NOVEMBER 13 2009 17:38h
Berlusconi added that Serbian EU membership would help create a stable and long-lasting peace in the region.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi threw his weight behind Serbia's bid to join the European Union on Friday as he met with Serbian President Boris Tadic in Rome.
- We reaffirm our wish to have Serbia as a partner and as a member of the European Union - the Italian premier told reporters during a joint press conference with the Serbian head of state.
Berlusconi added that Serbian EU membership would help create "a stable and long-lasting peace in the region."
Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on November 5 that his country will apply to join the 27-member bloc this year, with a view to joining by 2014.
The move enjoys strong domestic support. A recent poll carried out by a Serbian think-tank shows almost two-thirds of Serbs want their country to join the European Union.
In April last year Serbia signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, the first step on the long road to membership.
But it has since been frozen by Brussels because of Belgrade's failure to arrest top war crimes suspect, Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic.
Serbia's membership bid needs the unanimous approval of all EU countries and the Netherlands insists they will not support the candidacy until Mladic is captured.
Mladic has been indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity by the UN war crimes court in the Hague for his role during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and is believed to be in hiding in Serbia.