Serbia’s new government really seems determined about its pro-EU ambitions.
The arrest of war criminal Radovan Karadžić is clearly a political breakthrough, not only for Serbia but also for the entire region as well as a promising sign for EU-Serbia relations. Actually it can be interpreted as a success for the EU foreign policy approach towards Serbia in the last couple of months which consisted of openly supporting pro-EU forces coupled with some small concessions.
So what is behind this bold move of Serbia? Obviously symbols are very important in diplomacy (referring to the discussions about the “pro-EU” government) but I do not think this is purely a short term bit of PR. It is poltics, in a very realist sense of the word. The arrest of a war criminal like Karadžić is a politically risky business. And more importantly, the improvement of relations with the EU and the prospect of getting better contractual relations with the EU seems to be a political priority for the Serbian Government. So it is rather easy: In order to receive any benefits out of the SAA (just consider the economic problems!) they needed to show their willingness to cooperate with the ICTY. If they are serious about their policy priorities they have to deliver. (BTW: The SAA, which was not that easy to get for the Serbian government in the first place, is signed but not implemented, implementation depends on full ICTY compliance.)
What next for Serbia? – Here is the “to do”- list for the Serbian government:
1.) Serbia needs to get the SAA implemented which is in its own interest. However, the arrest of Karadžić might be enough for the time being to prove “full compliance with ICTY” which is a precondition for the SAA implementation. A bit of diplomatic wrangling (especially with Netherlands and Belgium) will be needed but it is possible to get the “full compliance” despite the other missing war criminals.
2.) Arrest Ratko Mladic & Goran Hadzic – Could happen quite soon. Apparently Karadžić was found during a operation that was aimed at Mladic. Of course the success now gives them a bit of extra time to arrest the next one. (I would look for someone with a long beard … just a thought after the arrests of Saddam Hussein and now Karadžić)
3.) Push the Kosovo issue in the background for the time being. Finding a diplomatic formula over the Kosovo issue is obviously the most difficult thing for Serbia, so tactically it is better to get it out of the way. I don’t think a quick solution is likely here. My guess is that this will be one of the political chapters in the EU accession negotiations, so it will be on the agenda in 5 years or so…. Although a final solution can be posponed until the very last moment of the negotiations (maybe with one of those very tense EU summits…), but eventually a Serbian recognition will happen. Plus, the EU will not repeat the Cyprus mistake.
4.) Status of an official EU candidate: Depends a bit on the complex “Lisbon Treaty and Ireland” issue. But I think once the SAA is implemented, the logical next step would be to get the offical status of a EU candidate, maybe next year. We are not talking about EU accession here, not even about opening EU accession negotiations, that is clearly a long term project.
Another interesting (and somewhat overlooked) story is that Serbia’s foreign minister Vuk Jeremic announced plans to reinstate the country’s ambassadors to twenty (!) EU countries that recognized Kosovo’s independence. Belgrade withdrew its ambassadors for “consultations” on Feb 17 following the recognition of Kosovo by the majority of EU countries. So far these plans do not include ambassadors to the US and Japan.
However, another sign that Belgrade has priorities. And the priority, at the moment, is to have better links with the EU. I know it is strange to write and read about “policy coherence” in a Serbian context and that some “election promises” were actually not forgotten and official priorities are treated like priorities… but c’mon why not give them some credit for a remarkable political move !?