EU candidate Serbia misaligned with EU foreign policy, Commission says

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (L) at the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, 23 June 2020. . [EPA-EFE/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK /KREMLIN POOL]

In its annual report monitoring Serbia’s progress toward EU accession, the European Commission highlighted Belgrade’s significant misalignment with EU foreign and security policy.

The Commission published on Tuesday (19 October) its regular “Enlargement package’ reports, covering Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

The 135-page report on Serbia repeats in its various sections that the country is “moderately prepared” for EU membership. Regarding bilateral relations, it highlighted that Serbia’s relations with Montenegro have been marked by continued tensions.

“There were continued tensions in connection with issues and events linked to the Serbian Orthodox Church, leading to an increase in nationalistic rhetoric”, the report says.

The enthronement of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Joanikije II, at a monastery in the town of Cetinje has stirred divisions within Montenegro over ties with Serbia. Montenegro left its union with Serbia following a narrowly won independence referendum in 2006 but its church remained under the Serbian church.

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The enthronement of Joanikije II at a monastery in the town of Cetinje has stirred divisions …

“Serbia is moderately prepared in the area of common foreign, security and defence policy”, the report said, adding that “a number of Serbia’s actions were contrary to EU positions on foreign policy’.

In 2020, Serbia’s alignment rate with statements by the EU’s High Representative on foreign affairs on behalf of the EU and Council Decisions was 56%, the report said. In comparison, Albania and Montenegro were fully aligned, with North Macedonia at 96% and Bosnia and Herzegovina at 70%.

The Commission said Serbia has aligned with the EU’s Human Rights Sanction Regime but has not aligned with any of the listings adopted under the Regime. It explained that the country has aligned with “part” of the restrictive measures on Belarus, but has continued not to align with EU Declarations on Hong Kong and with sanctions against Russia.

In December 2020, Serbia voted against the United Nations General Assembly resolution on the militarisation of Crimea.

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Commenting on …

“Serbia needs, as a matter of priority, to make additional efforts regarding its alignment with the EU CFSP”, the report states.

Elsewhere, Serbia’s developing relations and strategic partnerships with Russia and China are highlighted.

“In February 2021, the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs {Leonid Slutskiy], listed on the EU sanctions list, was in Belgrade.  [More] […]In July 2021 the Serbian President [Aleksandar Vučić]  received the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation [Sergey Naryshkin], listed on the EU sanctions list”, the Commission report reads. [More]

It is mentioned that during his visit to Moscow in June 2021 the Serbian Minister of Defence Nebojša Stefanović assessed that the defence 126 cooperation between Serbia and Russia was “at a historic high”.

“Two-overhauled MIG-29 from Belarus were delivered to Serbia in April 2021. In June 2021, Serbia participated in the annual tripartite military drill with Russia and Belarus (“Slavic brotherhood”)” the Commission mentions, among other examples of cosy relations with Moscow and Minsk.

Ties with China are also highlighted, including the speech by President Vučić at a virtual ceremony marking 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

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In Geneva, in the context of the Conference on Disarmament, Serbia tends to align with all EU statements. However, at the UN in New York, however, Serbia often does not align with EU statements and sometimes supports positions at UN General Assembly First Committee that are opposed by the EU, the Commission notes.

The EU executive also expressed regret that Serbia didn’t take up an EU offer to include it in a mechanism that could strengthen Serbia’s resilience and response capacity to hybrid challenges. “Since the offer, no interaction has been taken place with Serbia on this matter”, the Commission says.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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