On Tuesday (28 April), German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reassured Serbia that there would be no new conditions for the candidate country’s progress toward EU membership. EURACTIV Serbia reports.
Steinmeier assured his Serbian hosts that Berlin supports the opening of the first chapters this year. Officially, the country started accession negotiations on 1 January 2014, but no chapters have been opened thus far.
Although expected, these messages are significant for Serbia. In early April, the public was puzzled by claims made by Foreign Minister Ivica Da?i? about alleged new conditions set by Berlin, and about a “policy of moving targets” which he called unacceptable.
“The claims about Germany setting new conditions for Serbia are absolutely not true. Germany, like the other EU states, is interested in Serbia opening the first chapters in this year,” in the membership negotiations with the EU, Steinmeier said after a meeting with Da?i?r.
Both Da?i? and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i? confirmed the positive tone of the talks, after their separate meetings with Steinmeier.
“While respecting everything that Serbia has done, Germany will be constructive in finding the best way for us to move forward in European integration,” Da?i? stated.
For his part, Vu?i? said after the meeting with Steinmeier that he was convinced Serbia would have Germany’s support on the path to the EU.
According to reports in the Belgrade media, Serbian President Tomislav Nikoli? was not optimistic regarding Steinmeier’s messages, in view of the fact that “he did not clearly say that the negotiating chapters would be opened by the end of the year”. Still, he added that Steinmeier told him that he believed that conditions for this would be created.
Problematic relations with Kosovo
Da?i? is reported to be worried about additional conditions for Serbia, referring to the implementation of the Brussels agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, and the establishment of regular relations with Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in 2008 without Belgrade’s consent.
In that sense, Serbia’s pre-accession negotiations are different than those with other countries. Chapter 35 – Other Issues, will be particularly important in the negotiations, as will chapters 23 and 24, about the judiciary and fundamental rights. It will have to be opened at the start of the negotiations, to remain open until the very end. The progress of negotiations as a whole will depend on progress in this chapter.
Asked by the reporters about the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, the German minister said that he “explicitly” commended Serbia for its contribution to the efforts towards the normalization of relations.
“There are several more open issues, but Serbia is not solely responsible for that,” Steinmeier said, expressing hope that the European Commission would contribute to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
According to Politika, the issue that Berlin objects to the most is about Belgrade maintaining that the forming of the Association of Serb Municipalities was very important, and yet it had not submitted even a draft of the statute of the Association, which would be the basis for negotiations.
Quoting diplomatic sources, the Danas newspaper reported that Steinmeier could convey a message to his hosts in Belgrade “about ‘the minimum of conditions’ from the Brussels agreement which should be fulfilled for the opening of the first chapters in Serbia’s pre-accession negotiations with the EU”.
Vu?i? said that Serbia was prepared for the opening of Chapters 23 and 24, coverning the rule of law and human rights, and Chapter 32, covering financial control.
“I hope and believe that we could open the first chapter in June, but that does not depend on us. Germany and other countries will be making this decision. The issue here is not our reforms, but the relations with Pristina, or Kosovo, as the European official say,” Vu?i? said.
According to Vu?i?, Serbia has shown that it wants agreements, and it will continue to, but “there are limits which cannot be crossed”.
“Serbia has not and will not recognize the independence of Kosovo. We will work hard on establishing rational and reasonable relations with those who think differently, through dialogue,” Vu?i? said.
An article in Germany’s Die Welt, published after the visit, contends that according to Steinmeier, Serbian authorities are ready to implement reforms, but that the attitudes regarding the situation in Ukraine are very different in Berlin and Belgrade, and that it represents a problem their relationship.
Da?i? doesn’t support sanctions on Russia, while Steinmeier supports arguments for keeping them, the article says.
“Relations better than ever”
The ministers of Serbia and Germany, and the Serbian premier, concluded that relations between Serbia and Germany were better than ever. Da?i? said that Germany was one of Serbia’s most important economic partners, with trade exceeding €3 billion.
Germany, he added, is a great investor and donor, with more than a billion euros invested in Serbia since 2000.
Steinmeir stated that great potential existed for economic cooperation between the two countries, and for increasing German investment in Serbia, commenting that the German companies which are already operating in Serbia were satisfied.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of a 1998-1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo was an international protectorate patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.
After Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, the two million-strong republic, 90% of whose population are ethnic Albanians, established many of the trappings of statehood, including a new constitution, army, national anthem, flag, passports, identity cards and an intelligence agency.
However, the Serbian-populated northern part of Kosovo (the area of Mitrovica) remains largely outside the control of Pristina.
Most EU countries, except Spain, Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia, have recognised the independence of Kosovo. Of all UN members, 110 have recognised Kosovo so far.
In December 2008, the EU deployed a rule of law mission, dubbed EULEX Kosovo, with the intention of taking over post-crisis management in the territory. The aim of the operation is to assist and support the Kosovo authorities with the rule of law, specifically regarding the police, the judiciary and customs.
The EULEX mission is the largest EU civilian mission ever launched. The 3,000-member operation has the power to take on cases that the local judiciary and police are unable to handle.