ECONOMY

EU praises Serbia’s vigilance on reform

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s foreign policy chief yesterday praised Serbia for pressing on with reforms after the March 12 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and diplomats held out the prospect of closer ties. «We are very pleased to see how things are evolving… (new Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic) is making very solid progress… at a very difficult time,» Javier Solana told reporters after talks with Zivkovic. Solana cited progress in tackling organized crime, increased cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, reform of the armed forces and efforts to recreate a single economic space between Serbia and tiny Montenegro, which together have formed a new union on the ashes of the former Yugoslavia. Diplomats said the economic harmonization measures taken by Serbia and Montenegro could persuade EU leaders at their June summit in Greece to back a feasibility study on forging closer economic and political ties with the Union. Two other ex-Yugoslav republics, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, have already negotiated such closer ties – known in EU jargon as a stabilization and association agreement – the first major step on the long path to joining the Union. «We will catch up with the other countries in our region,» Zivkovic told reporters. Greece, which holds the EU rotating presidency, has proposed disbursing up to 300 million euros’ ($350.5 million) worth of aid per year in 2004-2006 among the five western Balkan countries – Serbia and Montenegro, FYROM, Croatia, Bosnia and Albania, the diplomats said. Zivkovic said Belgrade would need much more than that to rebuild its shattered economy, but added: «We don’t want to be a subsidized nation. The largest amount of capital should come through investment and privatization.» Zivkovic came to power after Djindjic, a market reformer, was assassinated in Belgrade in a shooting Serb authorities blame on organized crime and figures linked to former strongman Slobodan Milosevic.