News 07 Apr 16

Croatia Stalls Serbia’s EU Negotiations

The European Council has postponed negotiations with Belgrade on two chapters of EU legislation after a complaint from Zagreb demanding better treatment of Croats in Serbia and more action on war crimes.

Sven Milekic, Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Zagreb, Belgrade
Photo: Flickr

A European Council working group on Wednesday pulled from its agenda debates on Serbia’s opening of accession chapters 23 and 24, dealing with the rule of law, the judiciary and human rights, after Croatia failed to give them a green light.

The working group took it off its agenda because there was no unanimous consent from representatives of all 28 EU member states; Croatia is the only one not to give its agreement yet.

Although Zagreb has yet to officially present its reasons, in recent weeks Croatian officials have said they could block Serbia’s negotiations if several conditions are not fulfilled.

Zagreb is demanding that Belgrade delivers full respect for national minority rights, full cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal and the annulment of a Serbian law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes committed in all the 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Bojan Elek from a Serbian EU integration watchdog, the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, told BIRN that other EU member countries support the opening of the chapters and that Croatia’s tough stance could be based on domestic political motives.

“The European Commission can only open the chapters with a consensus. Most of the EU countries are for an opening of the chapters. Croatia has not blocked Serbia yet, they are just late with an opinion for now. Their reluctant behaviour could be interpreted as part of an internal policy,” Elek said.

Jadranka Joksimovic, Serbia’s minister for European integration, said on Wednesday that negotiations with EU are not blocked and that Croatia “probably needs more time to assume a position” on Serbia’s opening of the chapters.

Croatian officials have not explicitly stated that they intend to block Serbia’s progress, but Vice Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko, president of the Croatian Democratic Union, the leading party in the country’s centre-right government, said on Wednesday that Serbia needs to fulfil all necessary conditions for entering the EU.

“Serbia must adopt all the standards that we need to adopt, [like] all of us who entered the European Union. This we did during long negotiations that were sometimes dramatic. This is not an easy process and before Serbia is a very difficult period,” Karamarko said.

He insisted that Serbia must withdraw its law on universal jurisdiction for crimes committed in 1990s Yugoslav wars, arguing that “Serbia can’t act as The Hague [war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] in this part of Europe”.

“We’re not making problems for Serbia, it creates problems for itself,” he added.

The Croatian parliament adopted a declaration in October 2011, when it had already met all the necessary conditions to join the EU, saying it would resolve bilateral issues with neighbouring countries and would not block their EU accession process if conditions set by the EU are met.

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