The EU accession framework is very clear, and where Serbia is, and what its priorities should be to move faster on its accession path, are very clearly and transparently communicated. That includes, in particular, reforms in the area of the rule of law, notably on media; on energy and environment; foreign policy alignment, and achieving progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue ~ Emanuele Giaufret
Europe Day – 9th May, provided yet another opportunity to convey to the citizens of Serbia the message that unanimity exists within the European Union that Serbia’s membership would benefit both Serbia and the EU itself.
In a period when enthusiasm for EU accession is faltering in Serbia itself, due to the seemingly endless membership negotiation process and messages from certain European leaders about the necessity for Belgrade to recognise the independence of Kosovo as a precondition to accelerate its accession, EU delegation head, ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, is convinced in a positive outcome. Responding to the question of whether it is realistic to suggest that Serbia will join the Union in 2030, which is being mentioned publicly as the year of accession, ambassador Giaufret says: “I know that Serbia will become a member of the European Union, but I will not comment on dates, because this does not depend on us – the European Union. This is mainly in the hands of Serbia”.
Your Excellency, you postponed all events that had been scheduled to commemorate Europe Day in May, as a show of solidarity with the citizens of Serbia in their mourning over the victims of two mass shootings. Had the circumstances been different, what would have been your message to the citizens of Serbia on 9th May?
Being partners means sharing both good and bad times, so when the tragic events happened to Serbia we felt it too, our hearts were with the victims, their families and the citizens of Serbia. It was only natural at the time to postpone all our planned celebrations and instead extend our solidarity and condolences for the victims and let people have time to mourn and grieve.
We know what Serbia will bring to the EU: creativity, ingenuity, hard work, beautiful nature and a rich history. We count on Serbia to contribute to making Europe a safer, stronger, more prosperous and sustainable place for current and future generations
Europe Day is usually what we call “the birthday of the European Union”. The Schuman Declaration was presented by then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on 9th May 1950. It proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community. Just a few years after World War II, our founding fathers launched the most ambitious peace project ever. The idea was that pooling together coal and steel production – industries that were essential to make weapons – would put an end to nations waging war against each other. The EU is today much more than that, but it remains a peace project and its key principles – democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law – remain at the core of our shared prosperity. Since the EU was created, war among its member states has become unthinkable. This is why last year – after Russia unleashed its full-scale aggression against Ukraine – countries like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova applied to join the European Union, as they know it is where they and their peoples can find freedom, security, democracy, prosperity and a better future.
The EU is a union of values that are enshrined in the Treaty on the European Union. As such, celebrating the birthday of the EU is much more than celebrating just a declaration dating back to 1950. It is a reminder of who we are and what we stand for; it is a reminder of our values and aspirations.
Europe Day is also a good occasion for the EU to remind Serbia and Serbian citizens that we want to see them joining the EU family. We know it is good for Serbia, but we know it is good for the EU too. The EU and all its member states have made that clear continuously and unanimously. We know what Serbia will bring to the EU: creativity, ingenuity, hard work, beautiful nature and a rich history. We count on Serbia to contribute to making Europe a safer, stronger, more prosperous and sustainable place for current and future generations.
This is why we are working so hard and investing so much political capital and financial resources to support Serbia’s EU accession. And there are already lots of benefits and opportunities for everyone in the course of the accession process itself.
This is why we also planned to launch a large campaign called “EU Opportunity week” to showcase all the programmes available to citizens in Serbia. From scientists, to innovators, farmers, students, entrepreneurs, artists – we have programmes available that can help you achieve progress and realise everyone’s potential. EU Opportunity Week, with a combined total of over 100 information sessions, will now take place from 20th to 27th June.
Numerous statements made by various officials over the past year, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, have suggested that the new reality in Europe includes “momentum for EU expansion” to encompass the Western Balkans and eastwards to Ukraine and Moldova. In what respect could this juncture be recognised by a citizen of Serbia?
These is indeed new momentum in EU enlargement. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has refocused the European Union on its fundamentals: securing peace and stability, providing mutual protection, protecting our freedom and democracy. In the EU, we recognise that: (1.) the aspirations of the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to join the EU are legitimate; but also (2.) that we are and we will be stronger together.
We work hard every day to prepare the accession of new members to the EU, and that of course includes Serbia. Over the course of a single year, European Council President Charles Michel came to Serbia and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen came for a second time, while several commissioners, MEPs and director generals also came. This is intended to advance the accession process and I hope that Serbian citizens recognise that.
