The European Union's recent decision to grant full membership candidate status to Serbia has been welcomed not only in Belgrade but also across the western Balkans. The verdict delivered by EU leaders on 1 March will be a significant boost to regional stability and will encourage the other countries of the region to continue working hard on their own accession bids.
Serbia applied to become a candidate for EU membership in December 2009. Two key obstacles to the progress of its application were the issue of fugitive war criminals and its relationship with Kosovo, the former Serbian province with an overwhelmingly Albanian population that declared independence in February 2008. The capture of Ratko Mladic – the Bosnian Serb wartime military commander wanted since 1995 by the United Nations war-crimes tribunal in The Hague – and Goran Hadzic – a former Croatian Serb leader, the only other outstanding fugitive – in May and July 2011 represented a significant breakthrough in the accession process.