EU to Debate Path for Accession for Serbia

BRUSSELS -- The European Union will try Tuesday to approve a gesture to pro-EU parties in Serbia before elections on May 11, but Dutch leaders say Belgrade must arrest a top war crime suspect before they sign on.

Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, still hopes to persuade the Dutch to allow the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement -- a gateway to eventual membership in the EU -- before the election, but it has made little headway so far.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told a parliamentary committee last week the Netherlands was ready to allow the EU to make some kind of gesture to Serbia before the elections, but stressed that Belgrade must deliver war criminals to The Hague.

Asked about the chances of a breakthrough at EU foreign ministers' talks in Luxembourg on Tuesday, an EU presidency source said they want to sign the SAA as soon as possible.

"We want to send a message that the EU is open to Serbia but there is the old question of conditionality," said another EU diplomat of the insistence that the precondition for closer ties is full cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal.

The majority of EU states want to sign now but the Netherlands, backed by Belgium, has said former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic must be delivered to the UN war crimes tribunal first.