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Порука  admin on Fri Mar 02, 2012 8:58 am


Serbia, Once Outcast, Is Candidate to Join E.U.
Published: March 1, 2012

BRUSSELS — Serbia formally became a candidate for European Union membership late Thursday in a significant advance for the nation, once ostracized for its role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

At a meeting in Brussels, European Union leaders agreed that the government in Belgrade had made enough progress to be placed on a clear path toward joining the bloc.

In recent years, Serbia has stepped up cooperation on tracking down war crime suspects, and last month it signed an agreement to improve contacts with its breakaway former province of Kosovo. Last October, the European Commission made improved relations with Kosovo a condition of Serbia’s being granted official candidacy.

“We agreed tonight to grant Serbia the status of E.U. candidate country,” Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, told reporters on Thursday night. “This is a remarkable achievement, a result of the efforts demonstrated by both sides in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.”

Serbia was considered responsible for much of the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s, and NATO bombed it in 1999 in an effort to prevent a more severe crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province that eventually declared independence. The legacy of that period set back Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union as it struggled to come to terms with the past while modernizing its economy and political system.

For years, Serbia’s bid for membership was thwarted because of the hunt for Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander. That obstacle disappeared when Mr. Mladic was arrested last year and handed to a United Nations tribunal in The Hague, where he has been indicted on genocide charges. Prosecutors have argued that forces under the former general’s command massacred more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995.

The European Union has struggled in recent years to accommodate 12 new nations, which it accepted during expansions in 2004 and 2007. Most are former Communist countries in Eastern Europe. But despite flagging public enthusiasm for the prospect of further enlargement, European policy makers have kept the door open to Balkan countries in the hope that the lure of European Union membership can help stabilize a volatile region.

Slovenia joined the bloc in 2004, and next year Croatia is to become the second bloc nation that once was part of the former Yugoslavia.

Thursday’s agreement was preceded by the drafting of an accord between Romania and Serbia on the treatment of minorities, to overcome Romanian objections about the position of minorities in Serbia.

Even with candidate status, it is likely that Serbia will have to wait about a year for a starting date for negotiations with the European Commission to bring its laws in line with union laws, a process that can take several years. Croatia’s talks began in 2005 and concluded late last year.

No country that has begun negotiations has ever been denied European Union membership, although Turkey’s accession process has stalled over its refusal to recognize Cyprus, a union member.

Serbia will have to navigate a series of difficult issues as part of its application. The government in Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state and was not asked to do so as a condition of gaining candidate status by the bloc, which is itself divided on the issue. However, Europe’s leaders did insist on improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo before taking the latest step.

Last month, the two sides agreed on conditions under which Kosovo can be represented at international meetings and on technical parameters for border controls.

Diplomats hope the deal on border issues will reduce recent tension in northern Kosovo, where many Serbs reject the government in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital.


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