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Mladic arrest and Serbia’s EU prospects

May 31, 2011

The arrest of Ratko Mladic on May 26 by Serbian security forces has been the major news story in Southeastern Europe for the past week. The arrest of Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general accused of orchestrating the massacre of nearly 8000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995, was a key condition set by EU policymakers for further progress in Serbia’s accession process. I’ll try to summarize some of the analysis that I’ve come across.

One of the major topics of debate relating to the incident is whether his arrest represented a pure stroke of luck that he was finally located, or whether Serbian authorities had some knowledge of his whereabouts all along and only acted now out of political calculations. Charlemagne takes up this topic, noting that the timing of the arrest bolsters the latter theory. Serbia has received several high profile visitors in recent weeks. In mid-May, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Serbia to discuss the country’s accession process. Before the trip, Fule gave a somewhat sobering assessment of the accession process, claiming that “time was running out” for Serbia. And last weekend, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s visit coincided perfectly with the arrest.

Aside from these visits, Serbia faces several critical tests in the next few months in accession process. First, literally the same day of the arrest, a report by Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor in The Hague, was leaked. According to EU Observer, the report, which was supposed to be released in early June, offers a fairly scathing indictment of Serbia’s efforts to apprehend Mladic and Goran Hadzic, another suspected war criminal. The Brammertz report and its judgment on Serbia’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) figured to loom large when the European Commission decides whether to make Serbia a candidate country later this fall.

Kurt Bassuener over at Balkan Insight argues that the Mladic arrest vindicates the EU’s uncompromising linkage of Serbia’s accession and the country’s cooperation with the ICTY. He cites various several European leaders who advocated a softer approach that would remove the capture of Mladic as a necessary requirement for accession. Law Professor Timothy Waters, for example, argued in 2006 that these outside demands for Mladic’s arrest were merely hardening the attitude of Serb nationalists; Serbia’s accession should be speeded along regardless, he argued, and tangible progress towards accession would in turn increase the prospects of Mladic’s capture.

Now that Mladic has been arrested, the question is the extent to which this will boost the country’s accession prospects. As mentioned above, the European Commission will meet in October to decide whether to raise Serbia to candidate status. Enlargement Commissioner Fule remarked that, “A great obstacle on the Serbia road to the European Union has been removed.” As important a condition as the Mladic arrest was, however, a few unresolved issues remain. One is Serbia’s continuing refusal to accept the independence of Kosovo. On the economic and regulatory front, Aris Rusila has written an extremely comprehensive analysis of Serbia’s prospects at his BalkanBlog. Among the necessary further reforms he lists are: “judicial reforms, the continuous fight against organised crime and corruption, the improvement of our political system, property right issues and reforming Serbia’s regulatory agencies and removing bureaucratic bottlenecks.” That said, should Serbia be granted candidate status this autumn, it would mark an important milestone in the country’s path to the EU.

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