By Ray Fleming

SERBIA has wanted to join the European Union for quite some time and is not without friends already in the EU to support its ambition.
Yet whatever strong economic and political arguments have been made in Serbia's favour they have met the obstacle of the existence of a single person -- General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who was personally responsible for the deaths of 7'000 men and boys at Srebenica in 1995 and of a further 10'000 people who lost their lives in Sarajevo.

The Serbian government has been told clearly that no progress would be made on EU membership while Mladic was still at large; this week, after 16 years, he has been apprehended in a remote Serbian village where the local population has been protecting him.

The president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, almost immediately began to talk about the prospect of formally applying for EU membership later this year.

His enthusiasm is understandable but first he has to be able to explain why Mladic is still regarded as a hero in Serbia with more than half of those polled saying that he should not be handed over to face a trial for genocide at the Hague.

Serbia also has problems with the now independent Kosovo, until recently an important Serbian province. The EU must be sure that Serbia is a reformed nation before inviting it in.