Czech Prime Minister seeks to pave Serbian path towards EU entry

Mirko Cvetkovic (left), Czech President Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

The prime minister of Serbia is on an official visit to Prague with the aim of boosting diplomatic and business ties. The Czech Republic is one of the most enthusiastic backers of Serbia’s ambition to join the 27-strong European Union. But Serbia is still being held back by its recent troubled past.

Mirko Cvetkovic (left), Czech President Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic in Prague on Monday trying to put some positive spin on the latest comments from the United Nations’ war crimes tribunal prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, that Serbia was not doing enough to hunt down former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić. Mladić is wanted to answer genocide charges for the murder of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenice in 1995.

That question about the holed up Mladić in a shared press conference with Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas sort of sums up Serbia’s current situation. It is trying to get on the first rung of EU membership talks but is being dragged back by its past while neighbours get further ahead.

Slovenia is already a member of the EU, Croatia looks like being next in line and even Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania are further along the path than Serbia, the country that used to be at the centre of the most important regional power, Yugoslavia.

EU foreign ministers in October called for the European Commission to look at starting preparations for membership talks with Serbia. An official questionnaire from the Commission to Serbia should be delivered next week. The answers should form the basis for a decision next year whether or not to declare the country a candidate for membership.

But all that is conditional: the European Union has already clearly laid down that a positive response on memberships depends on Serbia being given a clean bill on its UN war crimes cooperation. In short, either Serbia catches and hands over Mladić or the UN reluctantly concludes that he might not be hiding in Serbia after all.

Should either of those scenarios come to fruition then the Czech Republic is in the forefront of countries ready to help Serbia in the awkward process of EU entry as Prime Minister Nečas spelt out on Monday.

“We have six years of experience within the European Union and know how it works from the inside. All these experiences within the state administration and about the entry talks are fully at the disposition of our Serbian partners as well as stages, exchanges of information and know how, including how to pump EU funds.”

While EU Commission matters are officially at an arms length from national governments, it certainly has not been lost on Belgrade either that the top Czech in the Commission, Štefan Füle, is in charge of those hoped for enlargement talks.

With membership talks still uncertain, the Serbian prime minister continued the second leg of his official visit on Tuesday with a series of business meetings, all aimed at encouraging Czech investments to head for his homeland.