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Serbia submits EU membership application

Serbian President Boris Tadic (left) hands over application to join EU to Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt, 22 Dec 09
Serbia's President Tadic (left) handed over the application on Tuesday

Serbia has formally submitted its application to join the 27-nation EU, in a move to end years of isolation.

President Boris Tadic handed over the application in Stockholm to Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency.

The EU is granting 50m euros (£45m; $71m) to Serbia in budget support.

But Serbia still has to cross a major hurdle - the capture of two remaining war fugitives, before membership negotiations will begin in earnest.

Visa-free travel

Serbia feels it has built up a certain momentum on its path to the EU in the past few weeks, the BBC's Belgrade correspondent Mark Lowen says.

ANALYSIS
Mark Lowen, BBC
By Mark Lowen, BBC Belgrade correspondent

It was Serbia that decided this was the right time to apply, but some countries - notably the Netherlands and the UK - think it is premature...

The authorities in Belgrade feel strongly that the momentum of the last few weeks needs to be kept up.

Opinion polls suggest overwhelming Serb support for joining the EU, at 60-70%. But a majority also opposes the hunt for Gen Mladic, seeing him as a national hero.

An important trade pact with the bloc has now come into force and since 19 December Serbs have enjoyed visa-free travel to most EU countries.

The EU says that in 2010 Serbia will receive a second instalment of 50m euros in budget support, as well as a loan of 200m euros.

But Serbia's attempts to gain membership have been hampered by concerns, particularly in the Netherlands, over its failure to capture the two remaining war fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), based in The Hague.

Chief among them is the former Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic.

Earlier this month the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor said Serbia's co-operation with ICTY was "progressing". Belgrade has handed over all the necessary documents.

However, in his report to the UN, Serge Brammertz said Serbia must continue searching for both Gen Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who is wanted for war crimes in Croatia.

Long road ahead

Belgrade is now pinning its hopes on the next report by the chief prosecutor, expected in June.

Ratko Mladic
Ratko Mladic is thought to be in hiding in Serbia

Our correspondent says a long road lies ahead: it is likely to take at least four years before the hand of EU membership extends to Serbia.

Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav republic to have joined the EU so far. That took place in 2004, and its neighbour Croatia is on track to be the next to join, in 2011 or 2012.

It was Serbia that decided this was the right time to apply, but some countries - notably the Netherlands and the UK - think it is premature, our correspondent reports. They believe Serbia should have waited for its Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU to be ratified.

The authorities in Belgrade feel strongly that the momentum of the last few weeks needs to be kept up, Mark Lowen says.

Opinion polls suggest overwhelming Serb support for joining the EU, at 60-70%. But a majority also opposes the hunt for Gen Mladic, seeing him as a national hero.

The granting of visa-free travel to Serbs does not apply to those living in Kosovo.

The territory's independence declaration is not recognised by Serbia, but neither do five EU member states recognise it, so that is not officially an obstacle to Serbia joining the EU, our correspondent says.

Serbia has signed a security co-operation agreement with Eulex, the EU police and justice mission in Kosovo. But Belgrade is treading carefully, conscious that Serb nationalists feel their country's interests were betrayed in Kosovo.

By forming closer links with Serbia and encouraging reforms there the EU is showing it is serious about Serbia's membership bid, our correspondent adds.

It is also a way of keeping together a region that is still quite fragile after the wars of the 1990s, he says.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Time A Pariah No More: Serbia Bids to Join the E.U. - 17 hrs ago
Spiegel Online Serbia Must Work Through Its 'Dark Past' - 18 hrs ago
Times Online Balkan odyssey - 35 hrs ago
Al Jazeera Serbia applies for EU membership - 38 hrs ago
Reuters UK Serbia applies for EU membership, Mladic still free - 40 hrs ago



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