By Igor Jovanovic


Belgrade hosted a Serbia-EU forum late last week, attracting more than 400 officials from Europe, Serbia and the region, along with business people and media representatives. European Council President Herman van Rompuy attended as did Martin Schulz, chairman of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament.

The forum was particularly important in light of the recent cooling of relations between Serbia and the EU over the demand by certain European states that Belgrade abolish its institutions in Kosovo. Serbian officials have refused to do so, even at the cost of eventual European integration.

The European Commission is to issue an opinion in October on whether Serbia has met the conditions for becoming an EU membership candidate. Prior to the Kosovo crisis, Belgrade representatives also hoped to receive a date -- by year’s end -- for beginning membership talks.

Serbian officials welcomed van Rompuy's statement that Serbia had done much on the road to membership and is a country with European prospects. "You have done plenty, but more has to be done. We are ready to help you. The Union will be ready when Serbia is ready," he said.

Yet van Rompuy also said the EU would review the relations between Belgrade and Pristina when deciding on Serbia's candidacy.

Serbian President Boris Tadic responded by saying that his country had fulfilled all the requirements for EU candidacy, but would not agree to having to meet conditions not placed on other countries in their talks with Brussels.

Tadic added that Belgrade knows that attitude may not earn it the long-awaited candidate status. "We are not asking for any privileges and benefits, but we also do not want conditions that would set us apart from other countries," Tadic said.

Other Serbian officials stressed Belgrade's EU orientation. Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic even said Serbia "cannot allow itself the luxury of Euroscepticism" as "we have carried out all 96 tasks from the Action Plan [for association with the EU]."

Yet Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said the chances of Serbia getting a start date for EU talks this year are "slim", and he warned the EU of the danger of a standstill in the accession of new member states.

Yet analysts believe the meeting in Belgrade was very important for Serbia's European integration. Former Serbian Ambassador to the United States Ivan Vujacic told SETimes that the forum "accomplished one goal: it has again made the European Union the central focus of Serbia's foreign policy".

"The fact that Herman van Rompuy came to the event speaks volumes in favour of the idea that Europe is interested in Serbia's admission and in that sense these forums do not resolve issues, but they do put the focus on them," Vujacic said.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told SETimes, "I think a very important message is that one can expect all countries from this part of Europe to join the EU in time, which is also very important for the calming of all tensions and conflicts between different states in the Western Balkans."

However, he also said Belgrade would not agree to conditions that had not been applied to other countries. "The membership talks with the EU were grueling for every country, but there is a big difference: they discussed fishing and agricultural quotas, while we are discussing issues related to a portion of our territory, a portion of our people and relations in the Balkans," Dacic said.


- Provided by Southeast European Times


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