EU candidate country Serbia and four other nations on the Union's periphery – Ukraine, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco – have disappointed the European Commission by deciding to boycott a ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The Commission yesterday (8 December) deplored the decision and suggested that the countries had bowed to Chinese pressure.
"We are obviously very disappointed to hear of this reported decision [by Serbia]," said Angela Filote, spokesperson for Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle.
She indicated that the move was not in line with the EU's recent decision to open accession talks with Belgrade.
"Of course we will explain that a country that has aspirations of joining the European Union, an applicant country, must fully share the EU's values, and protection of human rights is one of its fundamental values. So we expect Serbia to coordinate its position with that of our member states," Filote said.
The issue was likely to be raised by Füle when he meets Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovi? today, she added.
As reported by news agency Beta, EURACTIV's partner in Serbia, the Western Balkan hopeful joined a group of 18 states – spearheaded by China – that will boycott this year's ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee invited 65 countries to attend the 10 December award gala. Those not attending include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Columbia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.
Filote said that the Commission had taken note with regret that Ukraine, a country included in the EU's Eastern Partnership, had also reportedly joined the boycott.
The Eastern Partnership is an initiative aimed at forging closer ties between the EU and its Eastern neighbours. Meanwhile, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are members of the Union of the Mediterranean initiative and have also declined to attend.
"We are going to pass the same message to those countries," Filote said.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic explained that although Belgrade was very concerned about the issue of human rights, it was also extremely concerned about its relations with China.
"Serbia pays extraordinary attention to the question of bilateral relations with China. All of our decisions have to do with achieving our national interests. China is one of Serbia's most important bilateral partners," Jeremic told reporters in Belgrade.