'Serbia's arrest of war crimes fugitives highest priority over EU bid'
EU should review Serbia's application to join the bloc as soon as possible as a step towards launching formal membership talks, the EU presidency said.
The European Union should review Serbia's application to join the bloc as soon as possible as a step towards launching formal membership negotiations, the EU's Spanish presidency said on Tuesday.
Serbia applied to join the 27-member EU in December and an early review would boost its hopes of receiving approval to start the negotiations quickly, after long delays due to EU concern over Serbia's failure to arrest wanted war criminals.
EU member states must ask the executive European Commission to give an opinion on Serbia's application before formal talks can start with the former Yugoslav republic.
"We are just holding consultations with all member states and we hope it will happen. The sooner, the better," Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told a news conference after talks with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
The success of Serbia's application will depend largely on its cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in catching people suspected of atrocities in the wars fought in the 1990s after the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Serbia's relations with the EU have improved since the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Serge Brammertz, said last year Belgrade was cooperating well.
The EU granted visa-free travel to Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians in December and unblocked an interim trade deal with Belgrade.
"We are determined to match the success of 2009 in 2010," Jeremic said.
The U.N. tribunal's Brammertz told the European Parliament during a hearing on Tuesday that Serbia needed to show more progress in catching suspects, although he was satisied with Belgrade's cooperation.
"The arrest of fugitives is the highest priority," he said.
Of the former Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia is an EU member. Croatia hopes to conclude its entry talks this year and join the EU in 2012.
Reuters Last Mod: 27 Ocak 2010, 08:41