EU leaders formally made Serbia a candidate for membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday night, rewarding Belgrade for years of political reform and improvements in relations with Kosovo, a former Serbian province, as well as Belgrade's efforts to come to terms with its past by catching war crimes suspects.
Turkey, which once angered Serbia by becoming one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo as an independent state in 2008, later expanded its ties with Belgrade and led diplomatic efforts for better ties with its Balkan neighbors. “Turkey attributes special significance to its relations with Serbia, which it sees as a key country in the Balkans and considers a neighbor, and strongly supports Serbia's Euro-Atlantic orientation,” a statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry late on Saturday said.
It also revealed that Turkish President Abdullah Gül has phoned his Serbian counterpart, Boris Tadic, to congratulate him on the breakthrough.
Candidate status is an initial step on the road to EU membership and Serbia will still probably have to wait about a year to open actual accession negotiations, which can then drag on for several years. But Friday's announcement still marks a turnaround for Serbia, once seen as the pariah of the Balkans for its central role in wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic.
The Balkan country spent much of the 1990s ostracized and isolated from the EU after Milosevic started the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia to prevent a crackdown on ethnic Albanians.
Serbia had been widely expected to get EU candidacy in December after it captured two top war crimes suspects, but was disappointed when Germany delayed the move, saying it wanted to see more progress in talks with Kosovo.