A step forward for Serbia's relations with the EU

Parliament approved on Wednesday the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which needed the EP's consent as well as ratification by all Member States to enter into force. While welcoming Serbia's reforms, MEPs stress that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remains "a fundamental condition for Serbia to progress on the path to EU membership".

“By ratifying the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the European Parliament will strongly encourage Serbia to make further steps on her historic journey towards the EU. We acknowledge and welcome Serbia's achievements in the past year. At the same time, we point out all the challenges that lie ahead. Belgrade needs to cooperate fully with the ICTY in order to make sure the process of ratifying SAA will continue smoothly", said MEP Jelko Kacin (ALDE, SL), Parliament's standing rapporteur on Serbia during the plenary debate on Tuesday 18 January.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which opens up trade between the EU and Serbia and holds out the prospect of EU membership, was signed in 2008.  The EU's Member States only started the ratification process in June 2010. So far eleven States have completed ratification. MEPs call on the remaining ones to do so swiftly.

Dialogue with Kosovo: commitment and readiness to compromise

Urging that talks with Kosovo start "without delay", MEPs welcome Serbia's willingness to engage in dialogue within the EU framework, underlining that the commitment and readiness of both sides to compromise is needed for long-term stability and for improving people's wellbeing. Serbian parallel structures in northern Kosovo should be dismantled since they undermine the decentralisation process and prevent the full integration of the Serbian community into Kosovo's institutions.

No abuse of visa liberalisation

Since December 2009, Serbian nationals have been able to travel visa-free in the Schengen area and EU citizens can travel to Serbia with an ID card. The Serbian authorities should "adopt adequate measure and make full efforts in order to limit possibilities to abuse the visa free regime, in particular to ensure that Serbian citizens are properly informed about their rights and obligations stemming from the this regime", say MEPs, given the growing number of bogus asylum seekers from this country in several Member States.

Internally displaced persons and refugees

Serbia is the country with the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people in Europe, who face housing problems and poverty. More progress must be made find a durable solution to refugee problems throughout the region, say MEPs. Furthermore, as a result of readmission agreements with EU countries, up to 150,000 returnees are expected and their "successful reintegration will require thorough preparations, particularly on the level of local authorities", adds the resolution.

The resolution giving Parliament's consent was adopted by show of hands, while the resolution on Serbia's integration process was adopted by 612 votes to 38 with 28 abstentions.