In the end of January, at a conference of the group of the European People's Party in the European Parliament on the Western Balkans, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said that one of the key issues that will be at the centre of enlargement this year are bilateral issues. According to him, they are a challenge "we don't want major bilateral issues to be imported into the European Union and we don't want bilateral 'mines' to explode in the middle of the accession process". This statement was made in a moment when the dispute between Croatia and Slovenia over the old transferred deposits of the former Ljubljanska banka from the time of Yugoslavia entered a phase of uncertainty due to the political crisis in Slovenia.
As this website wrote many times, a problem too are the unresolved issues between Greece and Macedonia which prevent the imploding former Yugoslav republic from starting accession talks despite the fact that the Commission has recommended it in every progress report for the country in the past four years.
There are just a few weeks until Croatia, if the ratification process ends successfully, joins the EU scheduled for July 1st. The fact that it will become the 28th member of the Union, however, does not automatically mean that all its bilateral issues are be resolved. There is yet to unfold a long process of solving of a huge list of issues between Croatia and Serbia. Belgrade also is looking forward to get a date to begin negotiations at the EU summit in June. The conditions Brussels puts forward are resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which are under way, and an overall improvement of Serbia's relations with the countries in the region.
After the significant cooling of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade and obviously in view with the shift of focus of the Commission precisely on that type of issues, the two countries have begun investing efforts to escape from the trap of the past. On March 4th, in the Croatian capital city took place a meeting between the ministers of foreign affairs of the two countries - Vesna Pusic of Croatia and Ivan Mrkic of Serbia. The two have met before, but every time in the margins of international forums. They have agreed to hold bilateral meetings on a regular basis - twice a year. The tone seemed friendly and at times a sense of humour sneaked.
The first deputy prime minister of Croatia and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusic said that the country's EU membership is an "empirical proof" that this is possible for the region. Belgrade should receive a date for negotiations, is Zagreb's position because aside from the tough criteria for reforms another essential thing for the region is the positive political message. "Without a positive political message motivation is lost", Ms Pusic said.
Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic for his part congratulated Croatia for the membership and pointed out that Serbia was sincerely happy for that. "We are sure that Croatia will be an excellent representative of the Balkans in the European family", Mr Mrkic said. He hoped Serbia will get a date in June because Belgrade was doing its utmost to deserve it. "The well known proverb goes that one cannot choose their neighbours or relatives", the Serbian minister added and pointed out that there is a complete maturity for good neighbourly relations.
He avoided a direct answer to the question whether the warming of relations and the good atmosphere between Serbia and Croatia currently were dependent on the meeting between the presidents of the countries - Tomislav Nikolic and Ivo Josipovic. A meeting which Mr Josipovic rejects because of Mr Nikolic's remark after his election last year that Vukovar was a Serb city. Ivan Mrkic only said that he perceived all meetings - so far and in the future - as a preparatory work that will at some point bear fruit. "I wouldn't be here against the will of my president", he said and added that it was certain that such a meeting will take place.
But for this to happen concessions are necessary. Probably by both sides.