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Comment by Prof. dr Slobodan Zečević

The Mirage of the European Oasis

Serbia officially began EU accession negotiations in January 2014. Over the subsequent decade, 22 of the 35 accession negotiation chapters have been opened and only two have been closed. In contrast, Croatia opened and closed all negotiation chapters within six years. Serbia’s accession to the Union is thus proving to be a painstaking process, with an uncertain outcome

U accession has become an extremely technically complex process. A candidate country must meet strict criteria divided into six “clusters” containing 35 chapters. In Serbia’s case, Chapter 35 relates to the normalisation of relations with ethnic Albanian institutions in Kosovo. And this is insufficiently defined given that some EU member states view “normalisation” as recognising Kosovo independence.

We could be self-critical in defining the heart of the problem. At the end of the 20th century, the Serbian intellectual and political elite weren’t mature enough to prepare the nation for European integration processes. And misunderstanding of the fundamental need to join the EU still exists in Serbia. Having a democratic political system has been among the key conditions for membership since the European integration process began. Factors that cause a country to deviate in the integration process include the failure of democratic institutions to function, electoral engineering and government dominance over the media. The European Commission also regularly criticises Serbia for failing to align with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, noting that Serbia is among the few European countries that haven’t imposed economic sanctions on Russia, and the Serbian authorities respond by insisting that the country will harmonise with the CFSP at the moment of accession. Serbia has also been criticised over the lack of reform of the judiciary, which is seen as being overly dependent on the legislative and executive branches of government. This admonition was overcome with the constitutional reform conducted in the referendum of 16th January 2022.

From a geostrategic perspective, and viewed objectively, Serbia’s national interests have clashed with the foreign policy interests of the Western Alliance

In contrast, Serbia’s economic development has been positively evaluated by the Commission. This relates to the strengthening of the ability of Serbia’s economy to handle competitive pressure on the European market, into which it is largely integrated. Serbia is also praised for its GDP growth, low inflation and high foreign investments. With the abolishing of customs duties and the harmonising of domestic economic legislation with the EU acquis, Serbia has almost completely opened its market up to EU products and companies. In return, and as compensation, it has received modest development funds totalling just 200 million euros annually through pre-accession funds. This is almost 11 times less than the amount received by neighbouring EU member states, despite Serbia being in almost the same economic position. rom a geostrategic perspective, and viewed objectively, Serbia’s national interests have clashed with the foreign policy interests of the Western Alliance. Serbs are dissatisfied with the passive attitude towards respect for the human rights of Croatia’s Serbian minority and the problem of preserving the jurisdiction of Republika Srpska within Bosnia & Herzegovina, but also the disputed declarations of independence of Montenegro and Kosovo. The policy of the fragmentation or “Balkanisation” of the Serbian national space has contributed to instability and economic regression in the newly established states of the Western Balkans. Serbian citizens are increasingly convinced that the EU is placing unacceptable and deeply humiliating conditions on Serbia from the perspective of Serbian history, culture and civilisation.

The intertwining of all of these phenomena has contributed to the enduring “status quo” that doesn’t actually serve either side. Serbia is a European country and an integral part of European civilisation, while its economic and political role is crucial to the stability of the Balkans.

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