Our close partners have also joined us in condemning the Russian aggression and imposing sanctions to stop Russia’s killing machine. We appreciate Serbia’s principled position in condemning the aggression and wish to see it take a step further by aligning with EU Foreign Policy. This would contribute to bringing an end to the war in Ukraine as soon as possible.
A group of Serbian political parties has broken away and unified on a platform called “Direction Europe”. Considering the circumstances in the EU and the procedures for accepting new members, what do you think of their assessment that Serbia could become an EU member state in 2030?
I know that Serbia will become a member of the European Union, but I will not comment on dates, because this does not depend on us – the European Union. This is mainly in the hands of Serbia.
Let me reiterate that we, in the EU and all member states, really want Serbia and all Western Balkan States to become members of the EU. That was once again reiterated unanimously in last December’s Tirana declaration.
EU support of 165 million euros enables Serbia to continue and expand its system of reducing energy bills for the most vulnerable in this difficult period. The Ministry of Energy told me that close to 70,000 families have already been granted this support, but it has the capacity to cover more than 190,000 families
But there can be no shortcut for Serbia compared to EU member states and other candidate countries. The EU accession framework is very clear, and where Serbia is and what its priorities to move faster on its accession path should be are very clearly and transparently communicated. This includes, in particular, reforms in the area of the rule of law, notably on media; on energy and the environment; foreign policy alignment and progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
This has not changed and we will continue to support all partners in achieving their goals, but progress on the path to Europe is merit-based.
From your perspective as EU ambassador, how do you see a possible epilogue to the situation in North Kosovo, resulting from the staging of local elections without the participation of Serbs, and the Pristina government’s refusal to launch the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities?
The unresolved issue of the return of Kosovo Serbs to Kosovo institutions in northern Kosovo remains a source of tension, particularly following the 23rd April byelections. It is clear that these elections did not offer a long-term political solution and they have the potential to lead to the escalation of tension and to undermine the implementation of the Agreement. The parties need to engage in a constructive dialogue that would pave the way for the sustainable return of Kosovo Serbs to Kosovo institutions, as well as implementing all the provisions of the new Agreement and all past Dialogue commitments.
Past obligations must be implemented and this includes the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities. At the High-Level meeting between President Vučić and Prime Minister Kurti, chaired by HRVP Borrell in Brussels on 2nd May, it was significant that the Management Team was able to present the first draft statute for the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities and PM Kurti also presented his vision for the Association/Community and self-management for Kosovo Serbs. The parties agreed to move the drafting process to the technical level and launch negotiations with the aim of finalising the draft as quickly as possible. This is an important development and we are encouraging both sides to remain engaged and constructive, despite the obvious differences between them on the issue.
You recently visited works on the construction of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad gas pipeline, to which the EU has donated 50 million euros. Apart from that gas connector with Bulgaria, what are the EU’s current infrastructure development priorities in Serbia?
Indeed, the Niš-Dimitrovgrad gas interconnector is a very important and strategic pipeline for Serbia, as it will reduce its energy dependency on Russia and will give Serbia access to gas from all over the world at competitive prices. In the field of energy, I can also quote the Trans-Balkan Electricity Corridor – which will improve energy connections between the Western Balkans and the EU and improve Serbia’s energy security. We are also modernising the Vlasina hydropower plant and supporting the construction of a wind farm in Kostolac.
I can also name several other major projects: one is certainly the new Belgrade-Niš railway line, which will enable train travel at speeds of up to 200km/h and will connect Belgrade and Niš in less that 1h 40m. The new Tirsova 2 children’s hospital in Belgrade is also under construction, with great financial support from the EU. Modernisation works on the Belgrade Emergency Centre and the VMA [Military Medical Academy] hospital will also start soon, as part of the long list of crucial public buildings in Belgrade that will be more modern and energy efficient.
These are, of course, just a few examples. The EU is active with well over 300 projects across Serbia. A total of 1.1 billion euros has been approved for future EU projects in Serbia. All this will materialise in the form of better public transport, improved public administration, energy projects, support for NGOs, new equipment for businesses, the procuring of vehicles and equipment for the healthcare sector and many more areas, topics and projects.
Since the start of the energy crisis resulting from the conflict in Ukraine, the EU has also donated 165 million euros in support of the Serbian energy system and citizens. Are you satisfied with the way that funding has been utilised?
Yes. This support package from the EU is intended to directly support vulnerable citizens and small and medium-sized enterprises and I am very glad that we are managing to make it happen so quickly and efficiently. In essence, this EU support of 165 million euros enables Serbia to continue and expand its system of reducing energy bills for the most vulnerable in this difficult period.
