EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have failed to agree on the signing of a pact with Serbia for closer ties. This would have been seen as a move to boost the pro-Western Serbian president ahead of a run-off presidential vote next Sunday. Instead the ministers have agreed to offer Belgrade an interim agreement on trade and visa cooperation, to come into effect after the election.
Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, had earlier called on the ministers to sign the full pact. He said: “The Serbian people are choosing between a European future and a nationalist past, and we should today send the very strong signal over (a) European future to the Serbian people by deciding to sign the stabilisation and association agreement shortly.”
President Boris Tadic is facing a tough challenge from nationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic, described as a pro-Russian hardliner, who took a five point lead in last Sunday’s first round.
Commentators say EU leaders are keen to see Tadic win to bolster pro-European forces ahead of an expected declaration of independence by Serbia’s breakaway province of Kosovo.
The Netherlands is one of those voicing resistance to the early signing of a full pact with Serbia. It says there needs to be better cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia.