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Belgrade Analysts Play Down EU Hopes Following Hadzic Arrest

They say much more needs to be done before Serbia gets green light for membership.
By Aleksandar Roknić

The arrest of the last remaining wartime fugitive Goran Hadzic may not necessarily increase Serbia’s chances of joining the European Union, Serbian analysts warn.

The EU had set cooperation with the Hague tribunal – namely the capture of all remaining fugitives – as an important condition for membership of the union, but analysts here point out that Brussels has also stipulated progress on other fronts.

Serbian commentators say that stalled talks between Belgrade and Pristina will continue to hold up the integration process, saying that the best Serbia can hope for is to get candidate status by the end of the year - and that a date for the start of EU membership negotiations will depend on the Kosovo issue.

Hadzic, who served as the president of Serb-held regions of Croatia during the conflict of the early Nineties, was arrested on July 20 in Fruska Gora, Vojvodina, northern Serbia. He is the last remaining Hague indictee to have evaded arrest.

The tribunal charged him with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed against the Croat and non-Serb population during the Croatian war. Some of the charges relate to the massacre of some 194 Croat prisoners of war and civilians at Ovcara farm near Vukovar.

Political analyst Dusan Janjic says Serbia could still struggle to meet some of the other membership conditions set by the EU.

“Finalising judicial reforms, and the issue of the independence of the appeals and supreme court. I think these are complex conditions which Serbia does not meet,” Janjic said. “Then, there is the fight against organised crime and corruption. Not much has been achieved [here] either, except for media reporting on it.”

He said there were problems around the another condition, the implementation of laws on political parties and mandates of parliamentary representatives; and confusion over what is meant by a further requirement demanding “significant progress” in dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

“No one knows what this significant progress means,” Janjic said. “The arrest of Hadzic is definitely one of the conditions, but it is not enough for Serbia to join the EU.”

Predrag Simic, political sciences professor at Belgrade university, believes the biggest obstacle on the road to Serbia’s membership of the EU will be the issue of Kosovo.

When it comes to internal reforms, which Belgrade has to implement in order to become a candidate, Simic says it is going to be hard work, but that this issue is less of an obstacle than Kosovo.

“One of the problems in implementing reforms will be restitution, but this is an issue in other countries as well, in Croatia, for example,” he said.

Vladimir Todoric, executive director of the New Policy Centre in Belgrade, says that at the moment EU candidate status is guaranteed, but that a date for negotiations on membership of the union will depend on progress on dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, adoption and implementation of the law on restitution and fighting corruption.

Military and political analyst Zoran Dragisic said it is possible that Serbia will receive candidate status, but points out that that the EU only accepts countries that are “stable and functioning, [with] healthy economies, and corruption and organised crime are within the limits society can bear”.

“Serbia is not closer to the EU [ with Hadzic’s arrest], nor has anything significant changed in Serbia,” he said. “It is the poorest in Europe, inefficient and corrupt. What have we improved so that Europe would look at us differently?”

Ana Trbovic, director of the Centre for European Integration and Public Administration in Belgrade, says it's very probable that Serbia will become an EU candidate after the Hadzic’s arrest.

“The only [outstanding] hing in this respect is reform of the judiciary and the issue of mandates of parliament representatives,” she said.

In his first public appearance since the arrest of Hadzic, Serbian president Boris Tadic said there would be a thorough investigation into how Hadzic managed to remain on the run since he was indicted in 2004.

Tadic said that Serbia had closed the hardest of the chapters related to cooperation with the Hague tribunal, and that it would continue meeting its international obligations.

He rejected assertions that the arrests of Mladic and Hadzic were the consequence of international pressure, insisting that Serbia was primarily guided by moral imperatives, legal obligations and an awareness that the prosecution of war crimes suspects was necessary to maintain the process of reconciliation in the region.

“It’s a complete illusion that pressuring could provide results when it comes to Kosovo, too,” Tadic said. “We do not operate under pressure.”

An impression prevails in Serbia that politicians are trying to cast the arrest of Hadzic as a development that will lead to a brighter future for Serbian citizens, and not as something that was done because of pressure from the EU and the tribunal.

Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Belgrade.