This requires a procedure from families to apply for this and I think we got off to a good start in terms of the utilisation of funds. The Ministry of Energy told me that close to 70,000 families have already been granted this support, but it has the capacity to cover more than 190,000 families. This is why we have launched a campaign, together with the Ministry of Energy, to further optimise and spread the word to those who are eligible for reduced energy bills.
If you visit the website www.zajednozaenergiju. rs, in less than a minute you can check whether you are eligible to benefit from energy bill cuts, while the website also explains how to access those reductions.
Serbian citizens are concerned about mining projects; about announcements on the establishing of new mines in the search for alternative energy sources, which are presented as part of the European Green Deal. Could the fact that Serbia has opened negotiations on Chapter 27, pertaining to ecology, serve to guarantee that environmental pollution will not be tolerated?
Protecting the environment and biodiversity, reducing pollution and fighting climate change represent the World’s biggest challenge of our times, and it is good that citizens engage in and debate these topics.
The EU has committed itself to becoming a climate neutral continent by 2050 and has the world’s highest environmental standards. We are committed to supporting Serbia and all other WB partners in advancing their green transition, in particular through the Green Agenda for the WB that has been agreed by the region’s leaders
The EU has committed itself to becoming a climate neutral continent by 2050 and has the world’s highest environmental standards. We are committed to supporting Serbia and all other Western Balkan partners in advancing their green transition, in particular through the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans that has been agreed by the region’s leaders. It is up to the national governments to make decisions on industrial projects and economic opportunities. Regardless, the EU expects candidate countries to base such decisions on the applicable regulatory framework and practices aligned with the EU’s highest environmental rules, including on waste and water management and public participation in the decision-making process. EU integration is one of the best tools for applying high environmental standards.
You recently visited Kladovo to open the reconstructed Fetislam Fortress. Which other sites are on the list of EU investment priorities for the reconstruction and protection of cultural and historical heritage?
The EU attaches great importance to cultural heritage. Europe has a rich history and the cultural heritage and diversity of its peoples are what makes our continent so beautiful and interesting. Cultural heritage is a direct link with our past, our history, our values. At the same time, cultural heritage is a bridge towards the next generations – we can use it to lay the foundations for a better future and more tolerant societies.
The EU’s assistance on Serbia’s cultural heritage is substantial. We supported the preservation and reconstruction of numerous Serbian cultural heritage sites, such as the fortresses of Golubac, Fetislam and Bač, the Subotica synagogue, Jablanica church, to name just a few. And several other important heritage sites are being reconstructed, for instance investments in a new visitor centre at the Felix Romuliana archaeological site near Zaječar or a new roof for the King’s winery in Topola, infrastructure works at the Rajac and Rogljevac pimnice wine cellars near Negotin, reconstruction of Mokranjac museum in Negotin, as well as some archaeological works still ongoing at Golubac Fortress, to mention just a few.
These activities not only preserve cultural heritage, but also enhance Serbia’s overall tourism offer and thus create jobs. We hear that 200,000 visitors have been visiting Golubac Fortress annually since it has been reconstructed.
You launched the media campaign “We care about Europe; we care about Serbia and its citizens – We are better together” two months ago. You stated at the time that you want to emphasise to citizens that, apart from important political issues, you actually care about the same things they do: successful agriculture, empowering companies, the environment, ensuring better air quality etc. Are you satisfied with the impact of this campaign?
Yes – we have heard lots of positive things during the “We Care Campaign”. We – ambassadors – may not be the most glamourous people in Serbia, but with my colleagues we wanted to convey an emotional message from the EU and its member states to the people of Serbia: “We Care for Europe; we care for Serbia and for its citizens”. This is why we work collectively with Serbia so much to make accession happen. We know we are stronger together.
The campaign saw all of us travel throughout the country, meeting some of the beneficiaries of all kind of projects and sectors and showing the great impact that we are achieving in the areas of agriculture, the environment, cultural heritage, education and social inclusion. I hope that we showed people that we indeed care; that we are sincere; and that these are not only words, but rather are backed by real action that changes people’s life for the better.
This includes, in particular, reforms in the area of the rule of law, notably on media; on energy and the environment; foreign policy alignment and progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue
The parties need to engage in a constructive dialogue that would pave the way for the sustainable return of Kosovo Serbs to Kosovo institutions, as well as implementing all the provisions of the new Agreement and all past Dialogue commitments
The EU is active with well over 300 projects across Serbia. A total of 1.1 billion euros has been approved for future EU projects in Serbia
Please note this interview was conducted 27th May