Serbia affirms EU accession ambitions to Creighton

Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 01:00

SERBIA’S NEW government has reassured Ireland ahead of its European Union presidency next year that membership of the bloc is its top priority, amid fears that Belgrade’s new leaders will weaken ties with the West in favour of stronger links with Russia.

“Prime minister [Ivica] Dacic made very clear the government’s number one priority is EU membership and they are really committed to it,” Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said yesterday.

Nearing the end of a tour of several Balkan states, Ms Creighton said she had “asked explicitly” whether Serbia’s new government – which is led by parties that are dogged by their nationalist recent histories – would alter Belgrade’s foreign policy stance in favour of Moscow.

“They very explicitly ruled out a new course and said they would continue to be fully focused on the EU path. It was very encouraging,” she said.

Ms Creighton was travelling as representative of the Irish chairmanship of the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but also laying groundwork for an EU presidency in the first half of 2013 that will be expected to tackle numerous Balkan issues.

She said she hoped Serbia could be given a date for the start of EU accession talks during the Irish presidency, if not before.

“That would be a big achievement for the Irish presidency and we are working towards it. It would also encourage Serbia to continue with the EU process and to really engage with Kosovo.”

Serbia refuses to recognise the independence of Kosovo, but Ms Creighton said she hoped talks between the sides on practical matters would resume soon, and that the prime ministers of the two states would soon hold face-to-face negotiations.

In Slovenia, Ms Creighton received assurances that the country could handle its financial problems without an EU bailout, and was “moving down the road towards creating an agency similar to Nama, separating toxic debt from the rest and restructuring and recapitalising banks”.

She said she was “somewhat worried” by a dispute over some €160 million Croatians claim to have lost in Slovenian banks when Yugoslavia collapsed.

Slovenia has threatened to block Croatia’s EU accession next July unless the issue is resolved. “We will probably have to deal with it during the EU presidency,” Ms Creighton said.