EU made enormous investment in Serbia

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Signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia ahead of the early parliamentary elections on 11 May was a bold act bythe EU, Goran Svilanovic told EURACTIV in an interview.

Goran Svilanovic represents the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights. From 2000-2004 he was the minister of foreign affairs of Serbia and Montenegro and president of the reformist Civic Alliance of Serbia. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

President Tadic received death threats ahead of the crucial elections. They should probably be taken seriously, especially recalling the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. How would you comment? 

I believe President Tadic is well taken care of by responsible officials and I would not have further comments. 

Was the signing of the SAA ahead of the elections a bold act on behalf of the EU or was it counterproductive? Maybe the EU’s timing could also have been better for other steps it took with Belgrade, since a pro-Western head of state must now account for the crimes of Milosevic. 

The EU has made an enormous financial and also a political investment in Serbia. Immediately after the changes in 2000, the EU adopted a policy of conditionality toward Serbia and over the last two years conditionality has been complemented by policies of inclusiveness and engagement. 

I ask the EU to be decisive in bringing every country from this region into a process. I see no better way to keep us busy than negotiations on concrete issues like police reform, judicial reform, economic reform, agriculture, environment and culture, too. 

This said, it is also very important for the EU to present a clear position that we can present to the people. There have been abrupt changes in EU policy at times, confusion about the rules of the game. The decision to sign the SAA was the right one and I think that President Tadic has done a good job by pushing it. Of course it might influence the election result, but I would say that under the circumstances in Serbia, every step forward, even every half of a step, is always welcome. We have no time to lose anymore. 

Has the EU gone wrong with the EU-Lex mission, since now it’s obvious that it will not replace UNMIK? How do you see the situation in Kosovo? Do the communities there have a chance of living together or will the whole project fall into pieces? 

I don’t think we Serbs have to get over the loss of Kosovo. We need to co-operate and to adjust to new realities. Kosovo was clearly lost long ago, in the 1990s if not before. Unfortunately, there’s no communication between EU-Lex and our government. EU-Lex is in a limbo and we should all try to find a solution. 

I believe that it would be good to have the same person heading both UNMIK and EU-Lex. If that is not possible, than there should be an UN envoy to coordinate between UNMIK and EU-Lex and help communicate between the government in Serbia and that in Kosovo. 

Also, we must continue to have negotiations. Serbia will call them status negotiations, while the Kosovo Albanians will certainly call them post-status negotiations. I don’t want to see again what happened recently in Mitrovica. These negotiations should address concrete issues: IDs, passports, travel, privatisation, energy and car licence plates. 

Even though the Serbian government says it will “never” recognise Kosovo, there has already been co-operation, for example on the Serbs in Kosovo. Note that they did not flee when independence was declared. Credit for this goes to the Serbian government, to the politicians in Kosovo, the European partners, NATO and UNMIK. 

Perhaps this co-operation will carry over into the local elections scheduled for May 11 2008. There hasn’t been a Kosovo Serb politician elected to any position in years. Now is the time to have local Serbs elected for local positions in Kosovo in a truly democratic procedure. We desperately need elected leadership, reliable partners in these communities. 

I don’t support a separate Serb assembly in Kosovo but there is room for Serbia to play a constructive role. This would be difficult for the Kosovo Government to accept but it is an opportunity to elect people. Kosovo is independent but it is not fully sovereign. The heads of EU-Lex and UNMIK have powers at least as strong as those of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia . This process is not yet completed. 

The only way to deal with this very complex situation is to bring everybody into the picture. That’s why I’m so strongly in favour of EU and NATO enlargement in the Western Balkans. 

Should the EU have attempted something more courageous to solve the visa problem? 

Well, absolutely. Not only to Serbs, but all other nations in the Balkans: Albanians, Montenegrins, Bosnians (of all kinds) and Macedonians. One cannot really explain the Schengen wall that builds fortress Europe. 

Visa liberalisation would be the best way to help not only democrats in Serbia but also a way to encourage others in the Balkans. The decision on visa facilitation was a step in the right direction, although a modest one. More encouraging is what is happening these days and it is a dialogue between Serbian government and EU officials on the roadmap for visa liberalisation. I hope to see results very soon. 

It looks like even after the elections, the situation will remain confused and it will take a long time before a government is formed. What are the risks involved? 

The worst possible outcome would be if the parties are not able to form a government and if they decide to go for a re-run. It is too early to say now whether this will happen, but there is a risk. 

There is a risk of seeing a nationalist government since such is the aim of Prime Minister Kostunica and his party and they will have a say after these elections again. He called for new elections deliberately to initiate a transfer of power in Serbia from the democratic bloc to one made up of nationalists and radicals, which would include his party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). This is his goal in this election. 

He’s frustrated with the break-up of Serbia and Montenegro and the loss of Kosovo – and blames the European Union for both. A nationalist-radicals coalition would be a kind of revenge, as well as probably the only way to keep his party and himself relevant. Still, I believe that we are going to end up with a democratic government in Serbia, though it might be a minority government. 

If that is a case, I would expect the EU to continue with the decisive policy of inclusiveness and engagement with Serbia as well as with the others in the region. Even if we end up with nationalists in power it might only slow down the process of integration with the EU but cannot prevent it – for it is genuinely in the best interests of Serbia and people understand and support it. 

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