For Serbia, membership in troubled EU still a prize
The European Union will make Serbia an official candidate for EU membership this week. It's a positive development for a country that wants to show it's in line with democratic ideals.
Serbia is set to become an official candidate for European Union membership by the end of the week, following tortuous diplomatic negotiations and delays over slow progress on justice issues and normalization with Kosovo.Skip to next paragraph
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In Serbia, the news has been greeted with satisfaction, but not elation. The country is unlikely to join the EU before 2020, and it will have to undertake a difficult process of reform in the interim. It is unlikely to become a member without first recognizing the independence of Kosovo, a region that seceded in 2008 and which remains a center of ethnic tensions in the heart of the Balkans. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what sort of EU Serbia will be joining, given the bloc’s current crisis.
On Feb. 23, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt announced on Twitter that Serbia’s bid for candidate status had been given the go-ahead by his counterparts across the EU. This clears the way for EU heads of government formally to confirm Serbia as a candidate when they meet later this week.
Serbia applied for candidacy in 2009, but its acceptance was stalled first by failure to catch high-ranking suspected war criminals and then by Belgrade’s recalcitrance on Kosovo, which the EU leadership regards as independent.
This time, the EU ministers’ decision came as little surprise after Serbia finally reached an agreement with the ethnic Albanian-dominated government in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. While Belgrade stands by its position that it will never recognize Kosovo’s independence, the two governments returned to the negotiating table this month with the understanding that a compromise would be likely to move both Serbia and Kosovo closer to EU membership.
On Feb. 24, Belgrade agreed that representatives from Pristina could attend regional gatherings on the condition that they accompany the title “Kosovo” with the asterisk, indicating a footnote detailing the region’s disputed status.
The agreement, and the subsequent acceptance of Serbia as an accession candidate, is a victory for the Western-leaning President Boris Tadic and his government, which faces elections by early May.