Just days before EU leaders are to decide whether to grant Serbia EU candidate status, violence continues to flare in northern Kosovo. Public support in Serbia for its EU bid also appears to be waning.
Serbia is hoping for a positive answer from the EU
Serbia is awaiting the December 9 European Union summit with bated breath. That's when EU leaders are to decide whether Serbia will be granted the status of EU candidate.
Currently, the biggest obstacle facing Serbia appears to be the issue of Kosovo, particularly the lack of progress in EU-mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina. September's meeting was cancelled, but talks resumed a few days ago.
However, despite diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, violence has repeatedly flared in recent months between ethnic Serbs and Albanians along Kosovo's northern border with Serbia.
Violent clashes were reported as recently as Monday night, when 25 soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR force and as many as 100 Serbs were injured.
Berlin demands progress
German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Belgrade after an escalation of violence in northern Kosovo at the end of July. The border dispute and the floundering dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia were the major topics of discussion. The chancellor told Serbian President Boris Tadic that while the EU is not demanding that Belgrade immediately recognize the independence of its former province, it would be impossible for Serbia to enter the EU until the Kosovo question has been resolved.
President Tadic recently reiterated the fact that, for Belgrade, recognizing Serbia is simply not an option.
"I think we can find a solution to the Albanian-Serb conflict in Kosovo, if we act rationally, and if we act in a responsible way," Tadic said, adding that all possible solutions should be considered, apart from formal recognition of Kosovo.
The Kosovo question topped the agenda when Chancellor Merkel met Boris Tadic in Belgrade
"This means that we can find solutions that are good for everyone - for Serbs and Albanians as well as the European Union. This is my approach to the issue."
Despite the latest violence in northern Kosovo, the Belgrade-Pristina talks are to continue in Brussels on Wednesday. President Tadic does not plan to take part.
Encouragement or humiliation?
If Serbia is granted EU candidate status on December 9, it will more or less secure the country's future in Europe, according to Nikola Jovanovic, a journalist and publisher of the Serbian periodical "The challenges of European integration."
"This would be a strong sign of encouragement for the country, for Europeanization and modernization of society and the state," Jovanovic said.
On the other hand, if the EU denies Serbia candidate status, it would be a huge blow, particularly to the political elite who have long worked to bring the country into the European family of nations. It would also be a great disappointment to the people, because the majority of Serbians support the country's bid to join the EU, Jovanovic said.
To make matters worse, this negative decision for Serbia would come just as Croatia would be signing its EU accession treaty.
Violence flared along Kosovo's border with Serbia in the summer
"A negative decision could be both daunting and perhaps even a bit humiliating to Serbia," Jovanovic added.
But if Serbia were to be granted candidate status, this would bring the country closer to the EU, according to Jelko Kazin, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Serbia. This would be positive for all of Serbia's neighbors - particularly for those such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo, all of which lack a clear sense of where they are going. The most important question for Kazin is: "Will Serbia accept the basic principles of the EU, such as the free movement of people, goods, capital and the basic idea of European unification?"
Both Berlin and the EU are still awaiting a clear answer to these questions.
Reservations about Serbia's EU bid
At the same time though, there is growing skepticism among the people in Serbia about the country's bid. In the capital, where a quarter of all Serbians live, support for the EU has dropped to a record low. About a third of Belgrade residents would vote against joining the EU if a referendum on the issue were held today, according to a recent survey conducted by the Belgrade-based "Agency for European Integration and Cooperation with Associations." In July, only 24 percent disapproved.
This drop in support for the idea may be explained by the eventful months since the previous survey, according to the director of the agency, Danko Runic. These include Chancellor Merkel's visit to Belgrade in August, the ongoing violence in northern Kosovo, as well as the cancellation of the gay pride parade in Belgrade and the public debate that ensued.
Many of those who responded to the survey said they believe that the EU has been stringing Serbia along for too long and had imposed too many conditions. Only 44.5 percent said they believed joining the EU would be a good thing. That's down from more than 50 percent back in July.
Author: Ivica Petrovic / pfd
Editor: Michael Lawton