Cyprus issue snags Serbia

Cyprus issue snags Serbia

Cyprus issue snags Serbia

A seamstress sowing an EU flag in a Belgrade workshop Oct 11. When Serbia arrested war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic earlier this year, its road leading to EU membership appeared finally clear of the key obstacle.AP photo

The European Commission recommended Oct. 12 that Serbia become a candidate to join the European Union as a reward for democratic reforms and the capture of war crimes fugitives, but expressed concern that Turkey’s membership drive had stalled.

In its annual report on countries lining up to join the EU, the EU executive said Serbia’s new status was conditional on it resuming talks on practical cooperation with its former breakaway province Kosovo. The talks broke down in September.

“I recommend granting Serbia candidate status on the understanding that Serbia re-engages in the dialogue with Kosovo and is moving swiftly to the implementation in good faith of agreements reached to date,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said in a speech in Brussels.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said he was proud that the EU had recognized the advances Serbia has made in terms of democratization and other reforms. Serbia has satisfied one of the main demands of the EU by catching fugitives wanted for crimes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, including Ratko Mladic the former Bosnian Serb military commander.

“We must continue with implementation and reforms,” Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said in Belgrade.

Kosovo welcomed the report, saying it undermines Serbia’s two-pronged policy of seeking EU membership while keeping its claim over Kosovo alive. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia refuses to recognize it. The commission said it would speed up work on lifting visa restrictions for Kosovars.

The EU seems to take careful steps in Serbia’s membership bid by imposing Kosovo as a condition, as it was widely criticized for leading the Cyprus problem to a deadlock by accepting the Greek Cyprus as a full member in 2004, but leaving out the divided island’s breakaway north, where Turkey maintains 35,000 troops. Deadlock in Cyprus is one of the major barriers before Turkey’s EU accession process since the country became candidate in 1999.

Membership for Turkey remains a distant prospect, according to the report. The report encouraged Turkey to improve observance of human rights and called on Ankara to resolve its problems with EU member Cyprus. “Regrettably, accession negotiations have not moved forward for more than one year. There are frustrations about this on both sides,” Füle said, adding that the EU should work out ways to keep Ankara engaged.

Montenegro to start accession talks

In another positive signal for the western Balkans, where years of bloody conflict has delayed democratic transformation, the EU executive also recommended on Wednesday the bloc starts entry talks with tiny ex-Yugoslav state Montenegro, in recognition of its efforts to combat organized crime. However, the EU Commission said Bosnia’s progress had been “very limited.” The EU did not recommend any new initiatives for the ethnically divided nation, which has been without a government since elections last year. The commission also cited Albania’s ongoing political stalemate as the main reason that “conditions for the opening of accession talks have not yet been met.” Macedonia, which became a candidate nearly six years ago remains in limbo because of Greece’s objections to its name. Greece objects to the country calling itself Macedonia because Greece claims it implies a territorial claim on the northern coast of Macedonia, which Greeks says is rightfully theirs.

Compiled from Reuters and AP stories by the Daily News staff.