It is a balancing act for the EU: encouraging democratic reforms in Serbia while keeping up pressure on Belgrade to come to terms with its violent nationalist past.
To allay concern among some EU governments that encouraging Serbia’s moves towards joining the bloc would send a wrong signal, the foreign
ministers agreed any future steps will require the EU states’ appraisal of Serbia’s cooperation with the United Nations.
Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic reacted positively: “First of all, Serbia is extremely happy by the outcome of today’s meeting. We are happy above all because the decision has been reached unanimously, and I’d like to reiterate here that Serbia will do everything in its capacity to find and extradite the two remaining Hague fugitives, in order for them to face justice.”
EU governments most of all want Belgrade to catch Serb General Ratko Mladic, accused of joint responsibility for the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
Serbia’s parliament apologised in March for the killings but stopped short of calling them “genocide”, a sign that the past still polarises the country of seven million people.
Analyst Jean-Michel De Waele, at the Free University of Brussels, asked: “Has Serbia really done all it can in looking for the war criminals? Some say it has, and that one can’t ask more of it, and that to ask more would be to put the democrats now in power there in difficulty. Others say Serbia hasn’t yet achieved its programme a hundred percent.”
Belgrade’s mending ties with Kosovo is likely to face hurdles, even though the European Union has made it clear that good neighbourly relations are a prerequisite to accession.