Serbian minister: 'If Croatia can do it, we can do it'

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Serbia hopes that the next EU summit on 27-28 June will take a decision to start accession talks in October, Suzana Grubješić, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration of Serbia, told EurActiv Germany in an exclusive interview.

Suzana Grubješić graduated in 1986 from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade. From 1996 to 1997 she was the project manager of the European Movement in Serbia. She was a Member of Serbian Parliament with the G17 PLUS (EPP-affiliated) from 2003 to 2012. In 2012 she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration.

She spoke to EurActiv Germany’s Michael Kaczmarek

German officials have indicated that Chancellor Angela Merkel at the EU summit on June 28th will most probably take the position that the EU accession negotiations with Serbia start in 2014 at the earliest. Are you disappointed?

Nobody would be happy with such a decision. Delay would, definitely, not be a good message for Serbia and its government which, in ten months, has done more than anyone in Serbia, and outside, has expected.

After 12 years of patient support for the EU, Serbian citizens deserve this famous date for starting the accession negotiations, which is not a reward for the government or the politicians; it is a signal to the Serbian people.

Europe should stay true to its commitments. It would be very difficult to explain to the people why Serbia has been left out again. We still hope for a clear and precise decision that we can start EU accession negotiations with the first Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in October.

Obviously, some German officials seem to have some doubts that the April Agreement is implemented seriously and in time. Do you comprehend these doubts?

This agreement seems to be the most important thing in the world for everyone. There are really more topics in Serbia then the implementation of this agreement. To be clear, we are determined and ready to fulfill all articles of the implementation agreement but it takes two sides to do so. It should be clear that Kosovo authorities need to pass the amnesty law in their Parliament by mid-June before we can move on to judiciary and police issues.

Indeed, the implementation of the agreement includes the resolution of parallel police and juridical structures in Northern Kosovo. There is no common ground so far between two sides.

But why is there no common ground? Because the Kosovo authorities say that they do not need all Serbian policemen, despite the agreement. So, the Kosovo authorities have some objections to the new police structure, they have some objections to some of the judges. They need to adopt the laws in their Parliament in order to pursue the implementation.

We are doing our part of the agreement. We are doing everything that is feasible and realistic. Starting next week, we will cancel all double payments to police forces. So, I do not see any persuasive arguments against setting a date for EU accession negotiations with Serbia at the June summit.

The normalization of relations with Kosovo is a key issue in Serbia’s European integration process…

The normalization of relations with Kosovo, which is without doubt of high importance,   cannot be the only subject when evaluating Serbian European integration process. It seems that it is all about Kosovo and nothing else matters. Yes, after we have established full cooperation with The Hague Tribunal the issue of Kosovo has been put on the table as the key issue, but if EU integration process of Serbia means only Kosovo, than it is wrong in its substance.

What are the main arguments to convince Serbians to follow this long lasting and difficult path towards EU?

EU membership is the best option for us. We cannot afford to stay isolated. The idea of some political forces, which are in minority, that we should turn towards Russia, is not a real option. We are introducing substantial internal reforms. Not because Brussels requests them - they are more focused on resolving the Kosovo issue - but because our citizens are exhausted by the long-lasting and hard transition and they deserve and request changes for the better.

Despite all ups and downs, despite all resentments, the latest opinion polls show that 58% of Serbian population supports Serbia’s road towards EU. In many member states, for example in Germany, there is not such a huge support for the European project.

Croatia will join the EU on 1 July as 28th member. Is it motivating or frustrating to see Croatia to join the club without Serbia having even a date to start negotiations?

Croatia’s EU membership is a good message for the region. It proves that a country from the region can fulfill all necessary criteria to join the EU. If Croatia can do it, we can do it.

By the way, did you notice that this year the EU celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Thessaloniki agenda? That European Council was the first and the last high profile political gathering dedicated to the Western Balkans. Since then, it might seem that nobody cared about the progress made in the Western Balkans. In ten years time only Croatia managed to get through. All other countries are lagging behind, far behind.

Do you expect a push for Serbia’s EU negotiations from Croatia’s EU membership?

We will do what is necessary. According to European Commission’s last three or four annual reports Serbia’s administrative capacity to meet the accession criteria is better than in any other country in the region.

I think we will not have major technical or administrative problems. However, the process of normalization of relations with Kosovo will follow us until the very end. We are aware of that and we will not run away from resolving the problem. That’s why I think that the first agreement, they call it historical, is just the beginning.

The process of normalization will last. This was only the first agreement on normalization. We have many talks ahead of us regarding the property of the Serbs who were expelled from Kosovo, regarding the return of the Serbs, regarding churches and monasteries, regarding the property of the Republic of Serbia which invested heavily in Kosovo, etc.

So, there are more topics for discussions in the future. However, to put all the eggs in one basket now and to postpone the decision about Serbia would be wrong.

The European Union, especially the Eurozone, undergoes a profound and persistent crisis. Why do you still want to join the club?

Because there is still no better club, no better alternative. It’s as simple as that. We are very closely following the developments in Eurozone, since our economy is dependent on its condition. Whatever happens in Eurozone has effects on our economy.

However, we do see the tendencies of disintegration, a decrease of solidarity and European values. The current European project needs some re-adjustments in the future. Some academics in Serbia claim that EU will fall apart before Serbia ever joins it. I don’t think so. I think the EU will survive, but nobody knows in which form.

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