EU foreign ministers have agreed to start the ratification process of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia, a major step forward on the country’s path to the EU.
The 27 EU foreign ministers took the decision at their meeting in Luxembourg after the chief prosecutor at the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague, Serge Brammertz, delivered his biannual report on Belgrade’s cooperation with the ICTY, saying: “Serbia has maintained its cooperation with the Tribunal, with a view to deliver positive results.”
The agreement must be ratified by all 27 EU member states in order to come into force, and represented the next major step in Serbia’s path toward the EU.
Reacting to the decision, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said: “This decision brings Serbia another step closer to the EU, putting our relation on a strong legally binding and institutional basis. I am looking forward to the Council making an equally important decision on requesting the Commission to prepare an opinion on Serbia’s membership application.”
The European Union signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement, SAA, with Serbia in 2008, but froze the deal immediately afterwards pending Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY and the Netherlands’ insistence on the capture of wartime Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, believed to be hiding in Serbia.
Brussels has said in the past that Serbia can move forward in the process of EU integration once it fulfills all the conditions related to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, including the arrest of Mladic. Despite the fact that Mladic has not been captured, the EU decided in December last year to unfreeze the interim trade agreement, part of the SAA, but linked the ratification of the SAA by member states with the fulfillment of its obligations related to the ICTY.
In Monday’s conclusions after the meeting, EU foreign ministers reiterated again that full cooperation with the ICTY remains an essential element of the Stabilization and Association Agreement and encouraged Serbia to follow the recommendations of the tribunal’s prosecutor.