Serbia should accept EU expansion reforms, president says

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia should accept the European Union’s proposed changes to the way it admits new countries, which could smooth the path toward membership for Balkan countries, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday.

A day earlier, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi, proposed giving existing EU members the power to delay or reverse the process of admitting new nations or to force countries to restart entry talks in some policy areas.

Vucic said Belgrade would now “diligently study” the proposed reforms before a EU summit with the six Balkan states in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, in May.

“As the president, I personally prefer the new methodology,” Vucic told reporters after meeting Varhelyi in Belgrade.

The expansion reforms were forced by French President Emanuel Macron, who last year blocked the start of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania and demanded changes to how new members are admitted.

In Belgrade, Varhelyi said the EU still aims to admit six Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Serbia and Montenegro are the most advanced in their EU entry talks, hoping to join this decade. North Macedonia and Albania are next in line to open talks. Kosovo and Bosnia are lagging behind.

“My goal is that by the end of my mandate, in the next four and a half years, at least one country from the Western Balkans should be ready to join in,” Varhelyi said.

Before joining, Serbia must mend ties with Kosovo, its former, predominantly Albanian southern province, which seceded in 2008, almost a decade after a bloody war there.

Serbia must also improve its economy, business climate, the rule of law, media freedoms and root out corruption and organized crime.

The European Commission – the EU’s executive body – needs to get France on board with the accession reforms before the Zagreb summit in May.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Larry King)