"Membership talks provide impetus for reforms"

BELGRADE -- The start of Serbia-EU talks "is a positive signal that the country should use the current momentum and be 100 percent committed to further reforms."

(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)

This is according to European Parliament member Eduard Kukan.

"I hope that this (the start of accession talks) brings more impetus for the reforms in the country. It is an important step in a long process and Serbia is moving in the right direction," Kukan told Tanjug ahead of the first intergovernmental conference between Serbia and the EU on January 21, which will mark the formal start of negotiations with Brussels.

"There are a number of areas in which Serbia must be 100 percent committed to further reforms. This entails reforms in the judiciary sector, combating crime and corruption, fighting discrimination and promoting human rights and minority rights," explained the MEP from Slovakia, member of the European People's Party group.

The Serbian government should use this momentum in the EU integration process, stressed Kukan, who is also a member of the Friends of Serbia group in the EP.

He pointed out that the dialogue with Priština is important for further progress in the EU integration.

"I hope that both sides will realize the importance of what has been achieved so far. All the agreements are a good base for building up better relations between Belgrade and Priština," noted Kukan, adding that the key is to implement the agreements and to continue working on solutions to outstanding issues.

Kukan expressed hope that within a foreseeable time the dialogue will focus on joint projects that will help people in the region, as well as the integration processes.

The start of negotiations with Serbia is good news and a signal for the country and the region that the EU integration process is moving ahead, and that the EU will continue to be involved in the enlargement policy, said Kukan.

"Painful reforms"

The start of Serbia's accession talks with the EU is an important event, but the country's government has to commit itself to making painful reforms as soon as possible, British expert for the Balkans James Ker-Lindsay has said.

"The government needs to be honest with the people about the accession process. The start of talks with the EU is a momentous occasion, but it marks just the start of what will be a very long and difficult process," he told Tanjug.

The government needs to commit itself to making painful reforms as quickly as possible without playing politics, he noted.

Although the accession process is often referred to as a negotiation, this is not correct, he said, explaining that the reality was that there was very little to negotiate.

"The only room for manoeuvre really concerns when the laws must be enacted. In some cases there is room for delays. However, it is extremely rare that a full exemption is given," he pointed out.

"As someone who has watched previous enlargements closely, the best advice would be for the chief negotiator to pick her battles carefully and sparingly. For the most part, it is better to concentrate on getting the job done as quickly as possible in order to gain the benefits of full membership," the senior research fellow of the London School of Economics and Political Science remarked.

"In the years ahead, almost every aspect of life in Serbia will be affected as hundreds of new laws will have to be passed to ensure that Serbia meets the conditions of membership," he added.

"While the vast majority of these laws will eventually lead to significant improvements in the day-to-day life of Serbian citizens, many of the measures will not be popular," he stated.

The government will need to be prepared for this, he stressed, adding that Kosovo would be the key element of the entire accession process, and that important talks would be required in order to find a solution to that.

However, the Kosovo issue is just one of a number of difficult problems Serbia will face, he underscored.