EU foreign ministers concluded at their Luxembourg summit that Serbia has significantly moved forward with democratic reforms. On Monday (3 October), they gave the green light for Serbia-Montenegro (SCG) to start Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) talks. The achievement of this milestone comes at a symbolically important juncture — the fifth anniversary of the October 2000 democratic revolution that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic.
The SAA talks are set to open on 10 October, when EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn is due in Belgrade to present the draft SAA to officials there.
A successful conclusion of SAA negotiations would bring Serbia-Montenegro more substantive financial support from the 25-member bloc, Rehn said ahead of his visit. More importantly, it would facilitate the country’s access to the common European market, he said, with boosted exports laying the cornerstone of SCG economic development.
Rehn said the launch of accession talks should encourage Belgrade to take a constructive approach to the issue of Kosovo’s future status. As for Montenegro’s secession referendum, the EU’s position is that the Constitutional Charter it helped create must be observed, including the stipulation about a possible referendum on the state union’s future.
British journalist and publicist Misa Gleni, who is taking part in a Belgrade conference titled “Serbia — Five Years On”, told B92 that a complicated operation was under way in Luxembourg. The result, he said, was an attempt at avoiding serious problems in the Balkans. “Croatia is starting EU membership talks, Serbia is launching SAA negotiations, and Kosovo is preparing for status talks early next year — what the EU did in a pretty impressive way was to embed Kosovo negotiations in real European prospects,” he said.
European Movement in Serbia President Jelica Minic believes that Serbia could realistically expect to sign the SAA in October 2006 at the latest. Political obligations that must be met include the extradition of Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic to the tribunal in The Hague, launching Kosovo status talks and resolving the issue of SCG state status, as the EU negotiates only with functional countries, she said.
“The European Commission is not too much of a pessimist on the course of talks, but more importantly, it remains to be seen whether SCG will meet unavoidable political obligations,” said Minic.
Vladeta Jankovic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said the issue will be resolved in the shortest possible term.
“The support that Mladic enjoyed or might have enjoyed is dwindling as a matter of course. The network of his harbourers is wearing ever thinner, while they also must be lacking finances. It is no longer a political problem — trained experts are rather dealing with that — and we must rely on them to complete the task in the only possible way,” Jankovic said.