By Bojana Barlovac
Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President, said Brussels will decide in February whether to grant Serbia candidate status in March.
Van Rompuy on Friday said Serbia had made considerable progress towards the EU by arresting Europe’s most wanted war crimes suspects and moving forward in the dialogue with Kosovo.
“We encourage Serbia to build on that dialogue and to improve relations with Pristina for the sake of regional stability and Serbia’s own interests,” he said.
“We will continue to assess the situation and Serbia’s commitment to shared objectives, with the clear aim to grant Serbia the status of candidate country in February 2012 by the Council and to be confirmed by the European Council in the beginning of March 2012,” he added.
Jelko Kacin, EU’s Rapporteur for Serbia, said that the European future of Serbia is real. “Today’s missed opportunity should serve as a reminder of the need for continuous implementation of reforms,” Kacin said.
Serbia may obtain EU candidacy in March after EU foreign ministers “examine and confirm that Serbia has continued to show credible commitment and achieved further progress in moving forward with the implementation in good faith of agreements” with Kosovo.
These include: agreements on border management and “inclusive regional cooperation”, as well as allowing NATO peacekeepers to fulfil their mandates in the former Serbian province.
Serbian President Boris Tadic said that his country cannot and must not give up its European future.
“Regardless whether Europe has a problem with enlargement, Serbia belongs to Europe, culturally and economically, as well as in the domain of politics, security, and in every other way,” Tadic told reporters after the EU summit.
Tadic added that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo, either implicitly or explicitly.
“Serbia has its legitimate rights in Kosovo and the truth that our Kosovo policy today collides with the interests of becoming an EU member should not be concealed from people [in the country],” said the president.
Of all the main EU countries, Germany most strongly opposed Serbia’s candidacy, saying that the overall situation betwen Serbia and Kosovo has not improved enough.
Wolfram Maas, German Ambassador to Belgrade, said that Serbia “has no reason to be mad” at Germany.
“Serbia has chosen EU membership as its priority. If you want to be a member of a club, then you should know the rules of the club,” Maas told Serbian news agency Beta.
Meanwhile, Serbian opposition parties have called Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic to resign from his post following EU’s decision.
“I think that the Prime Minister should give the mandate back to the Serbian President, and that the President should dissolve the country’s parliament,” Tomislav Nikolic, President of the Serbian Progressive Party told Beta news agency.
Vojislav Kostunica, of the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, said that Serbia has not lost anything by not getting the candidacy. He also called Cvetkovic to resign and early elections to be called.
According to him, Serbians should decide in the elections whether Serbia should have a new policy of politically and militarily neutral country instead of wanting to join the bloc at any cost.
Another opposition party, Serbian Radical Party, SRS, held a small protest entitled “Serbia Doesn’s Want to Join EU” in front of the Presidential office building in Belgrade.
Participants at the gathering burned the EU flag.
Serbia’s ruling Democrats had been counting on obtaining EU candidacy as their main card in forthcoming elections in the country, due to be held in spring.
Serbia started EU negotiations in October 2005 and its progress on the path earlier depended on being deemed to have completed cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal, ICTY.
The main obstacle in this field was removed in May when Belgrade arrested the ICTY’s most wanted war crimes suspect, Ratko Mladic.