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Serbia: accession negotiations set to start

In its latest progress report on Serbia, the European Commission maintained its April 2013 recommendation that membership negotiations be opened. With the framework for accession talks endorsed by the December European Council, negotiations are expected to start with an intergovernmental conference on 21 January 2014.

Background

In March 2012, the European Council agreed to grant Serbia the status of candidate country, but the Council and Commission insisted that opening of membership talks was conditional on Serbia normalising its ties with Kosovo. With the deadlock broken through the signing of an EU-brokered deal between Belgrade and Priština in April 2013, the European Council decided on opening accession negotiations with Serbia on 28 June 2013. On 1 September 2013 the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Serbia entered into force. On 17 December 2013, the Council adopted the framework for negotiations with Serbia and agreed that the first intergovernmental conference with Serbia would take place in January 2014.

2013 progress rep

© Hugh O’Neill / Fotolia

The October 2013 Commission report underlines that Serbia fulfils the accession criteria. As far as the political criteria are concerned, normalisation of relations with Kosovo represents a fundamental step forward. Furthermore, the stream of reforms has been revived and important action plans have been adopted in areas such as independence of the judiciary, and the fight against corruption and discrimination. The situation of the Roma has improved. Additional efforts are however required for the protection of minority and vulnerable groups, in particular the lesbian and gay population. As regards the economic criteria, growth in economic activity in 2013 brought about an increase in employment. However, according to the Commission’s report, state involvement in the national economy needs to be reduced in favour of the development of a competitive private sector. Finally, the report insists that Serbia will need to intensify efforts towards alignment with, and implementation of, the EU acquis, in particular in the fields of environment and energy.

Serbia’s reaction

Prime Minister Ivica Dačić welcomed the Commission’s report as one of the most positive so far. He stated that he firmly believes that Serbia will become a full EU Member State faster than any other country. Nevertheless, Dačić recognised that Kosovo will remain the most difficult subject in the progress of negotiations with the EU. The Minister in charge of European integration, Branko Ružić, and Serbia’s chief negotiator with the EU, Tanja Miščević, expressed optimism concerning the talks, recalling that the Commission itself had declared that Serbia could conclude accession talks within three to five years.

EU position

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said that the EU wants Serbia to succeed. On 16 October 2013, at a meeting of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle declared that 2013 marked the start of a significant new phase in EU-Serbia relations; with the Serbian Government invited to continue the process of reform. The plenary will vote on a resolution on the 2013 progress report on Serbia adopted unanimously by the Foreign Affairs Committee. The motion for resolution calls on the Serbian authorities to maintain their efforts towards bringing relations with Priština back to normal, conducting the necessary reforms, battling corruption and securing the rights of all minorities – national, ethnic or sexual.

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