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Analysts: Serbia EU Membership Bid Faces Range of Hurdles

Serbia has officially applied to become a member of the European Union.

The European Union is made up of 27 states and Serbia is the latest country to apply for membership.

Damian Chalmers, from the London School of Economics, says any country wishing to become an EU member must meet a series of criteria. "There are first legal criteria that it must put into its domestic system - all EU law - and there's a lot of it, estimates calculated about 70,000 to 80,000 pages. Secondly there are economic criteria: it must have a stable market economy, which is capable of withstanding competition from other EU member states, and has low inflation. And thirdly there are political criteria: this means that there must be a stable democracy, respect for the rule of law, respect for international human rights treaties, particularly those that relate to the protection of minorities," he said.

Concerns over size of EU

Tomas Valasek, with London's Center for European Reform, says Serbia's membership bid comes at a difficult time. "The Serbian situation has not been helped by the reality and the fact that lots of EU member states have really got cold feet on further enlargement. Quite a few, especially the older member states, feel that the EU has already enlarged too far, too fast and that we now need a period of rest and a pause, rather than rushing into another enlargement. Having said that, the EU is committed to enlarging eventually to the western Balkans. But quite a few member states may want to drag out the process because they don't want to accept too many new member states anytime soon," he said.

Apprehension of General Ratko Mladic

Analysts say Serbia faces a number of obstacles on its path to EU recognition. The biggest one, says Valasek, is that former Bosnian Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic - indicted on charges of war crimes and genocide - is still at large. "It is difficult to imagine how Serbia could ever accede if Ratko Mladic isn't found one way or another. Certainly there are quite a few countries within the EU - Holland, but also the country that I'm calling from, Britain - which will be insisting that Ratko Mladic must be found before Serbia can join the EU," he said.

Valasek says Serbia has cooperated in the past with the Hague tribunal, apprehending Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic about a year and a half ago. And it also extradited former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic who died while on trial in The Hague.

Recognition of Kosovo

Another obstacle is the status of Kosovo which declared its independence from Serbia last February. Belgrade still considers it one of its provinces.

Once again, Damian Chalmers from the London School of Economics: "The issue about Kosovo is that whilst a large part of the international community have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, not all of them have. But I think the tide is probably with those that are recognizing Kosovo and at a certain point I would imagine there would be pressure on the Serbs to recognize Kosovo," he said.

But Valasek has a different view. "The EU is really not in a position to demand that Serbia recognize or not recognize Kosovo as a precondition for accession, for the simple reason that EU member states themselves, the existing EU member states, are completely divided. Most have recognized Kosovo's independence, but quite a few - Spain, Romania, Slovakia - have not, just as Serbia hasn't. So because the EU itself is divided over the issue, it cannot really pose that as a condition, it cannot really demand of Serbia that they recognize Kosovo before it accedes to the EU," he said.

Analysts say Serbia faces a long and bumpy road to EU membership - a process that may take five to eight years, or maybe longer.