Karadzic's arrest hailed as victory for EU enlargement policy


EUROPEAN DIARY:Serbia's desire to join Europe encouraged the capture and transfer of the alleged war criminal, writes Jamie Smyth

RADOVAN KARADZIC'S first day in court lasted for little more than an hour but its importance for the relatives of his victims, the concept of international justice and Serbia's prospects for joining the EU cannot be overstated.

Karadzic was on the run for more than a decade and many people in the Balkans and beyond had given up hope that the former Bosnian Serb leader would ever be brought to justice. But last Thursday, flanked by security officers at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Karadzic - dubbed the "Osama bin Laden of Europe" by US officials - finally heard the tribunal's list of charges read out against him. They include two counts of genocide over the 3½-year siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since the second World War. If convicted, he faces life behind bars.

Back in Bosnia, relatives of the Srebrenica massacre victims - the wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers of the 8,000 men and boys who were systematically rounded up and murdered by Bosnian Serb military forces - watched the proceedings live on their television sets.

The BBC captured their sense of relief as one of the main instigators of the Bosnian war and the man responsible for wrecking their lives finally faced justice.

"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade. It is also an important day for international justice, because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law, and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice," said the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who is still seeking two other Balkan war fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

In Brussels the capture and transfer of Karadzic to The Hague was greeted with delight by European officials. EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said it was "a milestone in Serbia's co-operation" with the UN war crimes tribunal.

"It proves the determination of the new government to achieve full co-operation with the tribunal . . . It is very important for Serbia's European aspirations," Rehn said.

There is little doubt that Serbia's desire to join the EU was a major factor in Karadzic's arrest. It came just weeks after a new coalition headed by the pro-western Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic and the Socialists entered office and, perhaps crucially, a new head of the Serbian security service was appointed.

For Brussels the arrest is a huge endorsement of the EU's policy of dangling the carrot of enlargement to encourage political reform and stability in its neighbourhood.

In the run-up to the Serbian elections in May the EU offered Serbia's pro-European parties a significant electioneering weapon by putting on the table a draft stabilisation and association agreement, which is typically a forerunner to the beginning of membership talks. Its message to voters was simple: Europe is open to Serbia if you eschew nationalism. They responded by backing Tadic's Democratic Party, which in turn delivered Karadzic to The Hague, helping to bolster Serbia's path towards future EU membership.

EU enlargement policy is perhaps the best example of the union's traditional reliance on "soft power" to bring about change. It aims to persuade states to reform by promoting multilateralism, democracy, international law and human rights rather than through military action, which has been a staple of US policy under George Bush.

However, just as the EU's enlargement policy has chalked up one of its biggest successes, the future of enlargement is coming under threat, and Irish voters are being blamed.

"No Lisbon Treaty, no enlargement," said French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the last EU leaders' summit in June. German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Croatia, which should be ready to join the EU in 2010, could be the first country to lose out from Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

France and Germany, the traditional engines of EU integration, argue that the EU cannot absorb new members without institutional change to make decision-making more efficient. Pro-enlargement states such as Britain and the Czech Republic say the existing EU rules are sufficient to expand the club, and it is politically dangerous to remove the carrot of future membership to volatile states on the edge of Europe such as Ukraine or Turkey.

The debate over enlargement will re-emerge in the autumn as the Government comes under pressure to solve Europe's "Lisbon dilemma" and Balkan states such as Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia continue to make progress towards the EU. This should coincide with the trial of Karadzic, a symbol of the crucial role that soft power can play in bringing political reform and international justice to Europe and the world.