Rocky road: Serbia gets hard-won EU candidate status

Catherine Ashton (L) and Hashim Thaci give a press conference on March 1, 2012 (AFP Photo / Georges Gobet)
After three years of tough talks and painful concessions from Belgrade, Brussels has finally granted Serbia formal EU candidate status. While the first major step towards full membership has been taken, years of negotiations still lie ahead.

­Herman Van Rompuy, who secured a second term as European Council President during the summit, praised the decision to grant Serbia candidate status. 

“This is a remarkable achievement, a result of the efforts demonstrated by both sides in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina,” he said.

The decision to clear the way for Serbia’s accession to the EU came as a surprise on the first day of the Brussels summit, which has the top priority issue of saving the EU from the financial crisis that is wracking the eurozone.

Under current conditions, a large part of the Serbian population has understandable concerns about the wisdom of joining the Union at a time of unprecedented economic disaster.

Serbia has already made major concessions to smooth its path to the EU but further negotiations with the bloc will inevitably bring more economic and political demands from Brussels.

The last and most important concession Belgrade was forced to make was to improve ties with its breakaway region of Kosovo, whose independence has now been recognized by almost all EU states.

Serbia first applied for EU membership back in 2009, but its bid was stalled because of its lack of progress in talks with Kosovo and its failure to hand over men accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court. In 2011 Serbia captured and extradited Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who were on the court’s most wanted list, although Germany opposed the approval of its candidacy back in December due to stalled progress on Kosovo.

Nebojsa Malic, an expert on Serbian history, told RT that the EU will be the sole beneficiary of the accession process.

“The EU will not lead to gains for Serbia, but it will demand that Serbia give up everything,” he argues. He said Belgrade has basically subordinated its foreign policy to Brussels and in a sense to Washington and as a result has been forced to surrender its position on Kosovo.

Now Brussels appears to be pushing Belgrade to revoke Russia’s most-favored nation status in trade agreements.

“I don’t think anybody in Serbia honestly expects the country’s problems to be resolved by joining the EU, especially after seeing the riots in Spain and Greece,” Malic claims.

“The problem is, nobody really cares – none of the people in the government really care what the people think,” Nebojsa Malic concludes.