Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s visit to Serbia on 7 May was marked by the question as to why the accession negotiations process is stalled, with no chapters having opened more than a year after their official launch. As it emerged, Belgrade and Brussels have opposing views on the situation.
While Hahn talked about the need for Serbia to fully implement conditions, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i? insisted that his country had met the EU’s requirements, and that the first move mostly depends on Brussels. Economic difficulties, and Russia, were also on the agenda.
Vu?i? expressed Serbia’s commitment to EU integration, but criticized Brussels for not sufficiently recognizing progress made by Serbia.
During one of Hahn’s press conferences, the premier said that Serbia is ready for the opening of the negotiating chapters. Vu?i? made a point of emphasising that Serbia had done its homework regarding the current requirements for the normalization of relations with Priština.
Vu?i? also noted that there are some “informal conditions” creating obstacles, explaining that Serbia is expected to place a hydroelectric plant, and Lake Gazivode, under full control of Priština, adding that he will not allow that.
The Serbian Prime Minister also reiterated Belgrade’s position that the main shortcomings in the implementation of the so-called Brussels agreement with Pristina has to do with the creation of a community of Serbian municipalities. Serbia blames the situation on Pristina.
Vu?i? focused on the economic reforms undertaken by the government, including finalizing the privatization process and decreasing salaries and pensions in the public sector, in order to maintain macroeconomic stability.
“Serbia undertook the toughest measures in the region for improving the economy and represented the pillar of stability despite the difficult legacy,” from the past, Vu?i? stated.
Further efforts needed
Hahn, however, presented a different picture on several occasions.
While giving support to Serbia, and expressing the willingness of Brussels to open first chapters this year, if all conditions are met, Hahn said that it’s up to Serbia to ensure further progress, regarding both technical and political issues.
“We wait for the action plan, especially in the chapters 23 and 24, which was due last week, but wasn’t delivered because of the internal consultations. When we get the proposal, we will consider it,” he said.
Serbia’s ties with Russia were also mentioned. Hahn said that it is not “simple to explain to the interlocutors in the EU why Serbia participated on the parade in Moscow” to mark the 70th anniversary of the defeat of fascism.
Other issues can also be raised, as the 28 member countries have different priorities, from the rule of law, to human rights and media freedom.
At the beginning of the visit, Hahn also met Serbian ombudsman Saša Jankovi?, who is experiencing very turbulent relations with Belgrade, with information leaked to the media about the his private life, and criticism at the highest state level. Jankovi? is known for building the position ombudsman in Serbia, emphasising real independence and strong engagement.
When it comes to Serbia’s, Hahn commended Serbian authorities for reforms including improving macro-economic stability and plan for finalizing privatization.
“One of the main reasons why generating savings is so difficult in Serbia is the excessive influence of the state in the economy. The huge number of state-owned enterprises consume a large share of the budget,” Hahn said.