European Union questions effectiveness of sanctions on Serbia

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The Independent Online

The European Union, increasingly skeptical about the effectiveness of sanctions against Serbia, conducted a review of the 15-nation bloc's policy toward Belgrade Sunday, three weeks before national elections.

The European Union, increasingly skeptical about the effectiveness of sanctions against Serbia, conducted a review of the 15-nation bloc's policy toward Belgrade Sunday, three weeks before national elections.

France, current president of the EU, is among the leading countries pushing for an end to the sanctions, imposed more than a year ago during the Kosovo war. The French and a number of other EU nations believe the sanctions have failed to isolate President Slobodan Milosevic and are alienating ordinary Serbs.

Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark are among those hesitant to ease the sanctions, one of the few weapons the EU can wield against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. National elections are scheduled for Sept. 24.

EU foreign ministers are focusing on the issue during an informal meeting over the weekend at this resort town on Lake Geneva.

"Several of the instruments put in place have been ineffective, if not counterproductive, such as our sanctions mechanism..." French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told fellow ministers in a pre-meeting letter.

"It will be indispensable to evaluate our policy on the eve of the very important elections in the region."

The foreign ministers, at their last meeting in July, already began to loosen the noose, agreeing to a temporary suspension on a ban against commercial flights between Yugoslavia and the 15 EU nations. They also added 50 firms to the "white list" of 190 Serbian companies exempted from EU financial sanctions.

On Saturday, the ministers, keen not to upset the fragile Middle East peace process, skirted the question of a declaration of independence by the Palestinian leadership, settling for a pledge to push both sides toward a deal.

"We all agree now is the time to achieve real peace," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said as he and his 14 EU colleagues debated the EU role in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The Palestinians had originally said they would declare a state on Sept. 13, the target date they and the Israelis set for completing a peace treaty. Most officials here believe Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will postpone the declaration to give the negotiations a little more time - but they won't say so on the record.

Fischer said the EU's March 1999 statement acknowledging the inevitability of statehood for the Palestinians speaks for itself. What is left to be sorted out, he said, "are the conditions to achieve that."

Peace talks held at Camp David collapsed in July over the delicate question of Jerusalem. The Palestinians want sovereignty over all of traditionally Arab East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has said he is willing to considering an extension of Palestinian control over parts of East Jerusalem.

At their informal meeting here, the ministers also began a study of how to organize the EU's many foreign policy tools. Officials agree that the EU could and should be a more formidable foreign policy force, but that the profusion of EU efforts and bilateral efforts by member nations often make efforts inefficient.

The result often is less than desired political impact and delayed aid.

"We have to shorten the time between the promise of aid and its implementation," said Fischer. Delivering emergency aid can take as much as 18 months, he said. "In that case, we can hardly talk of 'emergency aid."'

Ministers are looking ways to organize this information as well as how to coordinate strategic European action in specific regions, such as the Balkans.

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