Interview with Ivica Dacic, President of the Serbian Parliament
Where was Serbia in relation to its European trajectory before 2008?
Then as now, our desire and our will for an accelerated accession to the European Union were greater than what the EU allowed. Even today, we believe that we deserve to be much closer to full membership than our official status in the negotiations shows. Since the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, where the EU committed to accepting the Balkan states into membership, Serbia has constantly faced many political conditions, the fulfillment of which is necessary to take some steps towards membership. . In the past, for example, it was the regulation of relations with Montenegro, then the extradition of the remaining defendants to the Tribunal in The Hague, and the still topical question of Kosovo and Metohija. The political conditioning of our membership of the EU is a constant in our European journey. It is the same today for Kosovo and Metohija. However, we accept this and try to find a solution whether the packaging is fair or not. Joining the European Union is a strategic objective for Serbia and we will get there sooner or later. It is better if Serbia and the EU do this as soon as possible, but we cannot influence the behavior of the EU, and the speed of our accession depends on it. It is always a political decision.
Where is Serbia now and what are the challenges on the way to the EU?
As for the formal accession negotiations, we have opened 18 of the 35 negotiating chapters. A few days ago, on June 22, 2021, an Intergovernmental Conference was held in Luxembourg, during which a new negotiating methodology was formally presented and we are now continuing negotiations according to this new model. We are ready to open two clusters and we hope that this will be achieved under the Slovenian Presidency by the end of this year. We believe we have done a much better job than what can be seen in the formal result. We have always gone faster than the EU wanted to accept. Even when we applied for full membership in 2009, many warned us that we shouldn’t be doing this and we waited for candidate status for the next two and a half years. In general, our work to adapt to EU standards is constant. It includes all levels, from municipalities to government and ministries, as membership is our common strategic goal. Serbia is constantly changing and adapting to EU criteria because it is good for us to have a more efficient economy, more organized and stronger institutions. Whether this leads to results in the negotiations with the EU is not just up to us. Our European path has often been slowed down due to problems within the EU itself. Sometimes it’s the migrant crisis, sometimes Brexit, then elections to the European Parliament, or disagreements between influential members. Either way, Serbia could move much faster towards the EU, but this is often hindered by frequent obstacles and delays imposed by the other side.
What is the future of Serbia on the way to the EU?
If the criteria were only the negotiation of the chapters and the fulfillment of the membership conditions that were valid in each previous round of EU enlargement, I would be very optimistic about the possibility that Serbia will present itself very soon. at the gates of the EU. Unfortunately, this is not the case because the enlargement of the EU is above all a political decision of the members of the EU. As you know, one of our negotiating chapters, the last one, entitled “Other matters”. This is in fact the main political condition and it concerns Kosovo and Metohija. No new EU member has had such a political chapter so far, but that’s good. We have been engaged in a dialogue with Pristina for almost 10 years under the auspices of the EU and we are seeking a solution for Kosovo and Metohija which would be the result of compromise and bring long-term peace and stability. Sometimes it seems to me that only Serbia cares about this dialogue and its success. We never interrupted or postponed it. It was done by the other side. The dialogue has never ceased because of us, but often because of the EU.
How to balance the current foreign policy of Serbia with the foreign policy of the EU?
Our foreign policy is already largely harmonized with EU policy. I know this because I was also Minister of Foreign Affairs for six years. Nonetheless, there are some issues that our policy cannot match, for example with regard to sanctions against Russia. Serbia is a sovereign country. It is still not a member of the EU and has its own interests vis-à-vis Russia, which is a great trading partner, but also a friend. From the start, we saw the European sanctions against Russia as a bad decision and one that will have no effect and cannot be applied consistently. Every member of the EU, starting with Germany, is in one way or another violating the sanctions against Russia. It is not a coherent policy.
Why is Serbia important to the EU and vice versa?
I am mainly interested in why the European Union is important to Serbia and why we should become a member of the EU. In essence, Serbia has been a part of it for a long time. If we look at the most important aspect of integration, it is the economy. The EU is without doubt our biggest economic, trade and investment partner. About two-thirds of our economy is linked to European Union markets. By far the biggest investors in Serbia come from European countries. We are therefore fully integrated into European production and supply chains and this makes us an integral part of the European Economic Area. This would not be the case if there were no mutual interests. This is also why the European Union needs Serbia. On the other hand, Serbia is the largest and most influential country in the Western Balkans, the only region in Europe that has not yet been integrated into the EU. Our positive impact on stability and progress in the region is therefore crucial. I am not the only one to say it, the highest European and world officials say it too. Therefore, when it comes to the enlargement process – which is historically the European Union’s greatest achievement – unfinished business remains; and it is the integration of the Western Balkans.
How to meet the challenges of regional policy and how to strengthen relations with neighboring countries?
Relations with our neighbors are one of our foreign policy priorities with the EU, and we pay close attention to them. Serbia is the largest country in the region and has by far the strongest economy, but we don’t think that gives us the right to pressure anyone or abuse that position in any way. it would be. On the contrary. We see this as our obligation to make relations in the region as open as possible so that everyone can benefit from this openness. All of our surrounding neighbors are committed to the EU, but this process has gone on for too long and year after year people lose confidence that it will ever happen. We have therefore proposed various initiatives to strengthen our ties in the wake of the EU and remove all the barriers that are slowing down
our commerce and the movement of people. President VThe ucic initiative on the so-called “Mini Schengen”, which was immediately accepted by Albania and North Macedonia, is in fact a European model of open markets and borders that we want to establish. in the Balkans. We want to do everything we can before we even enter the EU. We don’t have to wait for this moment, there is a lot we can do on our own. In particular, to help fight the pandemic, when support is not coming from other sides, including the European Union.
Whabout Kosovo and Metohija?
We want to find a solution. We do not want the Kosovo and Metohija issue to remain under the status quo. Until there is a solution, the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija lives in fear for its safety and the security of its property, which is unsustainable. Our churches and monasteries are under constant pressure from the Albanians. Incidents are frequent, from the usurpation of ecclesiastical property to the degradation of churches and cemeteries. We want it to stop. That is why we have been patient and constructive in our dialogue, under the auspices of the EU, for an entire decade. However, I am not sure that everyone in this circle wants a solution to be found. For example, why has Pristina not fulfilled the only obligation it has contracted for eight years, that of forming the Community of Serbian Municipalities? I don’t think the EU, US and others are so powerless that they can’t influence compliance with this one obligation. Nevertheless, we are persistent and patient, we do not give up on dialogue and we do not leave the negotiating table, because we know that this is the only way to reach a solution. We understand that the solution may not be ideal for both sides, but it should give us space to build a future in peace, without attacks and without fear for security.