Responding to the news of recent acceptance of Serbia as a membership candidate for the EU, Alan Sked has a new piece today asking why any country would still want to join the union. I recently discussed this question with Serbia's ambassador to the United States, Vladimir Petrovic.
The last time Petrovic spoke with Passport was in December, after Serbia had been denied membership status over the outstanding issue of its non-recognition of Kosovo. He worried at the time that the decision would embolden hard-line nationalists. Serbia was eventually granted membership status earlier this month shortly after reaching an agreement with Kosovo that will allow it to represent itself at international meetings, albeit with an asterisk on its nameplate.
Petrovic argued that despite the EU's recent difficulties, Belgrade still views membership as the best opportunity to modernize Serbia's institutions and resolve outstanding tensions with its neighbors:
So what changed between December and now?
This is the result of years of hard work, ever since the change of government in 2000. We have worked really hard under the leadership of president Tadic and others to positively changes the laws of society in Serbia. Getting the candidate status was proof and reward for everything that has been done.
We have been working for a while for this to happen. Unfortunately it didn't happen in December. We're glad it has happened now. We're also hoping to get a date to stop the accession talks with the EU by the end of the year. That's our next step in this process. We're hoping soon to become a country member of the EU.
Serbia has been part of Europe. It is part of Europe. This is a strategic goal for this government and we're going to continue working hard on the next steps in front of us.
Do you view the recent talks as a significant change in your government's stance on Kosovo?
Shortly, no. The position of the government is that this should be resolved through peaceful means, through talks. We've been holding talks with the authorities in Prstina, which are starting to yield results that are affecting the daily lives of the people in our Southern province. We're going to continue talking with them on a technical level, but we're not going to recognize Kosovo as independent in any way and we're going to continue to lobby against their independence. However, as we were before, we are ready to talk about and come up with a mutually agreed solution that would resolve this issue once and before.
What's the next step in your campaign for membership?
We're looking to get a date to start the accession talks. That's the next step. We're hoping to get it by the end of the year. We're continuing the positive change in our society. For us, the EU is not just about becoming a member. It's about reforming society to become in line with European laws and European values. We're going to continue to do that and it's going to be the top priority of the government in Belgrade.
Your government's stance is still to join the EU and eventually the eurozone. Has the euro crisis changed your feelings at all on the benefits of membership?
Obviously, we're always conscious of the economic crisis and the problems in the Eurozone. But I think this global economic crisis will more easily be resolved by a group of countries working on it together. We feel the EU is going to find solutions to its current problems and it's going to continue existing as it exists.
On a political level, it's one of the biggest peace processes ever in the history of the world. To have historic enemies as members of the EU that are now close allies. We feel that will be the last step for the Balkans. The problems for the Balkans started in World War I in 1914 and should end with getting all the countries from the Balkans in the EU and finalizing this political peace process.
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