MP: Serbia will pursue efforts despite EU accession setback

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The postponing of Serbia's EU candidate status will not deter the country from pursuing further reforms, closer ties with the Union, and a resolution of the Kosovo issue, says Konstantin Samofalov, a Serbian member of Parliament from the leading Democratic Party.

Konstantin Samofalov is a member of the Serbian Parliament, member of the defense and security committee and member of the Serbian-German friendship delegation in Belgrade. He is the member of the Democratic Party, currently the most powerful in Serbia.

He spoke in Berlin to Ewald König and Mimoza Troni of EURACTIV Germany after the European Council's decision to postpone Serbia's candidate status.

What is your reaction to the decision of the European Council to postpone Serbia's candidate status?

For us it is important that we continue our integration process. What happened now in Brussels is difficult for us concerning the decision of the European Council. However we must not forget that despite this postponement, the fact that the European Council is discussing the Serbian candidacy means that we are closest to the EU in our history.

This is why we continue our efforts in pursuing the reforms as we believe that Serbia belongs to the European family of nations – politically, economically, geographically, culturally, historically, whatever you want.

Even if we were not able to join the EU, we would still pursue these policies as the EU standards are the best possible for us. And even if we were not about to join the EU we would still seek a conclusion to the Kosovo issue as it is endangering regional stability and security, and we believe it is essential that we solve this last remaining issue in the Western Balkans.

What is your commentary concerning [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel's position when she was in Belgrade recently and made the link between the Kosovo issue and Serbian EU membership? Wasn't it a shock for your country?

We may have certain disagreements on this issue, but we regard Germany as a great nation and a great country and despite some misunderstandings we will continue the best possible relations with Germany, and we hope that in February or March we might get better news.

On the other hand we believe that the news of the signing of the accession contract with Croatia and the granting of a conditional date for negotiations with Montenegro are very good news. We welcome them. Just as we welcome the Euro-Atlantic integration of all the countries of the whole region – Croatia, Albania as well as the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.

What role can the Serbian Parliament play in the process?

We are now in the process of building institutions that were ruined during the Miloševi? period. The Serbian Parliament is one of the oldest in the region with a great tradition. Unfortunately it was neglected under the authoritarian role of Miloševi? in the 1990s.

But now – after many years of very difficult work for us – we can say the Parliament is a bright spot in our political system. It has adopted the great majority of all necessary EU laws and some of them were significant.

I am talking about European standards for judicial reform which was a very difficult decision because of the general corruption levels in the Western Balkans region, problems with organised crime devastation in our region, then the law of restitution of nationalised property, very sensitive for any post-communist society. But we are proud for adopting this act of civilisation.

This was also adopted this year. And the reform of the electoral law because up to then we had "blank resignations" [letters held by party leadership which can force MPs to leave office at any time].

Now we have cancelled this blank resignation so the parliamentarians are free. Also we have changed the way they are elected. They are not elected any more in an alphabetic order after the elections. Now we have strict order on the list and the voters will know in advance whom they are voting for.

These are very important changes. Also what we have done in the defence area a professionalisation of the armed forces which is a very important decision. Generally, the reforms in the defence sector are probably some of the best ones we have.

Serbia is rapidly increasing its participation in peacekeeping operations in EU and UN frameworks. And we have pledged more than 500 troops for 2012. This way we want to help our partners in their fight against contemporary security threats and in preserving global stability.

So we have some successes and we will have a lot to do after the next elections.

But I believe that we have slowly built the Parliament as a serious institution. Not to mention Srebrenica with a very significant contribution from our side when we paid tribute to all the victims of the terrible atrocities, and all this happened in the last 12 months. So we did a good job.

In the report of the European Commission three conditions are mentioned. The key priority is to normalise relations with Kosovo and solve practical problems that are status-neutral. Will this be again a problem for the candidate status next spring?

You are talking about the representation of Priština as well.

Yes we are talking about the EULEX and KFOR mandate to be fulfilled and the implementation of the agreements that came out of the dialogue of Priština and Belgrade, and about normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo. How would you comment on that?

As I said, our interest is that we stabilise the region. We are fully committed to regional stability and security. It is important for us that one side does not lose everything and the other side gain everything.

These kinds of solutions are not sustainable in the long run. As for instance of the unilateral action of those special forces in Northern Kosovo this summer: That was something that didn't help.

We believe that only with dialogue we can reach a solution that leads us to a historic compromise between Serbians and Albanians. And I hope through this historic compromise we will be able to end all the hostilities.

The important thing is that Serbia will never wage a war again. We have clearly shown this through the activities of President Boris Tadi?, through his meetings with Croatian President Ivo Josipovi?, with the Turkish President Abdullah Gül and the head of Bosnian presidency, and through numerous reconciliatory acts such as his visit to Srebrenica and apologising to Croats on Croatian national TV in 2007.

So the only thing I can say is I hope that through a dialogue we can solve all the remaining issues. It is not easy but this is a conflict that has existed for a very long time and we cannot expect that this be solved overnight – like many other conflicts like that of the two Germanies, Northern Ireland, the Cyprus issue and many other examples in European history. So we need to be patient. The dialogue is the only legal way.

What can the Serbian government do in the next three months concerning the Kosovo issue?

We are fully committed to integration. EU membership remains the main foreign policy objective for us and the strategic priority for us. We would be seeking a solution in the Kosovo issue, a compromise between Serbs and Albanians because a frozen conflict is in nobody's interest.

I hope that we can find a way for regional representation for Priština. We want to find a solution where all of us from the region sit together and discuss the issues of interest. We are aware that organised crime and corruption can be solved only in close cooperation between all of us.

And we do not want to block the participation of Priština in regional initiatives. But on the other hand we cannot accept solutions that are against our national interests. We won't recognise Kosovo – neither explicitly nor implicitly. I repeat we cannot stick to a solution where the one side loses everything and the other side gains everything.

What kind of requests would you like to formulate for Germany or Brussels?

I hope that the EU will preserve the open-door policy and will not stop the enlargement process after Croatia. Because the whole Western Balkan region belongs to Europe and the EU will remain incomplete without the Western Balkans.

We will give our best to fulfil all the tasks that are required from us. But we are reforming our society ourselves and not because of anything else but because the European standards are the best ones for Serbians as a European society.

What would you expect from Croatians when their country becomes a member of the European Union?

First of all we are grateful as Croats gave us translations of all the things they have done in the integration process. This was very helpful and a very good example of how we can cooperate.

We fully support Croatia's accession and we fully believe that it will be very, very important for the whole region. I believe it will show the rest of Europe that the Balkan countries are adaptable, and Croatia in this case will make the first steps. Their future accession in 2013 is very good news for all of us.

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