Serbia remains determined to join the European Union. And some of its neighbors agree that membership could help stabilize the region.
Serbian President Boris Tadic continues to push for EU membership
On a visit to Budapest this week, Serbian President Boris Tadic reiterated his belief that future peace in the Balkans depended on Serbia being admitted to the European Union.
"Integrating Serbia, its membership of the EU, is the only way to bring stability to the western Balkans," said Tadic to reporters in Budapest.
Tadic has been unable to convince the Netherlands, which has blocked a Stabilization and Association Accord. The accord is essentially a trade and aid deal which would be the first step towards eventual EU membership.
Authorities in The Netherlands have said Serbia needs to do a better job of handing over war crimes fugitives, particularly General Ratko Mladic, to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Mladic has been charged by the tribunal with genocide for his role in the killing of 8,000 boys and men in Srebrenica.
The Serb president has said he is receiving daily intelligence reports on how the hunt for Mladic is progressing and Serbian authorities say they have stepped up their search for Mladic as well as for Goran Hadzic, a former leader of Croatian Serb rebels.
"If Mladic is on Serb territory, we will catch him," said Tadic.
Looking to the furture
Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladic is still on the run
While the issue of war criminals is a sticking point for now, Serbia has found a staunch ally in neighboring Hungary.
Hungary's President Laszlo Solyom and Tadic recently signed an agreement that would streamline cross-border transport of goods and logistics services. Hungary has also pledged support for railway projects that would improve rail connections between Central Europe and the Balkan region.
Solyom believes Serbia is read to join the EU.
"The biggest issue is that Serbia can join the European Union as soon as possible." Solyom said.
Hungary is one of the biggest and most vocal supporters of Serbian membership in the EU, in part because an estimated 300,000 ethnic Hungarians live in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Tadic has said that legislators are showing more support for minorities.
"Parliament has adopted legislation that will give ethnic Hungarians in the province of Vojvodina more cultural and political rights. That includes the right to study and teach in their own language and to set up their own councils," said Tadic.
He also noted that the legislation under consideration goes further than what the EU requires.
Lifting travel restrictions
Serbia is pushing for visa-free travel
Serbia is particularly grateful for, Hungary's continued support of visa-free travel for Serb citizens to the Schengen zone, an area which includes most EU nations.
Hungary has announced it is making plans to scrap visa requirements for travelers from Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro in January of 2010.
"We are concentrating on the date that is 2010, which is the year when we hope to travel without visas to the countries of the European Union, which is, in our opinion, the year when no countries in the Western Balkans are to be in a situation that they have not submitted their applications for membership," said Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, who is overseeing his country's efforts to integrate with Europe, said he realizes Serbia still has obstacles to overcome, but nevertheless is pressing forward to join the EU.
"Serbia is still not ready for EU integration but ... is doing everything to be ready from an administrative point of view by 2012," said Djelic in an interview with the news agency Beta.
Editor: Trinity Hartman