Sarah speaks to the European Parliament on the stabilisation of relations with Serbia

Sarah Ludford (ALDE). - Madam President I join those who have praised and welcomed the report by my colleague Jelko Kacin and I thoroughly agree with his remarks that Serbia's future lies in the European Union and that Serbia will become an important player in guaranteeing security and stability in the Western Balkans region.

I have supported the aim of EU membership for the Western Balkan countries for the last decade including when I was the Vice-Chair of the Balkans Delegation. I worked closely with our rapporteur in championing visa-free travel and I was delighted when that was secured for Serbia among others a year ago. I think this is a really vital contribution to person-to-person contacts and to raising horizons and ultimately to guaranteeing security in its wider sense.

Some of the challenges that are faced by Serbia have already been mentioned. I would like to add something on the challenge of judicial reform. The Commission's progress report last autumn sounded a note of concern about reappointment procedures being carried out in a non-transparent way jeopardising the principle of independence of the judiciary and creating a high risk of political influence. That is clearly a key issue in terms of the Rule of Law.

In relation to cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague Mr Kacin told the Foreign Affairs Committee last night that Serbia is doing absolutely everything in its power to locate and apprehend the remaining two indicted individuals and transfer them to The Hague but Serge Brammertz the Chief Prosecutor in his speech to the UN Security Council in September said that Serbia needed to bridge the gap between its stated commitment to the arrests and the effectiveness of its operations on the ground. We are not seeing results. Serbia needs to adopt a more proactive approach to arresting the fugitives so I am afraid that there is a gap between rhetoric and reality and that gap absolutely must be bridged.

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