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Europe

Opinion: By Bending Principles, EU Cracks Open Door for Serbia

With parliamentary elections looming in Serbia, the EU has done its best to pave the way for the country to enter EU accession talks – and rightly so, says DW’s Bernd Riegert.

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The goal is clear: Serbia must be integrated in the European Union, or else there is little chance for long-term stability in the Balkans. In order to reach this goal, the EU members are prepared to make vast concessions to the Serbian government in its election.

Apparently they will bend -- not to mention stretch, pull and pummel -- their principles till it hurts.

EU still waiting for war criminals

The EU is loosening its until-now strict stance on Serbia -- despite the fact that it has long suspected that the Serbian government could have delivered its remaining suspected war criminals to the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, although it failed to do so.

Portrait Bernd Riegert

In Luxemburg on April 29, the EU signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia even though it did not fulfil the condition of complete cooperation with the tribunal -- a condition that had been clear for months. Now, there appears to be no turning back on the path toward Serbia's EU membership. After the EU stepped in for Kosovo's independence and made some demands on Serbia, it is now time to meet Serbia partway.

The pro-European camp in Serbia shows a great deal of success and is getting desperately needed election help before voting takes place on May 11. It is good that the EU got up the courage to demonstrably strengthen pro-European powers in Belgrade.

No good alternatives for Europe

There was also no especially good alternative: if the nationalistic parties win in Serbia on May 11, things will be looking grim for Serbia and the western Balkans.

Nonetheless, at the urging of the Netherlands, the EU left a backdoor open. The Netherlands, traumatized by the 1995 massacre of Srebrinica in the Bosnian war, which their blue-helmet soldiers failed to prevent, insists strongly upon prosecuting war criminals. The Dutch insisted that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement only be applied when the EU Council of Ministers determines that Serbia is fully cooperating with the tribunal.

Luxemburg accord "no empty shell"

Serbia's pro-European foreign minister immediately denied that this clause makes the agreement into an “empty shell.” The important thing for the pro-European parties is the strong wind at their backs coming from the direction of Luxemburg, he says.

The election on May 11 will be a kind of popular referendum on Serbian closeness to Europe versus Serbian isolation. With the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the European Union has offered everything it has to offer. The alternatives are clear. Now it is up to the Serbs to decide.

Bernd Riegert is DW-Radio's Brussels correspondent (jen)

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