Will Serbia's bid to join the EU help shed its pariah status?
President Boris Tadic launched Serbia's formal bid to join the European Union on Tuesday, saying that the country would overcome 'challenges' in its relationship with the EU, including differing views on the independence of Kosovo.
Serbiaâ€™s president on Tuesday handed over his countryâ€™s application to join the European Union and vowed Belgrade would continue to hunt down and capture war criminals wanted by an international tribunal.
Serbiaâ€™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 Serbiaâ€™s formal application for membership to EU expansion commissioner Olli Rehn and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Sweden holds the EUâ€™s rotating presidency. Tadic said it was â€śa historic dayâ€ť 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 â€śchallengesâ€ť in the relationship with the EU, including differing views on the independence of Kosovo, a former Serbian province.
â€śWe are going to solve those challenges, but it doesnâ€™t mean that we are going to recognize Kosovoâ€™s independence,â€ť Tadic said. â€śWe are going to continue our efforts in defending out territorial integrity and sovereignty by using only diplomatic and legal instruments.â€ť
Reinfeldt said the application in itself â€śmarks a new beginning for Serbia, it reflects strong determination of its government and it has widespread popular support in Serbia.â€ť
He reminded Tadic, however, that the road to membership is long and demanding.
â€śIt will require bold decisions and major reform, but I am confident that Serbia can and will meet the conditions necessary,â€ť he said.
Reinfeldt said the biggest challenges for Serbiaâ€™s bid to join the EU included completing reforms and finding and arresting war criminals.
Analysts in Belgrade said that Serbiaâ€™s application was important because it clearly envisions the troubled countryâ€™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.
â€śWhat we are submitting today is not just a candidacy,â€ť said Sonja Liht, a prominent human rights activist and an adviser in the countryâ€™s Foreign Ministry. â€śWith this candidacy, our society is stating that it wants to become a member of the European Union.â€ť
â€śIt will be a complicated procedure, but it is the procedure that can no longer be reversed,â€ť she said.