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news 13 Dec 16

Serbia Furious at Croatian Block on EU Negotiations

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic cut short a visit to Brussels and anti-Croatian posters appeared in Belgrade after Zagreb blocked the opening of a negotiating chapter in Serbia’s EU accession talks.

Natalia Zaba
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic cut short a visit to Brussels on Monday. Photo: Beta.

Protest posters were plastered on Belgrade supermarkets run by a Croatian company on Tuesday morning after media reported that Zagreb had blocked the opening of the latest negotiating chapter in Serbia’s EU accession talks and Serbian premier Vucic ended his visit to Brussels early.

The posters, which were put up by unknown protesters on at least nine Idea supermarkets operated by Croaian company Konzum, featured the slogans: “Buy domestic” and “Do you have any idea where your money is going?”

Media reported that Croatia on Friday blocked the opening of Chapter 26 in the EU negotiations – which covers education and culture – because of its concerns about the lack of progress in producing textbooks for pupils from Serbia’s Croat minority, among other issues.

Vucic left Brussels on Monday after a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who he urged to exert her influence on Croatia’s position.

The Serbian premier had been due to attend a meeting of the EU Intergovernmental Conference on Tuesday, which was expected to approve the opening of three new accession chapters in Serbia's application for membership.

“Serbia was patient all along and was trying not to react, but from now on, we’ll talk differently,” Vucic told media.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told media on Tuesday that Belgrade wants good relations with Zagreb, and insisted that contrary to Croatia’s objections, the Serbian law on minority rights conforms to the highest international standards.

“Croatia is interrupting Serbia’s EU path because of unsolved bilateral issues. This is not the way cooperation should look,” Tomislav said.

Meanwhile Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, after meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Belgrade, said that Croatia’s intervention could sour Belgrade’s aspirations for EU membership.

“If Croatia is the one who will decide whether Serbia will join the EU, I immediately feel somewhat less interested," Dacic told Serbian state broadcaster RTS on Monday.

Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier argued however that Serbia had an obligation to improve its treatment of ethnic minorities.

"There are things Serbia must implement along its EU path. Full protection of national minorities is one of those matters," he was quoted as saying by news agency Tanjug.

Reuters has reported that Croats account for less than one per cent of Serbia's population. The Serbian and Croatian languages are very similar and were part of a common language before the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

This not the first time that Serbia and Croatia have had disputes over Belgrade's EU agenda.

In April this year, the European Council working group 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.

After months of delay, chapters 23 and 24 were finally opened in July this year.

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