Serbia submits formal EU membership application | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.12.2009
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Europe

Serbia submits formal EU membership application

Serbia has submitted its formal application for membership to the European Union. President Boris Tadic flew to Stockholm to hand the application to Sweden, the current holders of the EU's rotating presidency.

Serb President Boris Tadic alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany is a close ally of Serbia and its president, Boris Tadic

Serbia's pro-Western government has taken a major step forward Tuesday in its bid for EU membership. President Boris Tadic has submitted his country's formal membership application to Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt.

During the six months in which it holds the EU presidency, Sweden is charged with formally handling all membership applications.

The Serbian bid for membership has been boosted by recent EU decisions to unfreeze a free trade agreement with Belgrade, and to lift visa restrictions on Serbian citizens, allowing them to travel freely throughout the EU's open-border region, called the Schengen zone.

However, the accession process could still be a long and difficult road for the country, primarily because of its history under the rule of dictator Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Most experts predict that complete Serbian EU membership is between four and eight years away.

Legal problems

A photo dated Dec. 2, 1995, of Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladic.

Britain and the Netherlands want former general Ratko Mladic behind bars

Several EU nations, especially the Netherlands, have reservations about Serbia's entry bid.

The country is under pressure to cooperate more closely with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, as it tries to track down certain war crimes fugitives, who are thought to be in hiding in Serbia. Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is the most significant alleged offender still at large, and Serb authorities have failed to track him down thus far.

Also, the nation's relationship with Kosovo could prove a stumbling block. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence, regarding it instead as a southern region of Serbia. However, all but five EU members - Spain is one notable exception - recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

As well as these specific problems, Serbia will also have to implement a raft of political and social reforms in order to satisfy more general EU entry criteria.

Germany is one of the European nations supporting Serbia's accession bid.

msh/AP/AFP

Editor: Michael Lawton

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