Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Serbia Bids to Join the E.U

Serbian President Boris Tadic, whose victory last year in a tight runoff election was seen as crucial to the country's further integration with Europe, submitted the application on a trip to Sweden, the country that currently holds the E.U. presidency. "This is indeed a great day for Serbia. This day represents a crossroads," Tadic said. "Today we are entering a stage which is very difficult, which demands deep and painful reforms." Swedish Prime Minster Fredrik Reinfeldt described the move as "a new beginning for Serbia," but warned, "the road to membership is long and demanding." The bid comes days after citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia won the right to travel without visas to E.U. countries for the first time since the bloody Balkan wars of the early 1990s — a move that some low-cost airlines had already anticipated by adding Belgrade and other airports to their routes. It also follows the E.U.'s decision earlier this month to unfreeze an interim trade and cooperation pact with Serbia — seen as a precursor to eventual E.U. membership.

Belgrade is already working closely with Brussels to make the necessary economic, legal and constitutional reforms to join the E.U. The government is also closely monitoring the European Commission's "progress reports" on its efforts, the latest of which underlined privatization and fighting organized crime as priorities for the government. And E.U. officials were pleased with the austere 2010 budget approved by Serbian lawmakers Monday that meets the strict terms of a recent International Monetary Fund loan. Belgrade is also rethinking its military options after neighbors Albania and Croatia joined NATO earlier this year, meaning most of Serbia is now surrounded by the alliance that bombed it in 1999. Serbia has already joined NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, a cooperation framework for NATO member aspirants.

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