The decision adopted by the 27 member states follows a recommendation by the General Affairs Council on 28 February, which confirmed that the Republic of Serbia has continued to show credible commitment and achieved further progress in the implementation of the dialogue with Kosovo, and met the criteria set by the European Council in December 2011.
Belgrade celebrates and sights with relief, as the objections raised by Lithuania, Poland and Romania were not serious enough to stop ministers to assign Serbia the official candidate status. Lithuania, Poland and Romania had raised concerns that Moscow has too much influence on Belgrade and that Serbia is mistreating its so-called "Vlach" Romanian minority and Bucharest had unexpectedly refused to sign an agreement on granting Serbia the coveted status.
Indeed the EU decision comes after Belgrade last year handed over its top war crimes fugitives, Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and on 24 February 2012 reaches an agreement with Pristina allowing Kosovo “to speak under its independent flag in multilateral meetings and to sign international agreements”.
Although Kosovo participation in meetings is to come with a footnote as Belgrade is still refusing to recognise its self-declared independence. The next step, opening accession negotiations, could be taken in December, on condition that Belgrade continues its reforms process, notably in the judiciary field and keeps improving day-to-day relations with Kosovo. But for the final step, becoming an effective member, Serbia will have to tackle the most burning issue: the status of Kosovo and the status of Kosovar Serbs in north Kosovo.
“Belgrade’s willingness to become a member state shows that this project of freedom, responsibility and solidarity which is the EU, remains attractive”, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso commented during the final press briefing of the first day of the summit.