The talks, aimed at bringing Serbia closer to EU membership, were halted on May 3, 2006. They can be restarted once Belgrade shows more commitment in the search for fugitives such as Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on charges of genocide. However for over half of the past year, since early parliamentary polls where scheduled for January 21, Serbia has been run by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's caretaker government. Amid political wrangling and efforts to form a working coalition, interest in tracking down Mladic has taken a back seat. „The new cabinet must be in place as soon as possible so the process can continue,” said Tanja Miscevic, the head of Belgrade's bureau in charge of ties with the EU. All conditions laid out for the continuation of the talks, including cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal based in The Hague remain, she told the Beta news agency. But with parties comprising the bloc favored by the EU unable to convert their parliamentary majority into a working government coalition, Serbia has come dangerously close to a deadline which would force repeat elections and further delay the possibility of resuming the talks with Brussels.
President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and G17 Plus - the latter two having been members of the expired government alliance - have less than two weeks for a deal to avoid new polls, which analysts say would benefit only the extreme nationalists. New elections would also aggravate the current legal vacuum, in which the new Supreme Court cannot be appointed and mandatory local and presidential elections cannot be held on time. Kostunica and most other leading politicians however appear unconcerned over Serbia's European path, remaining instead obsessed with the future status of the breakaway province of Kosovo, where the majority Albanian population quickly expects independence. A top DSS official, Milos Aligrudic, claimed that Serbia has progressed further in meeting „formal conditions” for EU membership than any other country in the region, including new EU member-states Bulgaria and Romania.
The fact that Serbia is lagging behind in the process is according to Aligrudic the „fault of the European Commission, which made a very unjust decision to break off the talks. „ Aligrudic insisted that along with having carried out numerous reforms, Belgrade is also „cooperating without hindrance with The Hague tribunal. „ „The fact is that a few fugitives remain out of Serbia's reach, but not because of its fault,” he said. Analysts say that the drawn-out haggling of parties in the so- called „pro-western” bloc benefits only the extreme nationalist, xenophobic Serbian Radical Party (SRS). The SRS won the most seats of any one party in the January polls, but has bene unable to find a coalition partner to form a majority. The party wants Serbia to turn its back on Brussels and forge closer links with powers like Russia and China. The SRS has asked Kostunica to promise that he would break off diplomatic ties with any country that supports Kosovo's independence - effectively the entire West. „The EU wants to steal Kosovo from us, everything else is less important,” said SRS deputy leader Aleksandar Vucic. Meanwhile, Serbia and neighboring Bosnia remain as the only two countries in Europe without contractual relations with the EU.