Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The Hague and Kosovo stand between Serbia and the EU

Evelyna Topalova, November 29, 2010

Almost a year after Serbia filed its application for EU membership, the country will have to prove in practice it responds to the requirements to receive a candidate-country status. In order to join the bloc, however, Belgrade will have to convince Brussels not only that it implements the necessary reforms, but also that it cooperates fully with the International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule handed on November 24 the European Commission's questionnaire to the Serb PM Mirko Cvetkovic, on the basis of which the Commission will prepare an opinion about the country's preparedness to start negotiations with the Union.

The questionnaire consists of 2,483 questions which are related to issues like rule of law, respect for human rights, reform of the judiciary, economic criteria, transposition of the European legislation.

The entire process of assessment of the answers to the questionnaire could take a year. Besides, the European Commission could send additional questions to the authorities in order to finalise its opinion.

A day before the official handing of the document, however, another important information leaked in media - the draft report of the chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal Serge Brammertz on Serbia's cooperation with the body. The news from this report are not that positive.

Brammertz has repeatedly stated in the last months that he does not see any progress in the search for the two war criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. In the draft report this assessment is repeated. The report will be discussed by the UN Security Council on December 6.

Why is the opinion of the chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia so important?

The answer is simple - it holds the key to the further progress of Serbia in the process of European integration. When on October 25 EU foreign ministers have given a green light for the initiation of an assessment of Serbian candidacy, they stated that any further step Belgrade would make in the process of euro integration would depend on the country's cooperation with the Hague tribunal. Thus they paid respect to the Netherlands which constantly insisted that Serbia would have to first arrest the former Bosnian Serbs war leader Ratko Mladic, considered responsible for the Srebrenitsa massacre, before the country could move forward.

This means that even if Serbia would perfectly answer all the questions in the Commission's questionnaire, it will have to prove that it cooperates fully with the tribunal in the Hague in order to get a green light. The options are two - Serbia to arrest Mladic or to provide evidence that he is not in the country or is dead. The second option is less likely because, according to information of the Hague tribunal, he still is in Serbia and the authorities in Belgrade have already stated that they do not have evidence of his death.

Another stumbling block on Belgrade's road to the EU might prove to be Kosovo. The EU does not insist on Serbia to recognise its southern province's independence, but it requires good regional cooperation. Some of the Commission's questions are related to namely such pragmatic relations. In fact, Belgrade and Pristina have stated their readiness to hold a dialogue on practical issues with the mediation of Brussels. The talks, however, would be postponed for after the early elections in Kosovo on December 12.

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