By Slobodan Milenkovic
While the government hails the European Commission’s positive “avis” regarding Serbia’s request for candidate status as a great triumph, opposition parties are less impressed.
Serbia’s government talked up the country’s success in obtaining a positive opinion, or “avis”, from the European Commission on Wednesday regarding its membership bid for the European Union.
In its annual progress report, the Commission recommended a positive response to Serbia’s request for candidate country be given at the next EU ministerial meeting in December.
Serbian President Boris Tadic, also head of the governing centrist Democratic Party, said he was delighted that Serbia had obtained a positive opinion from the European Commission.
“I’m proud that the Commission perceived our reforms as successful and that Serbia got good marks in sensitive areas such as the fight against organised crime, corruption and judiciary,” he said.
“Serbian citizens should be proud as well,” added Tadic, noting that he expected Serbia formally to obtain EU candidate status in December.
Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said the recommendation was significant recognition of the government’s hard work. “This opinion shows that the Commission has recognised the efforts that Serbia has made,” he said.
The Deputy Prime Minister, in charge of European integration, Bozidar Djelic, said the positive opinion, or “avis”, was the best possible outcome, given the ongoing economic crises and continuing tension with Kosovo.
However, opposition parties homed in on the fact that Brussels did not set a date for a start to accession talks, stating that Serbia must first re-engage in substantive dialogue with its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.
Serbia has said it will never recognize Kosovo’s statehood.
The deputy president of the opposition nationalist Serbian Progressive Party, Aleksandar Vucic, said even if Serbia got candidate status, it would not solve any of Serbia’s basic problems, starting with a poor economy and low living standards.
Vucic said the Commission had not set the date for accession talks because of what he called “the government’s inability”.
The leader of Liberal Democratic Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, agreed that without a date set for talks, Europe’s positive opinion of Serbia’s candidacy was not a great triumph.
Jovanovic said that to obtain candidate status, Serbia would have to meet Europe’s full political conditions, not just harmonise legislation with the EU.
Meanwhile, the anti-EU Serbian Radical Party organised a protest called “We don’t won’t Europe” in front of the government, demanding a halt to the whole EU integration process.
Radicals say that moving towards the EU will have to mean eventual recognition of Kosovo’s independence, which they fiercely oppose.
Radicals were “against joining the EU because Europe will not accept Serbia. They will grant us [candidate] status but only if we close Serbian institutions in Kosovo,” the party’s vice-president, Dragan Todorovic, said.
Another EU sceptic party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, made the same claim, saying that the EU would “blackmail” Serbia into recognising Kosovo as the price of obtaining candidate status.
Tension with Kosovo has risen recently. There have been violent scenes in the Serb-populated northern corner of Kosovo over the past two months after the government in Pristina tried to take control of two border crossings in the area.
The flare-up has halted EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia, which began in March and stopped in September.