Clock is ticking on Serbia's EU bid

Germany is threatening to stop Serbia being made a formal candidate for membership of the European Union at next week’s European Council. The leaders of the 27 member states were...

Germany is threatening to stop Serbia being made a formal candidate for membership of the European Union at next week’s European Council. The leaders of the 27 member states were scheduled to approve Serbia’s candidacy on 9 December. But Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s defence minister, said yesterday (30 November): “Serbia is moving away from a positive decision with every day.”
Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, has been ratcheting up the pressure on Serbia in recent weeks, but Germany’s tough line has still surprised other member states. A senior EU official said: “It looks like we have to get used to Germany doing things that other member states find hard to understand. It’s just the same [on Serbia] as with the eurozone.”
A national diplomat from an EU member state said: “The Serbs have done what was asked of them. They deserve candidate status.” Nikolay Mladenov, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, told European Voice: “If we don’t move on these issues [on 9 December], the message is that enlargement has ground to a halt, and that would be disastrous for the western Balkans.”
However, one diplomat suggested that the prospect of a German veto was “greeted with relief by other capitals” and noted the anti-enlargement mood in the Netherlands and Finland. Both France and, with less conviction, the United Kingdom believe that Serbia needs to do more to gain candidate status, but would not go so far as to block approval, which was recommended conditionally by the European Commission in October.
Serbs have been continuing a violent campaign in north Kosovo, and when NATO attempted to remove a Serb roadblock there on Monday (28 November), two German soldiers, who suffered gunshot wounds, were among the 30 peacekeepers injured.
Merkel wants Belgrade to rein in Serb crowds in Kosovo that have repeatedly attacked NATO peacekeepers.
Boris Tadic´, Serbia’s president, conceded on Tuesday (29 November) that the attacks had hurt his country’s membership bid and, for the first time, called on Serbs in Kosovo to abandon their roadblocks. He will attend a conference in Berlin on Saturday (3 December), and has asked for a meeting with Merkel in an attempt to patch up their relationship. Relations have been tense since their last encounter in Belgrade in August, which left the Serbian side reeling from what it perceived as a hostile tone.
Tadic´ has staked his political fate on Serbia’s bid to join the EU, and his ruling Democratic Party faces uncertain prospects in a general election in May.
The Serbian government has argued that it does not control Kosovo’s Serbs. But de Maizière said: “We don’t believe that Serbia has no influence [in north Kosovo].” Franziska Brantner, a German Green MEP, took a similar line: “The minimum we can ask is that Serbia contributes to a de-escalation of the situation in Kosovo,” she said. “The message to Serbia is, we cannot give you candidacy while you are shooting at our soldiers.” Brantner acknowledged that the mood in Germany has turned against EU enlargement.
The latest round of the recently resumed EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo took place in Brussels yesterday (30 November), as European Voice went to press.
In a separate move, France has said that it is “too early” for next week’s EU summit to set a date for Montenegro to start accession talks, as recommended by the Commission in October. France says that more time is needed to see whether Montenegro implements EU-relevant legislation. “We think that June is a much better moment to address this issue,” a French diplomat said. France holds a presidential election in the spring.

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