Is The Road to Europe Clear For Serbia After Mladić Arrest ?

Much has been written about Serbia’s entry into the EU being apparently conditional on handing over alleged war criminal Ratko Mladić.

The Netherlands in particular has led the public onslaught, blocking Serbia’s options with arms crossed until President Tadić up-scaked the search for Mladić.The stakes were clearly high for Tadić and even the most charitable voice must see curious convenience in Serbia pulling Mladić out of the bag at the very time when pressure is increased and EU hot-shots visit Belgrade to discuss Serbia’s candidate status.

Unsurprisingly, President Tadićdenied any delay in the arrest when he was asked at Thursday’s press conference, saying Serbia was not juggling its options on when to arrest Mladić, it was merely mobilising all its forces to capture him successfully.

Lord Owen

On Friday, BBC News heard the well informed view of Lord Owen, Former EU Peace Envoy: “I think President Tadićhas been quite outstandingly tough on this issue by comparison with all of his predecessors,’ he said. “He has genuinely wanted to achieve this.”

Speaking about the EU’s pressure tactics, Lord Owen said:It is a perfectly legitimate leverage for the European Union to say we’re a democratic union, we can’t possibly accept Serbia for EU membership until a war criminal of as much importance as General Mladić is handed over,’ he told BBC News. “I think we were quite right to stick to that and use that as a powerful lever. It has proved to be one.

Lord Owen was optimistic of the effect this arrest would have on the international perception of Serbia and its people: “This does mark a new more optimistic era.  Serbia is a great country and Serbian people are a very remarkable people. We’ve got used to damming all Serbs because of the atrocities, the appalling behaviour of some of them.

“This is a wonderful opportunity now for Serbian people to rejoin the world community, and particularly to play a real role in the Balkans, where they are an important player, and eventually come into the European Union.”

The EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who arrived in Belgrade on Thursday on a pre-arranged official visit, welcomed news of the arrest as “an important step forward for Serbia and for international justice. I know that people would also be thinking about Serbia and its future in the EU,” said Baroness Ashton. “What I know is that we will approach this with renewed energy because of today.”

On the issue of Serbia being free to travel down the road to EU membership, Carla del Ponte, former chief prosecutor of the Hague tribunal told Serbian newspaper Blic: Ratko Mladićhas been arrested and there are no more obstacles to Serbia on its path to the EU. The European door is opened to you. This is excellent news for the citizens of Serbia.”

Speaking of the arrest improving Serbia’s chances of joining the EU, political analyst and historian John Laughland was less sure of the outcome. He told Russia Today (RT) TV news and website: “Definitely his arrest is the price which Serbia has to pay. Whether it will improve Serbia’s chances is difficult to say, because a lot of people will draw the conclusion that because he has been in Serbia for so long, Serbia is somehow responsible for hiding him. In any case, I am sceptical that EU membership (will be given to Serbia) anytime soon.”

Balkans political expert Misha Gavrilovic was also quoted on this subject by RT. “The issue of joining the EU has been used for the last 10 years as a kind of incentive,’ he said. “But let us not forget that 14 of the EU countries conducted a war against Serbia – the bombing of 1999. So this is something held out to the Serbs like a carrot, but it does not appear to be very much of a big carrot.”

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