Serbia signs key EU pre-membership deal

April 30th, 2008 - 1:32 am ICT by admin  

Luxembourg, April 29 (DPA) In what was hailed as a major stabilizing factor for the Western Balkans, Serbia and the European Union Tuesday signed a key document paving the way for Belgrade to eventually join the 27-member bloc. The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), a precursor to membership talks, was signed during a ceremony in Luxembourg by the EU’s foreign ministers and top officials and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, in the presence of Serbian President Boris Tadic.

“Without an SAA there can be no possibility for a full integration of the Western Balkans into the EU, and without such an integration there is no possibility for a final reconciliation among the people of the western Balkans,” Tadic said.

Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner who had worked hard to get the agreement sealed, said the SAA was the best possible guarantee of Serbia’s future membership of the union.

At their meeting in Luxembourg, EU ministers also gave the go- ahead to a similar text for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But Bosnia’s SAA would only be signed once the text had been translated into all 23 EU languages, a process likely to take several weeks.

Moreover, the ratification of Serbia’s SAA was made conditional on Belgrade proving that it was cooperating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

The SAA is a document setting out how an aspiring EU member should reform its political, economic and legal systems to come in line with EU norms, and how the EU should help it do so.

Vuk Jeremic, Serbia’s foreign minister and a pro-European member of the government, hailed Tuesday’s decision as “an important political statement” opening the doors to Serbia’s EU membership.

“This is going to be a historical day for Serbia and for the Western Balkans. From today on, the path towards full EU integration of the Western Balkans is irreversible,” Jeremic said.

But Serbia’s caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia could tip the balance in the May 11 parliamentary elections, vowed to cancel the agreement even before it was signed.

“Serbia will never accept the SAA with the EU and the new government and the new parliament will annul it,” Kostunica said.

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