The last time Serbian and European leaders really got together, they seethed at each other. So why is the EU dusting off its plans to cuddle up to Belgrade? And why do I think it is a good idea?
I remember that last meeting in October, when, bunkered down in a conference centre in Luxembourg, Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia’s prime minister, proclaimed his country’s heartfelt desire to hang on to the province of Kosovo – whatever the wishes of the EU or US.
Olli Rehn, the EU’s enlargement Commissioner, said Serbia had done nowhere near enough to track down Gen Ratko Mladic, the man blamed for Europe’s worst massacre since the second world war – the killing of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.
The air was thick with recrimination. Rehn made clear that unless Serbia did much more on handing over Mladic, there was no chance that talks would resume on deepening Belgrade’s ties with Brussels, negotiations supposed to open the way for Serbia to join the EU.
Now, however, Rehn is giving off much more positive signals, making clear that, if Serbia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday go well, the talks could pick up where they left off and make up for lost time.
On a lightning visit to Berlin last year, I discovered that Germany is groaning with plans for its six month long presidency of the EU. One theme struck me in particular: Angela Merkel’s improbable ambition to bring hope to the Middle East. You might not believe it, but this is an issue where the German chancellor really thinks she can make a difference.
Like many other European states, Germany feels strongly that the US ought to do more with its international partners to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
That’s why Merkel told the FT she wanted to revive the Quartet, the body made up of the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations that is supposed to work for Middle East peace.
Just before Christmas, I went on a daytrip to Iraq. I was part of the press pack following Tony Blair around and, although the other journalists and I gave pretty short shrift to the prime minister’s whole Middle East trip, it was, in many ways, an illuminating experience.
For example, there was the sight of Blair’s top advisers donning helmets and body armour to visit a country that was supposedly liberated three and a half years ago. And there was the prime minister himself, seemingly tired and stressed on what could turn out to be his last official trip to Iraq, evidently relieved when his Hercules aircraft left Baghdad and Basra behind it and headed for Tel Aviv.
The trip also raised an intriguing possibility for the future of British and European foreign policy.