By Bojana Barlovac
Serbia is hoping for an historic “Yes” on Tuesday when EU foreign ministers meet to decide whether to grant it EU candidate status or not.
Their decision must then be approved by EU leaders at the beginning of March.
The EU meeting comes just after Belgrade and Pristina finally agreed a compromise on the vexed question of Kosovo’s representation at regional meetings.
Progress in talks with Kosovo was the main condition that Brussels set for Serbia in order to obtain candidate status.
Serbian officials have since hailed the agreement, maintaining that it has cleared the path towards candidacy.
Winning candidate status is the key card that the current Democrat-led coalition in Belgrade intends to play in the spring elections.
President Boris Tadic said that the Brussels agreement had confirmed his party’s slogan, “Both the EU and Kosovo”.
“This policy secures a European future for Serbia and protects our national interest but also shows that Serbia is a factor for stability in Southeast Europe,” Tadic told reporters.
Milica Delevic, director of the Serbian office for EU integration, said the agreement represented a significant step towards candidacy.
Henri Giscard-Bone, director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Belgrade, said any more delays in granting Serbia candidate status would have a negative effect on reforms in the country.
He said there was a danger of motivation falling away if candidacy was not granted on Tuesday.
“It would be a good sign … because they [the government] will think, ‘We are now at the next level and our responsibility is to move on,'” he said.
But if the next government sees that the previous one did not achieve candidate status, in spite of all its efforts, it might decide that candidacy was not an important goal after all, Giscard-Bone explained.
Over the past few days, Serbia has heard encouraging noises from a number of important EU officials.
A joint statement issued last Friday by Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, and Stefan Fule, EU Enlargement Commissioner, said the agreements between Kosovo and Serbia on regional cooperation and border management “are particularly welcome in view of the deliberations in the Council next week regarding candidate status for Serbia”.
On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made an unexpected visit to Belgrade where he also delivered encouraging words about Serbia’s EU candidacy.
A day earlier, the Austrian, French and Italian foreign ministers sent a letter to Ashton, urging the EU to grant candidate status for Serbia, saying that the country had met all the conditions.
Serbia started EU negotiations in 2005 but they have gone back and forth largely depending on the country’s perceived level of cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the ICTY.
In January 2011, Serbia filled out the EU questionnaire and four months later it arrested and handed over its most wanted war crimes suspect, Ratko Mladic.
On December 9, the European Council postponed a decision on Serbia’s candidacy following an eruption of Serb nationalist violence in northern Kosovo and Brussels said it wanted to see tangible progress in talks with Kosovo before making a final decision.
Meanwhile, Serb support for joining the bloc has declined to an all-time low of only 51 per cent support, according to a recent poll conducted by the government’s European Integration Office, EIO, in December.