Just ahead of a Serbian presidential ballot on Sunday, the EU says it will launch talks on the possibility of Serbs having visa-free access to the bloc. Opinion polls ahead of the vote show the pro-western incumbent Boris Tadic does not have the outright majority needed for victory in the first-round. Observers say he will have to work hard to woo the undecided before the second round on February 3.
One of Tadic’s closest rivals is the nationalist Tomislav Nikolic, who is described as a hardliner. The EU announcement on talks over visa-free travel comes at a sensitive time in relations between Belgrade and Brussels. Serbia is angry at Western support for the independence bid of its breakaway province of Kosovo.
There is also the question of Belgrade failing to track down the war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic. Yesterday the Serbian Minister for Kosovo visited the province, amid a pledge by ethnic Albanian leaders that they will soon declare independence. At a ceremony for the start of work on a new kindergarten for a Serb village, the minister, Slobodan Samardzic, said Belgrade will “never let the province go”.