Croatian MEPs test their ‘firepower’ against candidate Serbia

Croatian [L] and Serbian flags, coat of arms [CroatianSports]

Croatia has used its resource in the European Parliament to impose on candidate country Serbia, in order to change its law on war crime trials. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

On 11 March, the Parliament adopted a resolution on Serbia [see pages 141-150] in which the most controversial text concerns the country’s law on the prosecution of war criminals.

This issue has been at the centre of attention in Serbia since the start of February, when Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovi? urged Serbia to change the amendments to this legislation, which came into effect in 2010, and which enabled Serbia to also prosecute war crimes committed in the territory of Croatia.

The Croatian authorities then sent a message that they would not let Serbia negotiate accession with the EU without amending this law.

With 347 votes in favour and 319 against, the European Parliament passed an amendment which calls on Serbia “to consider its Law on Organisation and Competence of State Authorities in War Crimes Proceedings in cooperation with its neighbours and with the Commission”.

Commission tries to calm hardliners

Zagreb’s push caused heated debates, with the representatives from the Commission trying to calm down Croatian envoys.

Croatian deputies requested that Serbia amend its law on the prosecution of war crimes, in order to prevent Serbian prosecutors from investigating and raising indictments for crimes in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

They also requested that Serbia extradite and transfer the jurisdiction to Croatia, for the judicial process against Croatian Veljko Mari?, who is being tried for crimes in Belgrade.

Other deputies opposed that request. Commission representative Simon Mordue stated that this would mean changing the conditions for Serbia’s accession negotiations.

During the debate on 10 March, Slovenian deputy Tanja Fajon (S&D) distanced herself from her more ideologically-driven compatriots, warning that pressure for bilateral issues to be imposed on Serbia in its negotiations with the EU were “a cause for concern”.

Fajon requested that MEPs drop the amendment submitted by the Croatian deputies. She said that this would represent an additional request in Serbia’s accession negotiations, and thus would set “a dangerous precedent”. She also argued that the universal jurisdiction for war crimes, in Serbian law, was adequate.

Ulrike Luna?ek (Greens, Austria), argued that the Serbian law was adopted in 2003, and that the European Commission and other interested parties had accepted it.

Croatian deputies reacted sharply to this statement, and a heated debate developed. Finally, a milder text was adopted, filed by the EPP Rapporteur David McAllister (EPP, Germany), together with Croatian deputy Andrej Plenkovi?, also from the center-right group.

As widely expected, last February, the International Court of Justice Tuesday rejected the genocide lawsuits Croatia and Serbia launched against one another.

>> Read: Serbia and Croatia digest genocide ruling

Croatia fought for its independence from the former Yugoslavia in a war which lasted from 1991 to 1995. Atrocities were committed by both sides during the conflict.

EU accession negotiations are often used as an opportunity to solve bilateral issues, considering that member countries can block candidates by insisting on solving bilateral disputes.

Croatia was also faced with such an approach during its accession talks, when Slovenia raised a border dispute over the delimitation of territorial waters.

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