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EU Presidency Backs Quick Steps On Serbia Entry Bid

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union should review Serbia's application to join the bloc as soon as possible, the EU's Spanish Presidency said today.

Serbia applied to join the 27-member bloc in December and an early review of its application would boost its hopes of receiving approval to start membership negotiations quickly.

EU member states must ask the executive European Commission to give an opinion on Serbia's application before formal talks can start with the former Yugoslav republic.

"We are just holding consultations with all member states and we hope it will happen. The sooner, the better," Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told a news conference after talks with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

The success of Serbia's application will depend largely on its cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in catching people suspected of atrocities in the wars fought in the 1990s after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

Serbia's relations with the EU have improved since the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal said Belgrade was cooperating well. The EU granted visa-free travel to Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians in December and unblocked an interim trade deal with Belgrade.

"We are determined to match the success of 2009 in 2010," Jeremic said.

Of the former Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia is an EU member. Croatia hopes to conclude its entry talks this year and join the EU in 2012.