Serbia might have to wait as long as Turkey to join EU
by Francesco Guarascio
The election of a nationalist president in Serbia and growing dissatisfaction within the EU about further enlargement mean Belgrade's route to membership could be similar to Turkey's never-ending journey - at the expense of the security of the Balkan region and the entire continent, reports PublicServiceEurope.com
When the coveted candidate status was granted to Serbia last March, just ahead of the elections in May, many in Brussels had hoped that this move would be a helping hand for the soft-spoken and pro-European incumbent Boris Tadic. "We should give a clear signal of appreciation for Tadic's efforts, or we risk missing a key interlocutor," said a European diplomat anticipating the EU's decision. Europe's help, however, came too late. In what was an unexpected result, Tomislav Nikolic, a nationalist leader and previously a member of a paramilitary organisation during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, gained a majority of the votes in the run-off poll against Tadic. Nikolic's success is also due in part to his more assertive stance towards Brussels, as a growing number of Serbs have become Eurosceptic.
They have been repeatedly disappointed by the eurozone crisis; Europe's wobbling about Serbian accession and Brussels' requests on Kosovo - which are often seen as unreasonable in Belgrade. Tadic was partly responsible for the result too. In the middle of the worst global economic crisis in decades, his record has been uninspiring at best. Unemployment has increased inexorably and currently stands at more than 20 per cent. After a slow recovery in 2010 and 2011, Serbia's economy is now heading back into recession. To counter this, Belgrade is renegotiating a loan with the International Monetary Fund. Corruption and cronyism also flourished during Tadic's two presidential mandates since 2004, according to Sasa Milosevic - a blogger and journalist for the Huffington Post in Belgrade.
Brussels put on a good face in a difficult situation and congratulated the new president upon announcement of the result. In a joint note, the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and European Commission President JosÚ Manuel Barroso urged him to show a "high sense of statesmanship". Especially, regarding the key issue of "cooperation and reconciliation in the region". In an equally well-mannered hat tip, Nikolic displayed some good faith to the EU by paying his first official visit abroad to Brussels, on Wednesday. "Our priority is the membership of the EU," he said in a joint press conference with Barroso, denying that there has been any controversy with the commission. Many observers think that despite his radical past, Nikolic will abide by his commitments to Brussels. Problems are more likely to arise from elsewhere. "I do not think he will do any harm to Serbia's path to Europe, but it remains to be seen how enthusiastic the Serbs will be on EU integration given the almost impossible conditions on Kosovo, the rising Euroscepticism and the long time horizon on EU entry," explained Aleksandar Mitic, chairman of the Center for Strategic Alternatives - a Serbian think tank.
Nikolic. However, has not started well. A few days after his election, he stated publicly that Vukovar – a town that now lies within Croatia - is a Serb town. Close to the border with the rich Serbian region of Vojvodina, Vukovar's bullet-riddled buildings still show the scars of a three-month siege by Serbian troops during the Yugoslav wars. Even worse, Nikolic has denied that the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia, was genocide. "The EU strongly rejects any intention to re-write history," was the immediate reply of the European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton.
"The massacre in Srebrenica was genocide, as confirmed both by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice," she added. Unsurprisingly, Nikolic's statements were badly received in the entire region and no leaders from the countries neighbouring Serbia attended his inauguration ceremony on June 11. Equally unsurprising is the fact that the Serbs deny that his statements represent a new approach to policy or foreign relations. For instance, in 2010 the Serbian Parliament condemned the crime in Srebrenica without saying it was genocide. Besides the rhetoric, there is also a calculated effort to avoid being forced to pay heavy compensation to the victims.
Kosovo is another highly divisive issue. "Recognition of Kosovo has never been defined as a condition for the access of Serbia to the EU," reiterated Peter Stano this week, spokesman for the EEU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule. Nevertheless, Brussels' requests to Belgrade are clearly aimed at a de facto recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Nikolic remains "firmly opposed to Kosovo's independence and will not accept a recognition of Kosovo," explained Mitic. The president reiterated this position in his press point in Brussels on Wednesday.
Remaining insistent on divisive issues will not help Nikolic and Serbia's ambitions for a European future - especially when the economic crisis in Europe has lowered the already shallow appetite for new member states. And EU citizens remain sceptical about opening Europe's doors to new members. A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that opposition to Serbia's EU membership had reached 53 per cent amongst those asked. The number opposed to Turkey's entry stood at 59 per cent. Turkey was granted candidate country status in 1999, but negotiations only actually started in 2005 and progress has been painfully slow. How long might Serbia be made to wait before negotiations can begin?
Much depends on new president Nikolic, who is also known as the Gravedigger because of his past as cemeteries manager. The hope in Brussels is that he will not live up to his nickname when it comes to relations with the EU, burying the Serbia's chances of joining in the near future. On the other hand, an unstable Serbia without a clear EU horizon is a recipe for trouble in the entire Balkan region; as the tragic events of the recent decades have repeatedly shown. Therefore, it seems that working on viable compromises is the only way forward for both Europe and Serbia. It is an EU speciality, after all.
EU must build on Serbia-Kosovo breakthrough
The deal between Serbia and Kosovo, brokered last week by Catherine Ashton, is a sign of hope that the future of the western Balkans lies in the EU – but there is much more work to be done, writes Ulrike Lunacek
It is unbelievable how many times we have to read about Srebrenica and few other crimes Serbs allegedly committed during wars in Balkans. But nobody mentions crimes on Serbs. Why is it that nobody talks about Serbs that disappeared in Sarajevo during 1992-1995? If you really want to know what is genocide, search for what Croats did to Serbs during World War Two.
In the Second World War, the officially stated politics of Independent State of Croatia (nowadays Croatia and Bosnia) was very violent towards - summarised as: 'Kill a third, expel a third, convert a third.' Under this policy from 1941 to 1945, more then 500,000 Serbs were killed in different concentration camps such as the Jasenovac concentration camp.
p milton - Canada
I dont want to pay for them either.
Tony - What used to be Great Britain