Varied views as Serbia begins EU accession talks

Serbian leaders arrived in Brussels on January 21 2014 for the start of the country’s European Union accession talks, but while there were words of welcome and optimism, it also remained clear that the process will be long and complex.

It was in June 2013 that the European Council decided in favour of opening accession negotiations with Serbia, with the EU general affairs council adopting on December 17 the negotiating framework for Serbia’s negotiations and naming January 21 as the start of talks.

On December 23, the European Commission adopted a national programme for Serbia granting 178.7 million euro to assist the country in making reforms in areas such as public administration, transport, energy, environment and agriculture.

On January 21, European Commission President Jose Barroso, speaking at the arrival of Serbian prime minister Ivica Dačić and deputy prime minister Aleksandar Vučić said that the day of the opening of Serbia’s EU accession negotiations “is the start of an entirely new chapter in our relations and a major success”.

“I commend Serbia for its reform efforts and for the progress made over the past years. The citizens of Serbia have strong European aspirations, and we will continue to support Serbia to make progress, step by step, on its European path,” said Barroso, against a background of polls showing that two-thirds of Serbians favour EU accession.

Barroso expressed appreciation for the “courageous and consistent efforts” made by the Serbian government in the past months in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo before and after the historic April Agreement.

But Barroso also underlined the challenges for Serbia ahead on its European path, in the key areas of rule of law, including the reform of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and against organised crime, public administration reform, independence of key institutions, media freedom, anti-discrimination and protection of minorities.

The negotiating framework adopted by the European Council in December particularly focuses on the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights, and on justice, freedom and security, as well as the issue of normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said that Serbia was taking another important step on its path to the European Union.

“Today we made a symbolic start, at the highest political level, to the practical negotiations of individual chapters that will follow in the months and years to come.”

But, Füle added, starting negotiations means entering a very demanding phase. Hard work will be needed, many challenges lie ahead, he said.

First, according to Füle, Belgrade will need to remain fully committed to the normalisation of relations with Pristina and continue to deliver on implementation of all dialogue agreements.

Second, he said , reforms need to be finalised and the alignment with the EU acquis pursued. Of particular importance are the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and on justice, freedom and security which will firmly anchor reforms in the area of rule of law.

“I believe in the determination of the Serbian leadership to work hard throughout the negotiations in an inclusive way, involving the parliament and civil society and building on wide national consensus. Because the accession negotiations are transformative – changing key features of Serbian society and its economy,” Füle said.

“I am confident that with such a strong commitment to the European Union agenda and the broad support of its people, Serbia will rise to the challenge of accession negotiations and will set an inspiring example in the Western Balkans,” he said.

Ahead of the January 21 meeting in Brussels, Dačić told Serbian television that he did not expect new requirements for Serbia’s accession to the EU to be set in Chapter 35 of the negotiations, which refers to Kosovo.

Joining the EU is Serbia’s strategic goal, Dačić noted, but could not specify which chapter would be opened first in the talks.

It could be chapters 23 and 24, which refer to human rights, justice and security, but Chapter 35 or, as in the case of some countries, Chapter 32, which concerns financial control, could be addressed first as well.

The topic of which chapter should be opened first will be discussed at the second conference on July 25, he said.

Serbia got the start date for the talks mostly because of the progress in building normal relations with Priština and results in its efforts against crime and corruption, Dačić emphasised, as quoted on Serbia’s B92 website.

Meanwhile, from neighbouring Croatia came a sharp note from prime minister Zoran Milanovice, who criticised the EU for starting negotiations with Serbia while this process had not started for Albania.

Milanovic said this in Tirana on January 20 at a news conference with his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama during an official visit to Albania, the Independent Balkan News Agency reported. Milanovic said that Albania is still a country which faces obstacles in its path toward European integration and added: “Some of them are subjective, that Albania must change, but some are not fair toward Albania”.

Milanovic issued an assurance that Croatia’s supports Albania’s EU candidacy, as it has supported Serbia.

I don’t think it’s fair for Serbia to start its negotiations for accession, something which we have supported, whilst Albania has not yet started its negotiations. Therefore, we believe that Albania and other countries of the region, must be granted EU candidate status and launch negotiations with the EU,” Milanovic said.

In an opinion piece posted on the Deutsche Welle website on the eve of the opening of Serbia’s EU accession negotiations, Dragoslav Dedovic explored the complexities in relations between Germany and Serbia.

“The current level of bilateral relations between Germany and Serbia will not suffice for the end phase of the EU negotiations. In the coming years, the reserved language and occasional publicly celebrated resurrection of “ugly Germany” image in the Serbia media will have to be replaced with an honest partnership and a sensitive approach,” Dedovic said.

The time has come to shed mutual mistrust. Because although the accession negotiations will technically be handled by Brussels, Belgrade’s political road to EU membership leads to a great extent through enlargement-weary Berlin,” he said.

(Photo: EC Audiovisual Service)



The Sofia Globe staff

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