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    Serbia Applies for EU Membership

    The move marks a key step for the Balkans country to break from its wartime past.

    Serbia has become the latest country to apply for EU membership.  The move marks a key step for the Balkans country to break from its wartime past.

    Serbian President Boris Tadic submitted the application for European Union membership to Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc until the end of the month.  Mr. Tadic has called the move a turning point and a new phase for Serbia, once the biggest republic of the ex-Yugoslavia and a heavyweight in the Balkans region.

    Serbia endured United Nations sanctions in the 1990s as well as NATO bombing aimed at halting a brutal Serb crackdown on Kosovo.

    Today, analyst Suzanne Nies sees Serbia as an indispensable part of Europe's expansion in the Balkans region.  Nies is director of the Brussels office of the French Institute of International Relations.

    "Serbia is considered today a pivotal country in southeast Europe," she said. "And everybody knows this region will one day or another - sometime in the next decade, I would say something like 2018 and 2019 - these countries are going to join.  And Serbia is a strategic country in this respect.

    Balkans-area nations like Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia have already joined the European Union and Croatia hopes to join the bloc in 2012.  Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro have applied for membership, but have not started formal talks.  In another signal of closer regional ties, the European Union lifted visa requirements this month for citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro.

    But Serbia's membership bid faces plenty of obstacles, including whether Belgrade will arrest and hand over former Bosnian-Serb general and warcrimes suspect Ratko Mladic to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

    European analyst Iain Begg, of the London School of Economics, believes Serbia will likely use Mladic as a bargaining chip as it pushes for EU adherence.

    "They can say they have made progress on the other 46 chapters, but the thing that is in our way is this particular individual ... that is when they give him up to secure accession to the EU," said Begg.

    Serbia has also made strides in political and economic criteria for EU membership.  But some analysts like Begg believe it will likely to take years for Belgrade to join the European Union, since members like France and Germany are reluctant to further expand the bloc in the near future.  

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