STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Serbian President Boris Tadic will travel to Stockholm on Tuesday to submit a formal application for European Union membership, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Saturday.
“Clearly this is an historic and important step for Serbia,” Bildt, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, wrote in a website blog. “President Tadic is welcome to Stockholm on Tuesday to submit an official application.”
Earlier on Saturday, Tadic and Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic signed Serbia’s official request for EU membership at a Belgrade news conference, a decade after the end of the Balkan wars whose legacy has hindered progress.
Although the application is important symbolically, EU officials say Belgrade still has to overcome many difficult obstacles in the years to come before becoming a full member.
Serbia’s path to EU membership has been stalled due to its failure to arrest former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who is sought for genocide by the U.N. war crimes court.
“Serbia has the intention and unambiguous will to arrest the fugitives for the sake of its citizens and for the sake of reconciliation in the Balkans,” said Tadic.
“This is indeed a great day for Serbia. This day represents a crossroads ... Today we are entering a stage which is very difficult, which demands deep and painful reforms.”
Serbia has still to adopt many laws to get in line with European regulations, officials say.
The process was significantly delayed last year due to filibustering by nationalists in the parliament, but it picked up pace after changes in parliamentary guidelines.
In a change that gave high hopes to Serbians that they were moving towards the 27-nation EU, as of midnight on Friday they were allowed to travel without visas to most of the bloc.
Earlier this month, the EU unblocked an interim trade deal providing for the abolition of customs duties over six years and the reform of Serbia’s law on competition and state subsidies.
But the crucial ratification of the EU’s pre-membership Stabilisation and Association Agreement remains on hold because the Netherlands wants to see Mladic, sought for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, first extradited to the Hague tribunal.
Dutch peacekeepers who served as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Bosnia were deployed in and around Srebrenica in 1995, but did not have enough weapons or the mandate to prevent the killings.