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EU Warns Serbia Over Government Delay

Stalled integration process with Europe will be put on ice if moderate parties fail to unite in a new administration.
By Augustin Palokaj

European foreign ministers have warned Serbia it risks further delaying its stalled process of EU integration if a new democratic government is not formed soon.


At their last Brussels meeting on January 26, ministers voiced concern over the Serbs’ snail’s pace in forming a new government following the December 28 elections, in which hard-line nationalists of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, led by Vojislav Seselj, and Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialists recorded gains.


Ministers expressed worries over the rifts in the country’s pro-reform parties, which they fear may have a negative impact on the whole region.


Their concern is widely shared. "In the hands of wrong people Serbia may be dangerous for its neighbours and the whole region," Nicholas White, an expert from the International Crisis Group, told a recent event organised by the Centre For European Policy in Brussels, attended by EU officials.


They had been expected to open a "political dialogue" with Serbia-Montenegro on January 27 in the form of a joint meeting of the EU Council and Serbia-Montenegro.


Brussels cancelled this, deciding there was no point in attempting dialogue with a government that has yet to be formed.


The December elections left Serbia’s political scene in confusion. Though they made gains, the ultra-nationalists remain well short of a majority in the 250-seat parliament and a government including them would anger the West.


At the same time, the chances of the moderates forming a new administration have been hampered by feuds between the Democratic Party, DS, and the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS.


This has prevented the emergence of a four-party coalition yoking together the DS, DSS, the monarchist Serbian Renewal Movement and the reformist G17 party.


The delay in forming a new administration has already put on hold the drafting a feasibility study, a prerequisite for starting talks with the EU on an Agreement for Stabilisation and Association.


As part of the integration process, the Balkan states must sign agreements on association with Brussels making them eligible as candidates for admission to the EU.


Of the Western Balkan states, Croatia and Macedonia signed agreements over two years ago. Albania is in talks with the EU, while Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina are still waiting for a green light from Brussels to start negotiations.


The position of Serbia-Montenegro is complicated by uncertainties over the final status of Kosovo and the future of the loose union between Serbia-Montenegro.


The EU want to admit the federation as a single unit, though officials have not ruled out the separate integration of the two republics if Belgrade and Podgorica part after the Belgrade agreement setting up the union expires.


This is why the EU wants to find strong negotiators and partners in the republican governments, as well as in the union government.


Europe is frustrated over the present situation in Serbia where democratic political forces seem unable to reach an agreement on the formation of a new administration.


Brussels would accept any government that did not include the SRS, and the Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, though this cannot be said in public for fear of being seen to interfere directly in Serbia’s internal affairs.


Internal reforms and political stability are the minimum that Serbia must achieve to reach the starting point for the long journey to the EU.


Brussels officials admit they are in consultations with major political players in Belgrade but will say little more. They do not want to impose a solution, but insist that Serbian politicians find a way out of the stalemate.


Brussels believes it is unlikely that new parliamentary elections will solve anything.


Its officials fear the political limbo is also stalling the start of genuine dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina over Kosovo, which the EU and the international community want resumed as soon as possible.


Leaders from Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro held their first meeting last autumn with the support of EU, NATO, and OSCE but this was just a symbolic first step.


Until its final status is resolved, Kosovo will be included in the Stabilisation and Association Process, SAP, by way of so-called SAP tracking mechanism.


This means the international protectorate over Kosovo, together with Kosovo’s interim institutions, will harmonise its legislation with EU standards with European assistance, so that after resolving final status Kosovo can resume the process of integration without starting from scratch.


The solution has the advantage of not predetermining the final status of the province while not leaving Kosovo out in the cold. It also ensures Serbia-Montenegro are not held hostage on their road towards the EU by Kosovo’s unresolved status.


The fact that 2004 is the year when the EU is expected to assume a larger role in the Balkans as well as assume responsibility for NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina explains the high level of concern about the Serbian stalemate.


The president of the European Commission Romano Prodi and high representative for foreign affairs, Javier Solana, recently repeated that integration is the only guarantee for a sustainable peace, and EU membership has been promised to all the Balkan states conditional on their fulfilment of all the EU’s requirements.


But at the moment such a prospect looks far-fetched, especially for Serbia. Hollow political promises of admission into the union in the near future from local politicians seem to many to be nothing more than propaganda and an illusion.


Augustin Palokaj is a Brussels-based senior correspondent for the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore and Croatian daily Jutarnji list.


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