Serbian European Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimovic said on Saturday, after Croatia did not give Serbia the green light to open negotiations with the European Union on Chapter 23, that it was "highly unusual" that a member state was blocking an accession candidate in the opening of a negotiation chapter and that now everything was up to the EU.

"It's highly unusual that a state is blocking a candidate in the technical part and during the opening of a chapter," she told Belgrade's Politika daily, adding that all member states except Croatia had given their consent for Serbia to open Chapters 23 and 24 during the Dutch presidency of the EU.

The chief of Serbia's EU accession negotiating team, Tanja Miscevic, told Politika that Serbia had made an action plan for Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights), based on requirements set two years ago and that all EU member states, including Croatia, had approved it.

"Now Croatia is requesting new conditions which are not valid. They are requesting better cooperation with the Hague tribunal, yet (its) prosecutor Serge Brammertz commended this cooperation. They are also requesting the rescinding of the law on universal jurisdiction which, aside from Serbia, another 11 EU member states have. When it comes to (ethnic) minorities, Serbia has constitutionally set a threshold which enables minorities to enter the Assembly," Miscevic said.

Belgrade media also cited the president of the Serb National Council in Croatia, Milorad Pupovac as saying that "it's not good that Croatia has decided to block the opening of the chapter on human rights and freedoms in which Croatia too, as an EU member state, under the accession treaty signed with the other 27 member states, has substantial obligations, notably in Annex 7, regarding respect for the rights of national minorities, cooperation with the Hague tribunal, the return of refugees and the exercise of their rights."

"Instead of working together with Serbia on solving those issues, notably on cooperation with the Hague tribunal, on war crimes trials, Croatia has decided to shift all responsibility for those issues on Serbia," Pupovac was quoted as saying, adding that Croatia and Serbia should overcome their problems through cooperation.

He said Croatia was not in an easy position regarding the exercise of national minorities' rights, human rights, the protection of tolerance and democratic values because they were being seriously threatened and violated. "Croatia could come into the focus of the relevant European institutions, not just the EU but the Council of Europe and the OSCE, and by setting conditions for Serbia, Croatia will actually set conditions for itself."

There has been no progress at Friday's meeting of the Council of the EU enlargement task force in defining benchmarks for opening the chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights in the EU's accession negotiations with Serbia because Croatia has not given the green light, a European source said. There is still no full agreement, Croatia has still not given the green light, the source said.

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