Prodi: democratic YU welcome in EU

BRUSSELS, Jun 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) European Commission President Romano Prodi told a Serbian opposition leader on Thursday that Yugoslavia would be welcome as an EU member once it had a democratic government in place.

"It is the regime in Belgrade and its policies which are continuing to deny the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia its place in Europe, a place to which it will be wholeheartedly welcomed once a democratic government is in place," Prodi was quoted in a statement as telling Zoran Djindjic, leader of Serbia's Democratic Party.

EU leaders, meeting in northern Portugal earlier this week, announced for the first time that states of the former Yugoslavia could one day join the bloc and encouraged opposition groups in Serbia to continue the struggle for a democratic Yugoslavia living in peace with its neighbors.

The EU statement also said Prodi promised Djindjic that "large-scale EU assistance", already on offer to Serbia's neighbors after last year's Kosovo conflict, "would be made available following democratic and economic reform and that appropriate preparations for that future should begin".

EU aid to rump Yugoslavia is currently limited to humanitarian aid and aid to civil society, as the bloc seeks to avoid helping Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The European Union executive body last month proposed the EU spend 5.5 billion euro in rebuilding the Balkans over the next five years. It proposed 2.3 billion euro be allocated for Serbia, but not be disbursed while Milosevic was still in power.

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