EU Policy towards Serbia still a Dead-End

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March 3rd, 2017 – Fort Russ News –

– Marina Kostic – translated by J. Harmon – 

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, visits Belgrade, Sarajevo, Pristina, Podgorica, Skopje and Tirana this week. Her visit takes place at a moment when the European Union needs to show that it is still a unique and present in this region, as well as to encourage internal political factors of the Balkans to make new compromises and concessions, both inside the countries, and between themselves. Countries in the region are at different stages of the internal political dynamics, election and post-election phases, which, however, will not significantly affect their attitude towards European integration. A review of this dynamism will be considered below.

Albania has held candidate status for membership in the EU since June 2014. In November last year, the European Commission recommended to the Member States to consider the opening of accession negotiations with Albania on condition that previously, before the next general elections this year, it adopts changes to the constitution that would allow the implementation of a comprehensive reform of the judiciary and the electoral law. Bearing in mind the comprehensiveness of this reforms, the opening of the negotiations with the EU will have to wait to be realized.

The Republic of Macedonia has candidate status since 2005, but the opening of negotiations is related primarily to the relationship with Greece, as a member of the Union, and since the 2015 with the implementation of Pržina Agreement, which was signed by representatives of the largest parliamentary parties brokered by the European Union and urgent reform priorities defined by the European Commission in June 2015. 

Early parliamentary elections, after the provisions of Pržina Agreement were fulfilled, took place on 11 December 2016, and reform priorities include the rule of law and fundamental rights, de-politicization of public administration, freedom of speech and reform of the electoral system. In addition, surveillance will be carried out in the areas of inter-ethnic dialogue and economic governance.

“The visit of Mogherini occurs at the moment when the new government of the Republic of Macedonia has not yet been formed and is expected that Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), after the leader of VMRO-DPMNE Nikola Gruevski failed to gather the necessary majority of votes, receives a formal mandate to form the new government. The establishment of a new government will depend on the support of the Albanian parties, which requires the adoption of a resolution which would condemn “the genocide against the Albanian people in Macedonia in the period 1912-1956”. 

Furthest in the European integration progress is Serbia and Montenegro, with which the European Union opened accession negotiations and a number of chapters. Montenegro, from the beginning of negotiations in June 2012, opened 26 out of 33 chapters, and formed a new government in November 2016. It can be expected that Montenegro will continue to progress towards the EU.

The first intergovernmental conference, which marked the start of negotiations, with Serbia was held on 21 January 2014 and since then Serbia has opened 8 out of 35 chapters, two of which will be opened shortly before the visit of a High representative to Belgrade. Serbia’s progress in the negotiations on all EU chapters are conditioned by the progress in the negotiations in the framework of Chapter 35 – “the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo*” – which was first opened together with Chapter 32 – Financial Control. That was stated in the common position of the European Union adopted on 30 November 2015. 

The opening of Chapter 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and 24 – Justice, freedom and security has been postponed due to Croatian reservations, and finally opened in July last year, after the Government of Serbia adopted the Action plan for realization of the rights of national minorities. Chapter 26 – Culture and education, also because of the Croatian blocking, will be opened, instead of December last year, today, on 27 February 2017, after the Annex to the Memorandum on cooperation in the field of publishing textbooks on language and letter of national minority was signed.

“There is no doubt that the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina will be a priority topic brought up by Mogherini with government officials in Belgrade and that Serbia would confirm its European commitment and insisting that Pristina facilitates the establishment of the Community of municipalities with a Serbian majority. Economic development and investment will continue to be the main message of Serbian officials after the visit.”

The visit of Mogherini to Sarajevo at this time may cause issues since it takes place in the midst of an institutional crisis over non-institutional application for review of the judgment of the International Court of Justice in the Hague case brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia for genocide, and a few months after the referendum on the Day of the Republic of Srpska [of Bosnia]. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a potential candidate for EU membership, and its candidacy for membership was submitted on 15 February 2016, after the 26 January of the same year, the Council of Ministers adopted the so-called mechanism of coordination and adaptation of the trade part of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. The mechanism of coordination means that they, on issues relating to EU “speak with one voice”, i.e. that they will achieve an efficient coordination of decision making between different institutions and levels of government. 

They established the joint bodies within the coordination mechanism for the effective exercise of the coordination process of European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Collegium for European Integration, Ministerial Conference, the Commission for European Integration, the sub-commissions for European integration and working groups for European integration. In light of the foregoing, the High Representative will continue to insist on the unity of Bosnia and Herzogovina and coordination of its policies in relation to the EU.

Finally, with regard to the provisional institutions in Pristina, the European Commission in 2005 adopted a document entitled “A European Future for Kosovo”, and in 2008, established the EU mission for the rule of law – EULEX. The EU Council of Ministers in 2008, noted the “Kosovo’s declaration of independence”, underlining its belief that it is a unique – sui generis – case. In 2009, the Commission adopted a document entitled “Kosovo – fulfilling its European perspective,” while in 2012 it launched a dialogue on visa liberalization. The so-called “Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo” entered into force on 1 April 2016.

Besides insisting on a greater fight against crime and corruption, and meeting the conditions for visa liberalization, the main message of Mogherini will certainly be in regard to the ratification of the Agreement on the demarcation with Montenegro from 2015, which, together with the demands for creation of the Community of municipalities with Serbian majority, was the reason for a number of violent opposition protests in Pristina last year. Since the Serbian representatives do not participate in Kosovo’s institutions, including the Parliament, because of dissatisfaction with the adoption of the Trepca Law and the failure to form the Community, one can expect pressure on them to return to Parliament and ensure ratification of the Demarcation Agreement with Montenegro that requires a two-thirds majority.

The creation of the Community will, no matter what Serbia has so far fulfilled from the Brussels dialogue, continue to be conditioned – this time by transforming the Kosovo Security Force into Kosovo Armed Forces and achieving equal status for the Albanians living in southern Serbia, in Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac municipalities.

The visit of Federica Mogherini to the region will not bring anything new. It will show that the EU continues to play the role of chief negotiator, conciliator and reformer of the internal policies and relations of the main political actors in the region. The policy of conditionality remains the main instrument and the power of the European Union in relation to the countries of the region. 

Countries in the region will, on the other hand, continue to express their strategic commitment to EU membership, as the best way to stabilization and prosperity of their societies, with an emphasis on economic development and investment, as a key priority of relations with the EU and other countries of the region and meeting other political criteria for the membership in this organization.

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