A highly anticipated report by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Serge Brammertz, on Serbia's and Croatia's cooperation with the court appears less positive than both countries were expecting. But it might just be enough to allow them to move another half step down the path towards EU integration.
A draft of Mr Brammertz' report was circulated on Wednesday (2 June) to members of the UN Security Council and obtained by WAZ.EUobserver.
The wording on Serbia could be positive enough to enable EU foreign ministers at their Luxembourg meeting on 14 June to start ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia in the EU's 27 national parliaments.
As for Croatia, member states are expected to give the green light to extend the ongoing negotiations to chapter 23, tackling the controversial issues of the judiciary and fundamental rights.
But the new assessment by Mr Brammertz is unlikely to lead to the Netherlands agreeing to the European Commission preparing its assessment of Serbian EU membership.
And chapter 23 negotiations with Croatia will probably only be allowed to begin on condition that any shortcomings in cooperation with the ICTY be addressed and corrected before the chapter can be closed.
Serbia signed the SAA two years ago but the process of ratification has been frozen due to a lack of full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal.
The key paragraph of the draft report says: "Six month ago, we reported a number of improvements regarding the efficiency and professionalism with which the Serbian authorities conducted the search for fugitives Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. The office of the Prosecutor recognises the continuing efforts of the Serbian operational services and the key role of the National Security Council in coordinating the efforts of the different security agencies."
However, Mr Brammertz noted that the two fugitives are still at large and that there is no evidence indicating Mladic had left Serbia. The report explicitly asks Belgrade to change its strategy in pursuing the two suspects. Mladic is wanted for alleged war crimes in Bosnia and genocide in Srebrenica, while Hadzic is accused of war crimes in Croatia.
"We have identified the areas in which the Serbian authorities' operational approach, analysis and methodologies can be improved," the draft report said.
"Serbia is therefore encouraged to increase its operational capacities and to adopt a more rigorous and multidisciplinary approach to arresting the fugitives," it added. The report will be presented in the UN Security Council on 18 June.
Mr Brammertz urged the Serb government to give its full support to the operational service that has been tasked with tracking down and apprehending the fugitives.
"Logistical and political support is imperative. There can be no alternative to immediate arrest of the two fugitives Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic," the report said.
Political credit drying up
A senior diplomat in Brussels, as well as a source close to the Dutch foreign ministry, confirmed to WAZ EUobserver that Mr Brammertz' report is sufficiently positive to allow the start of SAA ratification, but they underlined that the pro-EU Belgrade government was close to exhausting its political credit.
"If you read carefully the Brammertz report, you will see that nobody is interested anymore to speak about an improvement of cooperation. Final results are expected. So the Netherlands will give a hand to Serbia in June, but after that the ball is in Serbia's yard and without the arrest of Mladic there will be no more concessions to Belgrade on the European path," a senior EU diplomat said.
Mr Brammertz confirmed Croatia was generally responsive to requests by the Hague prosecutor's office for assistance on witnesses. But a demand for important military documents related to operation "Storm" had yet to be met, the draft report stated.
"While the Office of the Prosecutor notes a general improvement in the quality of the Croatian administrative investigation in terms of the manner in which interviews were conducted, the investigation falls short of providing a full account of the whereabouts of the requested documents. Key investigative avenues remain unexplored," the report said.
The Hague prosecutors have been asking Croatia for documents related to operation Storm, carried out by the Croatian military in August 1995. In Croatia, investigations are underway to find the documents or to establish whether they were destroyed.
For both countries, the EU's next steps will largely depend on how some EU member states - particularly the Netherlands and, in the case of Croatia, the UK – will view the report.