Serbia Becomes EU Candidate, Romanian Objection Noted
Serbia on Tuesday received the recommendation to become a candidate for the admission to the European Union, as the EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on Tuesday to analyze the bid of the Balkan country. The Serbian request has been praised by European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, who praised the efforts to meet the EU requirements, but warned that there was much more to be done until the country actually acquired the status of member in the European bloc.
A final decision on the admission of Serbia as a candidate to the EU is expected to be made later in the week at a gathering of the EU heads of states, but according to the EU mechanisms the recommendation formulated by the foreign ministers should keep Serbia reassured that the situation can not turn.
The candidacy of Serbia to the European Union membership was approved at the end of a difficult road, which included the surrendering of all the war criminals from the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s to the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, and the settling of the relations with the breakaway province of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in 2008.
Serbia delivered the last fugitive from international justice last summer and concluded an agreement with the Kosovo government last week, by which Serbia agreed to cooperate with Kosovo in regional organizations, and that the breakaway province can retain its name of Kosovo as long as it is with a footnote in which it is explained its situation.
The fact that Serbia came a footnote away from formally recognizing Kosovo was expressed by many analysts in both Serbia and Kosovo, and even by a former prime minister of Macedonia, another ex-Yugoslavian state, whose international status was condition by Greece upon including in its name the expression “former Yugoslavian republic of,” as a means to tell it apart from the Greek province of Macedonia.
On Tuesday, the foreign ministers had to deal however with another problem: Romania, which is a member of the European Union and a neighbor of Serbia raised an objection referring to the way the community of Romanian Vlachs are being treated in the petitioning country.
The Romanian position was made known last week, before the meeting of the Serbian leaders with the German foreign minister in Belgrade, and was made public by Serbian newspaper Danas and by the Serbian radio station B92.
Last Friday, Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic said that his country had met all the requirements imposed by the European Union and that no additional conditions shall be accepted, adding that “Serbia does not respond well to blackmail.”
On Tuesday, the president of Serbia Boris Tadic said his country has done everything it was asked to do, and that it was not going to accept anything that was not in accordance with the admission criteria laid out in Copenhagen. He added that that was a firm position of the Serbian government, his own position and that Serbia would do all in its power to reach the agreed terms.
EUobserver reported on Wednesday edition that Romania has flexed the muscles at the EU meeting, causing confusion and annoyance, causing the European foreign ministers to have a long discussion with the Romanian delegation, which threatened until the very end to block the admission of Serbia.
EUobserver reports that the European Commission drafted a special declaration “to keep Bucharest happy.” By this declaration the commission is of the view that the implementation of the legal and institutional framework for respecting minorities, which are already in place in Serbia, must be further improved, and Serbia will be closely monitored on the matter.
Romania caught its colleagues in the EU by surprise with bringing the issue into discussion on Monday, after ignoring to bring it before on all the occasions that would have been more appropriate, and considering that all the annual reports on Serbia EU had did not point out the problem of the Vlachs as a serious threat to integration.
It is believed by the EUobserver that by this move Romania wanted to show the Netherlands how strong it felt about the Schengen zone, considering that the Netherlands have supported the Serbian bid, helping it with the fugitives from justice. The Dutch delegation said it made no connection between the Schengen problem and the Serbian admission to the EU.
Romania was denied its admission to the Schengen area last year after the Netherlands and Finland opposed its bid on the ground that corruption must be tackled more serious in that country and the border security must be improved. The next term for Romanian admission to Schengen.
An EU official was quoted to have said that it was possible that the Romanian president or someone else came up with other last-minute objections at the meeting on Thursday. “This is the EU,” the EU official concluded.
Depicting the attitude of the Romanian foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu, who was “responsible for the fuss on Tuesday,” EUobserver said that he cancelled press briefing and “flew back home citing time pressure.”
The “fuss” received little coverage in the Romanian media, and was dismissed as an unimportant matter; however the leaders of the opposition distanced themselves from the governmental stance on Serbia.
The president of the Social Democrat Party, Victor Ponta, which is part of the Social Liberal Union, said that Romanian attitude was “utterly unfair” and added that Romania should not act toward Serbia as the Netherlands have acted toward Romania.
After saying that such an important decision as blocking the access to the EU of a neighboring country should have been made with the consultation of the opposition, Ponta said that the decision was “hasty,” and stressed out that Serbia was a neighbor that must be helped.
Romanian people have long considered the Serbians as the only friendly neighbor, and have acted accordingly in the past, even though there always was a problem with Serbian nationalism that made the life of Romanian minority there hard to bear.
In 1999, Romanian president Emil Constantinescu sacrificed his bid for a second term in office when he opened the Romanian skies to NATO aviation which bombed Serbia during the attack that led to the separation of Kosovo.
The move brought Romania closer to NATO but was intensely criticized by the Romanian people, who were on the side of the Serbians on that occasion.
In 2008, Romanian president Traian Basescu announced that Romania did not recognize the independence of Kosovo, a move that made Serbians wave the Romanian flag in the streets of Belgrade.
Presidents Tadic and Basescu met on several occasions, and there was an opinion expressed in the Romanian media at some point that the president Basescu was so popular in Serbia that he could be sure to win a term in office in that country.
The opinion came as the popularity of the president was shrinking in his own country. General elections are expected at the end of this year and sticking up for the Romanians left outside the national borders by international treaties signed at the end of the WWII could score a few points to the coalition in power that really needs them.
As for the Serbs in Serbia, the news was greeted with satisfaction, but not with too much joy, as the admission is not likely to come before 2020, and the country will have to undergo many reforms until it is fit to become a member of the club. The most painful, Serbians think, will be to recognize formally the independence of Kosovo, even though the government keeps promising that such a day would never come to pass.
Recent polls say that all the conditions Serbia had to meet made it possible for the approval for the admission to EU to be no more than 50%, and it is believed that with the tough reforms coming on the Serbs are still expected to keep their taste for EU to some extent. Analysts believe that a referendum would be approved.
Serbia is led by a leadership whose commitment to EU is unwavering, and the admission to EU is seen as a strategic move, considering the potential of this zone for conflict. Croatia, another former member of Yugoslavia, already received its recommendation to become a candidate to the EU admission, after being in the position to deal with the same problems Serbia had: nationalism and war criminals.11