Belgrade and Brussels have moved a step closer together. Serbia’s long-sought status as a candidate to join the European Union has been approved. It is still a long way from getting in, probably not before the end of the decade. Yet the move is seen as a satisfying reward for the efforts of reformist President Boris Tadic.
Tadic said: “This is a great achievement, but not a commendable one: that will be when Serbia crosses the border, the magic border, and becomes a full member of the European Union, with the possibility to use all its potential, and accession funds and everything else that EU members have and can use.”
The sharpest stone in Serbia’s shoe has been Kosovo. Belgrade’s efforts here have paid off. In December, an agreement was reached with Pristina about border crossing points. Last week, Belgrade accepted another EU requirement, to accept Kosovo at international meetings as any other nation, without necessarily recognising Kosovo’s self-declared independence.
Another obstacle removed was Romania’s objection to EU candidate status for Serbia, which had been on the grounds that a 30,000-strong Romanian minority in Serbia must have their rights guaranteed, with Brussels seeing that this is put into practice. Belgrade and Bucharest agreed.
Serbia’s cooperation in handing over war crimes indictees for trial at The Hague tribunal also played in its favour. But there are many European standards which remain to be met, notably economic.
Serbia’s economy is mostly based on services, which represent more than 60% of its GDP. It is heavily dependent on outside aid. As for growth, it registered two percent last year. The budget deficit is 4.5 percent. The national debt is more than 44 percent of GDP. Unemployment is around 20 percent.
Actually, the EU, with its own economic angst does not look as attractive to Serbs as it did in better times. They wonder ‘why go to the trouble of meeting all sorts of difficult criteria?’ A recent poll found that less than half of Serbs want to become part of the EU now.
The strongest political party in the country, the extreme right Radical Party, is one of the anti-Europe groups. It has handed the Belgrade authorities a petition with the signatures of 200,000 people objecting to the bid to join. Tadic cited the party’s strength telling the EU that giving Serbia candidate status would undercut sceptics and lower the score that ultra-nationalists are expected to win in legislative elections coming up in May.