’s not quite true that there are no obstacles left. There’s still the nagging issues of Kosovo: it’s hard to imagine that Serbia could ge admitted while still claiming a territory that’s recognized as a sovereign state by the rest of the EU. The relatively tame backlash from Serbian nationalists to the Mladic arrest is probably nothing compared to what Tadic would face if he gave up Serbia’s historial claim to Kosovo.

Then there are factors completely beyond Serbia’s control

Neighbouring Croatia is in the closing stages of its six-year negotiation to join the EU. Just as it reaches closure the goalposts are being moved by EU governments and new conditions are being introduced. France, Germany, the Netherlands and several others are suffering from a chronic case of "enlargement fatigue" – fed up with an ever-growing EU.

After the past two years, it shouldn’t be surprising if the Western European public starts to view new members — however, unfairly — less as potential new economic partners and more as future bailouts.  If Mladic had been arrested along with Radovan Karadzic back in 2008, the calculus might be very different now. 

Tadic is right about one thing, the ball is now in the EU’s court. If the Mladic arrest doesn’t produce tangible results for Serbia, it will be a blow to the often-heard argument that membership is an effective carrot that can be used to prod reluctant governments into progress on human rights and economic reform. As Bronwyn Lo writes in the Australian,  they’re likely paying close attention in Ankara.