Three years after launching its bid for membership of the European Union, Serbia was officially granted candidate status on 1st March, joining Iceland, Turkey, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as a candidate country.
It has been a long hard road for the Balkan nation, which has been something of a “pariah state” over the last twenty years, considered by many to be the principle aggressor in the Balkans war and responsible for horrific ethnic cleansing campaigns and massacres during that conflict.
But over recent years, Serbia has instituted programs of democratic reform and has made the effort to capture and extradite war criminals such as Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, accused of playing a major role in the aforesaid atrocities. It has also improved relations with Kosovo, its former province which declared independence in 2008, although Belgrade still refuses to recognise it as an independent nation. These were all measures required by the EU for candidate status to be granted.
It may be several years before Serbia is ready to join the EU - candidate countries must meet the requirements for membership which include guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities and the existence of a functioning market economy. Plus, the issue of Kosovo is likely to be a taxing one. 22 EU Member States, including the UK, France and Germany, recognise Kosovo as an independent nation : whether or not Serbia will be obliged to do the same in order to gain full membership remains to be seen. But whatever the future holds, Serbia has taken the first step towards coming in from the cold.
Photo : © European Union, 2012