Gordana Filipovic and Misha Savic
Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The European Commission will announce today whether it supports offering Serbia formal candidacy status as the Balkan country withstands European Union pressure to recognize the breakaway province of Kosovo.
The largest former Yugoslav republic wants to become a candidate by year’s end and win a firm date to begin entry talks after it turned over the two last suspected war-crime fugitives to The Hague earlier this year. The commission will release its report at noon in Brussels, with a briefing at 2 p.m. by Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.
EU membership is losing its shine among Serbians after German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Aug. 23 said Kosovo recognition is on a list of conditions to be met for deeper integration and the chance to win billions of euros of EU aid. EU leaders are more skeptical of Serbia as a border dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has escalated into sporadic violence since the summer.
“The situation looks pretty bad,” said Predrag Simic, a political analyst at the Faculty for Political Sciences in Belgrade. EU sentiment toward Serbia has “soured to a point unseen for a decade.”
EU accession needs approval by all 27 EU nations. Support in Serbia for membership fell to 46 percent in September from 53 percent in June, the lowest reading since polling on the subject was introduced in 2002, said Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic on Sept. 30, without providing poll details.
Serbs consider Kosovo, the home of their Orthodox church, as the cradle of their own culture and religion and reject any move to carve it from the nation.
The dispute over Kosovo’s independence dates back to 1999, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombed Serbia to drive its soldiers from the province, which is majority populated by ethnic Albanians, during the rule of former President Slobodan Milosevic.
Gaining candidacy status won’t lead to quick entry. Neighboring Croatia started talks six years ago and is scheduled to join in July 2013.
Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is recognized by 22 of 27 EU member states, including Germany and France. European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti said in Belgrade on Oct. 7 that French and German sentiment “differed in nuances” and that France will try to ensure unanimity so that Serbia is not faced with “impossible conditions.”
“Leaving Serbia without a status could mean the defeat of EU diplomacy.,” said Simic. “In essence, it’s all about prestige within the EU.”
Germany wants unconditional resumption of dialog between Belgrade and Kosovo, halted after Kosovo’s authorities declared a trade war on Serbia and sent their police and customs staff to control two administrative checkpoints.
Serbs, who live in northern Kosovo and do not recognize the authority of Kosovo, refuse to hold any talks until those forces pull out.
Germany also wants an agreement on Kosovo’s participation in regional events and a pact on telecommunications and energy. Serbs who live in the province should also agree to turn over a court in northern Mitrovica to Pristina authorities and start closing parallel institutions, Simic said.
“I believe enough has been done to deserve a positive assessment,” Milica Delevic, who heads the government’s EU integration office, said on Sept. 28, dismissing the possibility that Serbia’s candidacy will be rejected.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic wants to win candidate status before general elections early next year. The government has adopted a set of laws in line with EU standards and stepped up the fight against corruption and organized crime.
--With assistance from Gordana Filipovic in Belgrade. Editors: James M. Gomez, Alan Crosby
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