News / Europe

EU Gives Serbia Green Light to Start Membership Talks

European Commision President Jose Manuel Barroso greets Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic (L) after a joint news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, June 26, 2013.
European Commision President Jose Manuel Barroso greets Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic (L) after a joint news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, June 26, 2013.
Reuters
Serbia won the green light on Friday to start negotiations by January on joining the European Union, capping a remarkable transformation in the prospects of the biggest former Yugoslav republic since the 1990s wars.

The decision, announced at an EU summit, rewards Belgrade for an April deal to improve relations with its former province of Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in a 1998-99 guerrilla war.

EU leaders also agreed Brussels should launch negotiations with Kosovo on a so-called association agreement, which covers trade, economic and political relations and is a step on the path to eventual EU membership.

The leaders agreed talks would start in January 2014 "at the very latest'' with Serbia, which was long treated as a pariah because of its central role in the wars that tore through the Balkans after the 1991 collapse of Yugoslavia.

"We are at a historic moment for the Balkans and for Europe as a whole,'' European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference, noting that the decisions on Serbia and Kosovo came as Croatia prepares to join the European Union on Monday.

"These ... decisions are an immediate result of the courageous agreement Belgrade and Pristina reached last April," said Van Rompuy, who will travel to both capitals on Monday.

Serbia and Kosovo have been at odds since Kosovo seceded in 2008 with Western backing. After months of EU-brokered talks, the two sides reached an agreement in April aimed at ending the virtual ethnic partition of Kosovo between its ethnic Albanian majority and a pocket of some 50,000 Serbs in the north.

The agreement still has to be fully implemented, and EU governments will assess progress before giving a final, formal go-ahead to talks later this year.

The EU negotiation process should help drive reforms in Serbia, the largest country to emerge from the former Yugoslavia, luring investors to its ailing economy.

Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, leader of the co-ruling Socialists and ex-spokesman for late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, said his government had worked hard for the EU bid.

"The date for [EU] accession talks is the first step of this great journey we are about to undertake," Dacic said in a live broadcast of a cabinet session.

Defense Minister Aleksandar Vucic, head of the conservative Serbian Progressive Party, said the Balkan state must do more to consummate reforms.

"This is the turning point in our modern history. Serbia has demonstrated that no one can stop its way forward," Vucic told ministers.

In Belgrade about 2,000 hardline nationalists rallied peacefully against EU accession and demanded the resignation of the government.

Currency Buoyed

The Serbian dinar swung upwards to 113.5 to the euro after the EU agreement from a low of 114.05 earlier in the day, currency traders in Belgrade said.

Mladen Dodig, head of research at Erste Bank in Serbia, said the date for EU membership talks would be a major support for reforms and improvement in the business climate, and would boost investor confidence and foreign investment.

"This will have a stabilizing effect for financial markets and the foreign currency market, but I also expect structural reforms," said Miladin Kovacevic, the deputy head of the Serb Statistics Office.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the EU's decision and said KFOR, the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force, would "continue to play its role by ensuring a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo."

KFOR, in Kosovo since June 1999, comprises 5,000 troops from 31 countries.

Dacic said this week he hoped Serbia could wrap up membership talks in four to five years, although the widely-held view in Brussels is that it is unlikely to be admitted before 2020.

In the past few years, Serbia has made notable strides towards the EU thanks to progress on democratic reforms and the capture of fugitives wanted for crimes during the Yugoslav wars.

Serbs consider Kosovo the fount of their nation and Orthodox Christian faith, but Belgrade lost control over the territory in 1999 when NATO conducted 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians in a counter-insurgency campaign by Milosevic's security forces.

Kosovo is now recognized by 100 nations, including the United States and 22 of the EU's 27 members.

Of Serbia's fellow ex-Yugoslav republics, Slovenia joined the EU in 2004, Croatia follows on Monday and tiny Montenegro began membership talks last year. Macedonia is a candidate, while Bosnia has yet to apply.

($1 = 0.7691 euros)

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid