BELGRADE, Serbia -- European Union foreign ministers this week approved Serbia as an official candidate for EU membership, paving the way for EU heads of government to confirm the decision at a summit yesterday. But though good news for Serbia and a European project intended to embed democracy and stimulate economic development, while bringing to an end to the cycle of European wars, the approval is just the beginning of what will be a long and challenging road. EU accession is unlikely to come before 2020, and, as is abundantly clear from the experience of Serbia’s neighbors, it is no panacea.
Serbia has suffered more than most Eastern European countries since the fall of the Berlin Wall, admittedly in large part due to the decisions made by its leaders. The political heart of the former Yugoslavia, it fought a series of bloody and disastrous wars with its neighbors as they seceded, for which Serbia and ethnic Serbs in the region are still paying the price. Democracy came only after the 2000 revolution, a decade after its neighbors to the north and east.
For many Serbs, the process of entering the EU and acceptance as a Western liberal democracy will bring closure after this painful period. For other European governments, bringing Serbia close will help lock in those liberal democratic values and help prevent another European conflict.