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Serbia towards EU accession, but the road is still long. Janijic: need for deep reforms

The Commission in Brussels has just announced that Belgrade’s EU accession date could be in 2025. This possibility must be confirmed by significant progress in the negotiations. The founder of the European Movement in Serbia analyzed the situation for SIR, highlighting the major problems that lie ahead, at national and external level, including the relations with Kosovo and Croatia. He remarked: EU27 owes a debt to the region

Incontro tra il presidente serbo Aleksandar Vucic e la presidente della Croazia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

“The European Union owes a debt to Western Balkan countries. In fact in the past five years European Countries have had different opinions on adhesion; as a result the Balkans were not only marginalized, it also appeared that in Western Europe nobody was interested in this region’s developments”, declared Dusan Janijic, political analyst of the Inter-Ethnic Relations Forum, founder of the European Movement in Belgrade.

A pro-European majority, for the time being… Janijic told SIR that “thorny issues and divisions involving Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina have remained unsolved” since the 1990s conflict. “Corruption is widespread, and this is all happening in the face of European representatives unable to find the appropriate ways to help these societies.” “For this reason – the expert said – common people see a divide separating EU values and the practical execution of European policies.” Janjic strongly belives that Serbia’s future is inside the EU; the same view is shared by 52% of the Serbian population, as seen in the latest survey conducted by the Minister for European integration. Trends show a slight increase compared to the previous survey of July 2017, yet nothing like the enthusiasm of 2014, when Belgrade officially opened accession negotiations. At the time, the Country’s European future was supported by 73% of the overall population.

Influence of Russia and China. The Serbian political analyst pointed out that “apart from the government coalition led by the centre-right progressive Party, many other political leaders and intellectuals oppose European integration.” “There are also anti-Europeans inside the same executive, while a substantial part of society (24% according to the recent survey) believes that Belgrade should lean towards Russia and China or remain everyone’s partner”, Janjic said. In his opinion, in this moment

“national authorities should put more emphasis on European integration” ,

highlighting “its importance for Serbia.” In fact there have been many declarations since the opening of negotiations but very little progress was made.

2025 target. To date Serbia has opened 12 of 35 accession chapters, two of which have been closed. “The President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker gave 2025 as an indicative date for Serbia’s EU accession”, as he declared in Strasbourg last week, “but I don’t think we will be ready by then”, pointed out the political analyst. An important factor in his opinion is “to prevent a strong Russian influence in the Country, that is strongly felt in public life, in the media and in business.”

Weak spots. For Janjic, the main problems in Serbia, requiring rapid and efficient solutions, involve “the rule of law, the judiciary that is currently under the control of political leaders, and the economic sector’s privatization that is yet incomplete.” The main companies are public and are poorly run by the State.” Moreover, “private property is marked by insufficient guarantees and that is why entrepreneurs are unwilling to develop large-scale projects.” Dusan Janijic underlined the strong influence of organized crime throughout Serbian society: “In Belgrade every day there is shooting in the streets between the members of the various gangs”

Difficult relations with Pristina. Kosovo – the self-proclaimed independent province that Serbia does not recognize yet – remains a crucial issue, while Brussels views the dialogue with Pristina, capital of Kosovo, as a priority. “Even though many people disagree, the path is to accept Kosovo as an independent State”, Janjic said, in the belief that “the EU should intervene to ensure that Kosovo’s authorities respect European rules.” An “appalling” example in this regard was the murder of the leader of the Serbs in Kosovo Oliver Ivanovic, that has left a strong repercussion in the Balkans. “If the murderer and the instigators should not be identified soon, other destabilising incidents will follow, more murders and more ethnically-motivated clashes”, envisages the Serbian political analyst.

“In the Balkans there are many groups that foment ethnic divisions, and these incidents play into their hands”, he said.

“That’s why – he concluded – the region needs strong political support by the USA and by the EU, to prevent nationalist movements and criminal groups from taking control of this area.”

From Belgrade to Zagreb. The Kosovo-question is not the only issue at stake, also the relations with other countries in the region are delicate. It is no coincidence that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic just visited Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. The two Countries have been dragging on tense relations since the war, with many unhealed wounds. The two leaders spoke of peace and cooperation, economy, borders, immigration, minority rights. Moreover, Belgrade’s EU accession will require the favourable vote of the Balkan Countries that are already EU member States, namely Croatia and Slovenia, with the important support of Bulgaria, currently at the helm of the EU’s six-month rotating Presidency.

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