European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn and Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz are exerting strong pressure on Zagreb in an attempt to obtain Croatia's green light for the opening of Chapter 23 in Serbia's membership talks with the European Union, while at the same time Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has called on Germany and other EU member states to "reason with Croatia", Belgrade media reported on Friday.
"These European officials are virtually in constant contact with Croatia's Foreign Minister Miro Kovac who has been told that the majority of EU member states do not approve of Zagreb's attempt to thwart Belgrade's European path," the Vecernji Novosti has reported.
The Serbian paper notes that a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers is expected today regarding the Serbia's membership bid, with the attendance of all 28 member states after which Croatia's final stance will be known, given that Zagreb has not ye agreed to the opening of Chapter 23.
The paper further recalls statements by Croatian officials that Serbia was expected to abolish universal jurisdiction for war crimes and to apply regulations and obligations on the protection of Croatian minority rights in Serbia and to ensure the representation of ethnic Croats in Serbia's parliament. Belgrade is also expected to establish full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
As carried by the Vecernji Novosti, Serbia's FM Ivica Dacic said that "Croatia was the last to be in a position to lecture anyone on minority rights because it itself does not respect EU standards, even though it is a member of the Union."
"Cyrillic sign posts are being smashed in Croatia, the Ustasha movement is being rehabilitated, which is stirring fear among local Serbs. Our law on war crimes trials was written in cooperation with the EU and the Hague Tribunal and Zagreb's objections that we are creating a 'Little Hague' are absurd. That is why I call on Germany and other EU member states to clearly say that Serbia has fulfilled everything and to reason with Croatia," Dacic said.
The paper also carries a statement by Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the major coalition party in government, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Tomislav Karamarko, that Croatia will not block Serbia's accession to the EU since Zagreb wants to develop good relations with neighbouring countries, however, Serbia must meet all the accession conditions and satisfy standards set by the EU that should be adopted through painstaking negotiations.
At the same time Serbia's chief negotiator with the EU Tanja Miscevic said that Belgrade has done everything it had to and that objections Croatian officials have made in public "are already embedded in a series of documents, primarily the Action Plan for Chapter 23 and the National Strategy to Process War Crimes."
"We've done our part of the job and now it's up to EU member states. We are not running away from talks on all contentious bilateral issues that we have with other countries, however, the benchmarks for opening Chapter 23 are adopted already, two years ago in the screening report and that document was initialled by Croatia too," Miscevic said.
Earlier this week Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that "no matter what anyone did, Serbia wishes to have good relations" and that the "Serbian ship is certainly sailing and will continue to do so."