BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced support Monday for Serbia’s plans to apply for European Union membership but said an interim association agreement with the bloc must come into force first.
Serbia signed a Stabilisation and Association Accord (SAA) with the EU in April 2008, the first step towards membership, but the Netherlands has blocked its implementation because of Serbia’s failure to arrest Ratko Mladic, the former army commander who is wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Merkel, speaking at a news conference with Serbian President Boris Tadic, said she would talk with countries that were blocking the association pact to pave the way for an EU membership application.
“I think the logical order is for the interim association agreement to come into force and only then the application for EU membership to be submitted,” Merkel said.
“We want the interim agreement approved and will talk with those European partners that do not yet support this.”
Tadic said he was convinced an upcoming report from the chief prosecutor of the ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) would show that Belgrade was cooperating with the court.
He said that could pave the way for Serbia to submit an EU membership application by the end of this year.
“Serbia wants to remove all doubts about its strategic direction with the EU application,” he said. Tadic acknowledged that Germany wanted the bid to occur “step by step,” with the SAA coming into force first.
Tadic has been seeking support for Serbia’s EU aspirations from leading members of the bloc. Last week he won the backing of Italy, which said it was “strongly in favour” of Serbia submitting an application.
The Netherlands is the main obstacle to the bid and it is unclear whether it will drop its opposition until Mladic is arrested and handed over to the tribunal in The Hague.
The Bosnian Serb commander, who is still at large, has been indicted for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and a 43-month siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Writing by Noah Barkin