The EU’s position that the referendum in Catalonia is illegal and that its independence drive is an internal matter for Spain did not go down well in Serbia. In fact, it irked the Balkan country so much that at one point it considered sending an official letter to the Commission to demand clarification.
Julija Simić is the editor-in-chief of EURACTIV.rs.
Here is the gist of the matter.
While EU institutions and member states have now unequivocally rejected Catalonia’s independence, nine years ago the Brussels institutions and most member states had no qualms about recognising what Belgrade calls the unilaterally declared independence of its southern province of Kosovo.
It’s hardly surprising then that the bloc’s position on Catalonia was taken in Serbia as yet further evidence of the EU’s double standards and hypocrisy.
Brussels added fuel to the fire when a European Commission spokesperson said, clumsily in the opinion of some, that Catalonia and Kosovo were not comparable cases because Spain is an EU member state.
The statement prompted urgent consultations in Belgrade, after which Prime Minister Ana Brnabić announced that Serbia would send a letter to the European Commission with a number of questions regarding that position.
The letter was to be delivered by the prime minister herself during a scheduled visit to Brussels. Brnabić said at the time that, as a person strongly committed to European integration, she would insist on getting an answer to the question why the case of Kosovo was different from that of Catalonia, and whether international law applied to Serbia or not.
However, the initiative was soon dropped and the authorities in Belgrade, which hopes to join the EU in the next decade, explained that Spain had asked Serbia not to deliver the letter.
Spain is one of the five EU member states that have not recognised Kosovo, along with Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus and Greece.
The idea that Kosovo cannot be a special case is shared by Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, who said that what had been done to Serbia in 2008 was a violation of international law, just like Catalonia’s move was not in line with international law.
“We warned that it [Kosovo] was a ‘Pandora’s box’ that will not end only with Kosovo’s independence,” said Dačić, adding that the Kosovo example showed that unilateral moves were possible and that, in the end, it all boiled down to what the great powers want. The common belief in Serbia is that Washington and Brussels were the architects and advocates of Kosovo’s sovereignty.
After those remarks, the storm died down but President Aleksandar Vučić recently commented how hard it was for every Serb “to listen to the loud hypocrisy regarding the respect for Spain’s territorial integrity”.
Meanwhile, Madrid has brushed aside Catalonia’s independence and installed a caretaker to rule the region while Belgrade is launching an internal dialogue on what to do about Kosovo. The opposition says it will only be a “show” meant to provide an alibi for a decision someone has already made (to recognise Kosovo).
So far, the EU has refrained from demanding explicitly that Serbia recognise Kosovo before joining the EU. Instead, it stressed the need to see a ‘normalisation of relations’ in the region.
With Russia’s backing, Serbia has vowed never to accept Kosovo’s independence but, under pressure from Brussels, it has agreed to reopen dialogue with Pristina, restore transport and communications with the former province.
We’re waiting to see who will blink first – Brussels or Belgrade.
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