Zagreb blocks Chapter 23; Belgrade "astonished"

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said late on Friday that the Serbian government was "astonished" by Croatia's decision "not to support Serbia's European path."

Source: Tanjug

"The Republic of Croatia did not have a single valid reason to make such a decision," the government cited the prime minister as saying.

Serbia has taken note of Croatia's stance and Serbia will not allow anyone in Europe and the world, including the Republic of Croatia, to blackmail it in any way and to humiliate and denigrate it.

"Serbia is a country of freedom-loving people and will never be a punching bag to anyone," Vucic said in a statement.

Earlier during the day, Vucic was addressed his SNS party election campaign rally in Novi Sad, when he heard the news of Croatia's move, which resulted in blocking Serbia in preparing the negotiating platform for Chapter 23, Vucic said that Serbia would not "accept anyone's ultimatums."

"We will not change a law that is good just because Croatia wants that," he added.

Serbia has been protecting its interests the whole while and will continue doing so in the future, said Vucic.

"Serbia is a country on its way to the EU, but it has been protecting its freedom and independence on that way. And today, when Croatia would not have its say in Brussels and offer support to Serbia on its European path, some might expect that we shall fall on our knees and beg," remarked Vucic and added:

"But we will not make a single phone call."

Agreement was reached within the EU on Friday to open Chapter 24 of Serbia's accession negotiations in June.

"Discussion postponed"

Croatia did not express an opinion on opening Chapter 23 in EU-Serbia negotiations during Friday's meeting of the working group on EU enlargement, which resulted in removing the point from the agenda and postponing the discussion for next week, Serbia's negotiating team chief Tanja Miscevic said following the meeting.

"The Croatian representative had no instruction from Zagreb, so the item was dropped from the agenda and left to be discussed next week," Miscevic told Tanjug.

The item will now be being placed on the agenda for every new meeting and "will not move, nor be removed, nor blocked until they get the green light from Zagreb," Miscevic said.

She said that all other EU member-states agreed that what we had done in the action plans and presented as elements for opening Chapter 23 was absolutely in harmony with the plans of the EU.

"We're not clear about what they want right now, but we know that we really cannot do more than what has been done," said Miscevic.

She, however, stressed it was still not too late for negotiations to be opened in June, and their postponing would be harmful not only to Serbia but to the EU as well.

"We expect that it (chapter opening) will happen after all, there is still time. We hope that this will not interfere (with the process to open the chapter) to the extent that the chapter is not opened," said Miscevic.

"Further progress"

Austria advocates for further progress in the process of Serbia's accession to the EU, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told Tanjug on Friday.

Asked whether the Austrian government was lobbying to persuade Croatia to stop blocking the opening of new chapters with Serbia, Kurz said that a solid EU membership perspective for the Western Balkan countries was of great significance to Austria.

It is in our direct interest to see them on the way to the EU and to see more stability and prosperity, Kurz said.

He stressed that Serbia was important, as it was an anchor of stability in the region.

Important reforms have been carried out under Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, especially in the economy, and much progress has been achieved in the dialogue with Pristina. We therefore advocate further progress in Serbia's accession process, said Kurz.

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