The EU's inexcusable pardon for Serbia
The EU's inexcusable pardon for Serbia
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 2 minutes

The EU's inexcusable pardon for Serbia

Given the widespread negativity about further EU enlargement, it is curious that the EU is poised to lower the bar for Serbia, which Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said earlier this month could achieve candidate status by 2008.

Indeed, it is more than surprising – downright shocking – that the EU proposes to waive preconditions that the most notorious war criminals in Europe are arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

For years, talks with Serbia over a stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) were strictly dependent on Belgrade’s full co-operation with the tribunal and from December 2004 to April 2005 this conditionality bore fruit. Serbia transferred 16 indictees before SAA talks began in May 2005.

But that is precisely when co-operation stopped. A year went by without a single arrest and, frustrated by the lack of progress, the EU suspended SAA negotiations in May 2006. Yet in mid-February EU foreign ministers agreed SAA talks could restart, “provided [Serbia] shows clear commitment and takes concrete and effective action for full co-operation with ICTY”.

And earlier this month, Rehn spoke of resuming talks this spring and concluding them in autumn. Rehn expected “concrete and convincing actions that must lead to full co-operation [with the UN court]”.

Rather than full co-operation being an absolute precondition, this is now something that can happen after talks begin. In other words, the once sharply-drawn red line is being blurred.

This is more than political back-pedalling. It is an inexcusable retreat from basic humanitarian – not to mention European – values.

It should be remembered that the six indictees still at large within Serbia include former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžic´ and former Yugoslav Army general Ratko Mladic´, both wanted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 civilians and non-combatants – the worst single incident of mass murder in Europe since the Second World War.

How can the EU be willing to talk about candidacy for membership with a state harbouring such war criminals? For Brussels to expect anything less than the arrest and transfer of Karadžic´, Mladic´ and the other indictees to The Hague insults the memory of the victims of Srebrenica and the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed, raped and displaced during the wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s – wars of which Belgrade was without question the prime instigator.

Some in the EU apparently believe a softer line would help encourage pro-European forces in Serbia, or perhaps ease the pain of Belgrade’s impending loss of sovereignty over Kosovo.

But the international community has already made significant concessions towards Belgrade. The process on Kosovo’s status was delayed until after Serbia’s parliamentary elections, NATO granted Serbia premature membership of its Partnership for Peace initiative and the EU openly accepted as legitimate Serbia’s rigged constitutional referendum – all in return for what, exactly?

Anti-western forces won 66% of parliamentary seats in January’s elections and Belgrade has not budged a centimetre in its insistence on retaking control of the province which Serbia’s former leaders tried to ethnically cleanse of its Albanian majority in 1999.

The EU will never be complete without all its Balkan gaps filled in – but this cannot be at any price and certainly not that of undermining international law by letting mass murderers roam free.

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