Ambassador: EU decision “might be moving Serbia in the wrong direction”

Amid all the other chaos engulfing the EU today, the body also made a surprising decision regarding it’s possible future members in the Balkans. Croatia was granted an accession treaty, putting it on the path to EU membership in 2013, but a decision on Serbia’s membership was delayed until March.   Pro-European President Boris Tadic ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
546117_serbia_02.jpg
546117_serbia_02.jpg

Amid all the other chaos engulfing the EU today, the body also made a surprising decision regarding it's possible future members in the Balkans. Croatia was granted an accession treaty, putting it on the path to EU membership in 2013, but a decision on Serbia's membership was delayed until March.  

Pro-European President Boris Tadic pushed aggressively for an accession treaty. But Serbian membership has been held up by the outstanding issue of Kosovo, which is recognized as an independent country by most EU member states but still considered part of Serbia by Belgrade. Until this year's capture of Ratko Mladic, Serbia's perceived inaction in tracking him down for transfer to the Hague was also an issue.

Nationalist opposition groups protested in Belgrade today, burning the EU flag and calling for Tadic to halt Serbia's application. Today's decision could weaken Tadic's hand heading into elections next year.

Amid all the other chaos engulfing the EU today, the body also made a surprising decision regarding it’s possible future members in the Balkans. Croatia was granted an accession treaty, putting it on the path to EU membership in 2013, but a decision on Serbia’s membership was delayed until March.  

Pro-European President Boris Tadic pushed aggressively for an accession treaty. But Serbian membership has been held up by the outstanding issue of Kosovo, which is recognized as an independent country by most EU member states but still considered part of Serbia by Belgrade. Until this year’s capture of Ratko Mladic, Serbia’s perceived inaction in tracking him down for transfer to the Hague was also an issue.

Nationalist opposition groups protested in Belgrade today, burning the EU flag and calling for Tadic to halt Serbia’s application. Today’s decision could weaken Tadic’s hand heading into elections next year.

Serbia’s ambassador to the United States, Vladimir Petrovic, spoke with FP today about what the decision could mean for his government and why Serbia still wants to join the troubled union:

What’s your reaction to today’s news?

We were expecting, regardless of what’s coming out of Brussels, that we would get candidacy status. We certainly have done everything we were asked to do from the EU to become an official candidate. That’s why leaders from Serbia were very disappointed that it didn’t happen today. We are hopeful that it will happen soon – they’re talking about February and March — and we hope it is still going to happen, because as much as we need Europe, I think Europe also needs Serbia not to go to the right or toward nationalism. We feel Europe should want us as full members.

So you think this could empower the nationalist opposition in Serbia?

This government was elected on a platform of joining the EU and we have new elections in April. This government did everything – unpopular things – in Serbia to bring the country close to the EU. We were told by the European commission report that Serbia made tremendous progress and that it’s ready to have candidate status. And after all that, we had candidate status delayed. We feel this might be moving Serbia in the wrong direction. What kind of signal is this to the Serbia people?

Was there an expectation, for instance after the capture of Ratko Mladic, that his would finally put Serbia on the path to membership?

Absolutely. That was one of the big political things that Europe was asking for us — full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. We have proven that over and over again. Over 50 people from Serbia were arrested and transferred to the Hague tribunal, not just because the EU asked it from us, but because we feel it’s fair and should have been gone. We’ve done every single political thing that’s been asked from us in terms of legislation and getting our legal system in line from the EU. Despite all that, Serbia didn’t get candidacy status. We feel it’s really important for the future of the Balkans and reconciliation, to speed this up. Certainly, Serbia has gone a long way to be aligned and ready to join.  

What is it that the EU says they’re going to be looking at over the next couple of months? What are they still looking for from you?

Unofficially, we hear that some of the things they’re looking for are asking too much from Serbia. For instance, moving away from Security Council Resolution 1244, the resolution that guarantees the territorial integrity of Serbia. It’s not up to us. We’re not a member of the Security Council. It’s up to us to comply with the resolution. We don’t in any way to stop Kosovo from being part of any of the regional forums or stop progressing in any way. It’s a matter of principle. How do you move away from something that was brought forth by the Security Council and guarantees our territorial integrity. That’s one of the condition that some of the members of the EU want Serbia to fulfill.

So you would have no objections to Kosovo attending regional meetings, if not for this Resolution?

We have no objections to representatives from the U.N. Mission in Kosovo being present. We’re open to finding some way for them to be present. But we cannot accept the Republic of Kosovo being present because we don’t recognize them as an independent country. Kosovo is part of our territory. On the other hand, we want them present to be present under the agreed way. So far, UNMIK, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, is how they’ve been present and we don’t object to it.

Have the current troubles in the EU and the financial crisis changed how Serbians see Europe? Are you still as enthusiastic about EU membership?

We’re one of the rare countries that are still very enthusiastic about EU membership. We look at the EU not just as an economic union, but as a European peace treaty. The problems in Europe have been going on for centuries. Now you have a situation where centuries-old enemies are together, like Germany and France. We feel that for the Balkans to turn a page and move on from the terrible times of the 90s, that everyone in the Balkans should be part of the EU. Borders are not going to be as important anymore and we’re going to work together for a brighter future. It’s not just economic thing for us, it’s a political peace process.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tags: EU, Serbia

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