Serbia’s accession to the EU in 2025 seems unrealistic, given its slow pace of progress, though not entirely impossible, civil society representatives have said but warned that neither Belgrade nor Brussels were trying very hard. EURACTIV Serbia reports.
Just over a year since the EU adopted a Strategy for the Western Balkans, which vaguely mentioned 2025 as a potential year of Serbia’s and Montenegro’s accession, the assessment is that all the objections listed in the Strategy – captured state, bilateral disputes and dysfunctional market economy – are still present in the region.
The February 2018 Strategy lists six initiatives for the Western Balkans related to strengthening the rule of law, increasing engagement in security and migration, strengthening support to socio-economic development, improving transport and energy connectivity, implementing a digital agenda for the region, and supporting reconciliation and good neighbourly relations.
“The year 2025 is not impossible, but is not too realistic at this time because neither side is trying too hard,” Srdjan Majstorović, president of the Belgrade-based European Policy Centre’s steering committee, told a meeting of civil society organisations that assessed the achievements of the past year.
Majstorović listed as obstacles to a faster accession the EU’s doubts about its own future and a lack of optimism and enthusiasm for serious social reforms across the Western Balkans, except in North Macedonia.
He said the Strategy had been “the best that could be got from Brussels at the time” and that it was a message to the Western Balkan citizens that they belonged in the EU, but also to the region’s governments to work harder on accession.
If Serbia wants to join the Union by 2025, it must close all chapters by December 2023, given the long process of ratification of the accession agreement in the European Parliament and the member states’ parliaments.
After five years of accession talks, Serbia has opened 16 negotiating chapters out of the total of 35, and provisionally closed two.
There is speculation in circles close to European integration in Belgrade that Serbia might open just one negotiating chapter, or even none, at the next intergovernmental conference in June, even though it has seven chapters that are technically ready.
The European Commission’s annual progress report for the Western Balkans, usually published in April, will be released later this year, because of the European elections in May, and will be another indicator of Serbia’s future progress.
Belgrade – Priština relations remain a key obstacle facing Serbia.
Serbia and Kosovo, its former province which declared independence in 2008, are engaged in EU-mediated negotiations on the normalisation of relations. Serbia, as well as a number of countries including Russia and five EU member states, does not recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Both countries must fully normalise ties before either could progress further en route to joining the EU. However, there has been no dialogue for months and Belgrade refuses to return to the negotiating table until Priština lifts its 100% tariffs on Serbian imports.
Nonetheless, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, voiced regret during a visit to Belgrade last week that the Belgrade – Priština dialogue was at an impasse but added that it was no reason to stop Serbia’s European integration process.
Without a comprehensive and legally binding agreement with Priština in place, Belgrade will not be able to close the negotiating chapter 35 and wrap up the accession talks.
Serbia’s European integration process is also slow due to a number of issues in the rule of law as well as those pertaining to foreign and security policy.
The latest data from ISAC Fund, a Serbian NGO, shows that in 2018, Serbia harmonised just 28 of the 54 foreign policy declarations the EU had unveiled and asked third partner states to harmonise with.
In that matter, Serbia is lagging behind other candidate countries and potential candidate countries in the region.
According to the ISAC Fund, Serbia is consistently keeping up the practice of non-harmonisation where the EU declarations are directly or indirectly related to Russia, Belgrade’s traditional ally. There were 16 such declarations in 2018.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]