By Bojana Milovanovic
Meeting in Brussels on Friday (December 9th), the European Commission (EC) postponed a long-awaited decision to grant Serbia the formal status of EU candidate.
EC President Herman van Rompuy said Serbia’s progress will be assessed in February, followed by a decision at the March EU summit.
The Commission praised Belgrade’s efforts – particularly in harmonizing legislation with that of the EU and arresting the remaining Hague tribunal indictees — but demanded continuing dialogue with Pristina.
“We encourage Serbia to build on that dialogue. The EU’s clear aim is to grant Serbia the status of candidate country,” Van Rompuy said.
The Serbian official in charge of leading the country’s EU integration bid, Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, resigned following the EC’s move. He said the decision “is not what Serbia expected”.
At the same time, however, he urged Serbia to continue the EU integration process.
In an address to the nation, President Boris Tadic said Serbia must not abandon its European future as any other choice would have severe consequences.
The country’s “both the EU and Kosovo” policy had not suffered defeat, the president insisted.
“That policy has no proper alternative. Regardless of whether Europe is facing difficulties, we belong to Europe. I am confident we will be granted candidate status some other time,” Tadic said.
Serbia would continue holding the dialogue with Pristina, he said, because the Kosovo problem has to be solved. He again urged Serbs in northern Kosovo to remove the barricades.
“Even if we gave up on the EU, the Kosovo problem would remain and putting that problem on ice would not abolish the challenges,” Tadic said. Rather, “it would make the lives of Serbs in Kosovo less safe.”
He reiterated that Serbia would neither implicitly nor explicitly recognise Kosovo.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, called on the government to resign and call an election. “The government should take responsibility at least in some way to show it is responsible, at least once during this mandate to present itself as a group of people who are moral and honest,” Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) leader Tomislav Nikolic said.
Political Science Professor Predrag Simic told SETimes that delaying the candidacy decision sends a bad message to the entire region, especially at a time when the economic crisis is gaining momentum.
“A positive decision on Serbia’s candidacy could have led the Balkans into a calmer year and resulted in more attention being devoted to European and less to Balkan problems in the countries of the region,” Simic said.
The ruling coalition finds itself in a difficult position, Simic added, because the goal on which it established its mandate has not been achieved.
“The opposition led by the SPP will now be even more insistent in its demands for an election to be called as soon as possible,” he said.
Analyst Vladimir Goati told SETimes the EC decision indicates a lack of trust that Serbia will implement its existing agreements.
All is lost for the ruling coalition because it has a second chance at the EU summit in March. It must however, take into consideration the autonomy of the Serb community in northern Kosovo, Goati said.
“The Serbian authorities should pay more attention to the positions of the Serbs in northern Kosovo, because without that it will be difficult to reach a solution,” he concluded.