News 15 Apr 16

EU Urges Croatia Not to Block Serbia’s Path

The European Commission has issued an informal document calling on Zagreb not to obstruct Belgrade’s EU accession negotiations over Croatian opposition to a Serbian war crimes law.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Photo: Flickr.

The European Commission has sent an informal document to the Croatian government saying that Zagreb should resolve its differences with Belgrade over the war crimes legislation through bilateral talks rather than blocking Serbian negotiations.

The Commission declined to comment further about the ‘non-paper’ document but said it hoped that the issues would be resolved so negotiations on two chapters of EU legislation that Serbia had to adopt can begin.

“The Commission looks forward to the next steps in the process of Serbia's EU accession, as well as the opening of Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security),” the Commission said in a written statement to BIRN.

“The discussion, with our support, is currently in progress and we are ready to move on with the following steps as soon as the necessary unanimity among member states is achieved,” it added.

Croatia last week refused to give its support for Serbia to open negotiations on EU chapters 23 and 24.

Zagreb wants Belgrade to change a law which gives Serbian courts the jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes committed anywhere in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s wars, which it fears could be used to target Croats. It also wants Serbia to improve its treatment of the country’s Croat minority.

Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list on Thursday published a copy of the European Commission’s ‘non-paper’ in which Brussels rejected Zagreb’s claims that the Serbian law represents interference in the legal systems of Croatia and Slovenia.

According to the Serbian law, Belgrade can try anyone accused of war crimes committed in any former Yugoslav states, whatever the nationality of the alleged perpetrator or victim.

But in the ‘non-paper’, the European Commission argues that the law “does not constitute a violation of the sovereignty of the concerned states [Croatia and Slovenia]” and that there is “no intervention into the internal affairs of any state”.

It also argued that even if the law was changed, Serbia would still be able to try such cases.

“If the operative part of article 3 of the Serbian law were deleted… the Serbian authorities could still validly prosecute and try these crimes under universal jurisdiction,” the European Commission document said.

It also said that Croatia should resolve its issues with Serbia bilaterally and not through EU accession talks.

But Croatian foreign minister Miro Kovac insisted that Zagreb had legitimate concerns about the Serbian law.

“If Serbia wants to get into the EU, it will have to adapt its standards to EU ones. Serbia can’t be a judge and a policeman for war crimes on the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia,” Kovac said on Thursday.

The potential obstruction to Serbia’s EU negotiations has angered the leadership in Belgrade.

“We will not tolerate blackmail, and won’t beg and crawl,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last Friday.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic has insisted however that Zagreb is not “putting up roadblocks on Serbia’s path”.

“All that Serbia needs to do is to fulfil our demands, which are entirely in accordance with basic EU standards,” Grabar Kitarovic said on Monday.

France has a similar law on prosecuting war crimes that were committed in specific places in a specific timeframe.

It allows the prosecution of crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, as long as they have not already been prosecuted at the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in The Hague.

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