Serbia’s president on Tuesday handed over his country’s application to join the European Union and vowed Belgrade would continue to hunt down and capture war criminals wanted by an international tribunal.
Serbia’s bid to become a member of the 27-nation bloc hinges on its cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia. Several EU countries have said Serbia must first arrest fugitives from the Balkan wars, including former Bosnian Serb general Radko Mladic.
Tadic submitted Serbia’s formal application for membership to EU expansion commissioner Olli Rehn and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Sweden holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Tadic said it was “a historic day” for his country.
Serbia has been encouraged by recent EU decisions to unblock a pre-entry agreement with Belgrade and abolish a visa regime for its citizens.
Tadic said his country is both ready and determined to honor the commitments and values of the EU. However, he noted there are “challenges” in the relationship with the EU, including differing views on the independence of Kosovo, a former Serbian province.
“We are going to solve those challenges, but it doesn’t mean that we are going to recognize Kosovo’s independence,” Tadic said. “We are going to continue our efforts in defending out territorial integrity and sovereignty by using only diplomatic and legal instruments.”
Reinfeldt said the application in itself “marks a new beginning for Serbia, it reflects strong determination of its government and it has widespread popular support in Serbia.”
He reminded Tadic, however, that the road to membership is long and demanding.
“It will require bold decisions and major reform, but I am confident that Serbia can and will meet the conditions necessary,” he said.
Reinfeldt said the biggest challenges for Serbia’s bid to join the EU included completing reforms and finding and arresting war criminals.
Analysts in Belgrade said that Serbia’s application was important because it clearly envisions the troubled country’s future after years of nationalism, wars, and international pariah status.
The candidacy is a major boost for the pro-Western government which has sought to move the country closer to the EU amid constant challenge from nationalists, who remain influential and strong even years after the war ended.
“What we are submitting today is not just a candidacy,” said Sonja Liht, a prominent human rights activist and an adviser in the country’s Foreign Ministry. “With this candidacy, our society is stating that it wants to become a member of the European Union.”
“It will be a complicated procedure, but it is the procedure that can no longer be reversed,” she said.