Serbia is expected on Monday to take a step forward in its efforts to join the European Union after the U.N. war crimes prosecutor reports to EU foreign ministers on Belgrade's assistance with his investigations.
Concerns over Serbia's cooperation with the Hague tribunal, which is investigating atrocities committed in the wars fought in the 1990s after the collapse of Yugoslavia, are an obstacle on the country's path to EU membership.
But Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, is expected to tell EU ministers Belgrade has shown "continuing efforts" in seeking fugitives, while pressing for a more rigorous approach.
Diplomats said his assessment is expected to persuade ministers to allow Serbia to take the next step by implementing a pre-membership deal known as the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) during a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
"It seems largely accepted," said one EU diplomat.
The ministers will also discuss whether the executive European Commission should review Serbia's application to join the bloc, which would be another step in the EU entry process.
Several EU governments have expressed reservations and Serbia may have to wait longer before taking this step.
"Some countries want progress to be more incremental," said another EU diplomat.
Last year, Brammertz said Belgrade was cooperating well with his tribunal and relations with the EU have improved since then, with EU governments lifting visa requirements for Serbs and unblocking a trade agreement.
According to his latest report, obtained by Reuters, Brammertz will tell ministers on Monday Serbia's cooperation in giving the tribunal access to documents, archives and witnesses had been "timely and adequate".
But more progress is needed.
EU states first want the arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted for genocide in the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where Dutch troops were stationed, and the siege of Sarajevo.
The Dutch government has previously blocked Serbia's EU path but diplomats said Brammertz's relatively positive assessment should ease Dutch opposition to the SAA.
The agreement was first signed in 2008 but the Dutch blocked its implementation.
"Even the Dutch said they would be willing to accept it if Brammertz confirms what is expected," one diplomat said.
Serbia, the target of United Nations sanctions in the 1990s and NATO bombing in 1999, will also have to carry out democratic reforms to qualify for EU entry.
Once launched, membership talks would probably take years and Belgrade would have to overcome the reluctance of EU states to admitting new members when Europe's economy is under strain.
Of the nations that emerged from the violent collapse of Yugoslavia, only Slovenia is in the EU. Croatia is nearing the end of its entry negotiations but others are years away, held up by slow reforms and poor regional cooperation.
ReutersLast Mod: 12 Haziran 2010, 09:55