What lies ahead. Serbia has started formal accession talks with the EU

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. Kosovo is the obvious challenge for Serbia, but if we forget Kosovo for a second, what are the other biggest challenges Belgrade may face during the negotiations?

2. And back to Kosovo, if I may. How important in terms of finding the solution between Belgrade and Pristina is the fact that Serbia begins the accession negations?

Answers:

Natasha WunschAssociate Fellow, German Council on Foreign Relations

1. The biggest general challenge for Serbia besides Kosovo is implementing adopted reforms. This will be particularly closely scrutinized in chapters 23 and 24, where failure to progress can halt the entire accession process. Whereas Serbia has the administrative capacities to adopt required EU legislation and institutional adjustments, areas such as corruption and security sector reform require active participation of all parties involved, some of which have little individual incentive to give up their privileges. Given the close focus of the EU on implementation, there will be pressure to move in this field, and Serbia will need to demonstrate more than political goodwill to put reforms in place.

2. Beginning accession talks is a huge incentive for Serbia to keep the ball rolling in the ongoing dialogue with Pristina. Progress over the last year has been impressive, but the continuing implementation of the partial agreements reached will be crucial in order to avoid any stalling in Serbia’s accession process. The big question of recognition should be posed only right at the end of the process, but it will be looming over Serbian politicians all along, and they will need to think hard about how to communicate the eventually unavoidable change in Serbia’s Kosovo policy to their citizens.

Marko Kovačević, Teaching Associate and PhD student, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade

1. The biggest challenges for Serbia in the negotiations, in my view, are the negotiating chapters 23 and 24. Namely, it is judiciary and fundamental rights, as well as the interior aspects of security. There has been some initial success in those reforms, but those two chapters are something that Serbia has to tackle from early on in the negotiating process, which is the position the Government has taken. Fighting systemic corruption and the capability of state administration is probably the task that will say much about the ability of the state to accept other EU standards. However, it seems that there is this critical amount political will and readiness to continue with reforming both state and society in the years ahead.

2. Prime Minister Dacic told that he does not expect new EU conditions to be imposed on Serbia when it comes to the relations with Kosovo. The Belgrade-Pristina negotiations shall continue, but the general EU conditionality policy on the Kosovo dimension of Serbia’s accession is regulated by the newly established Chapter 35, where it is provided that it’s a bilateral EU-Serbia matter, with no involvement of the third side.

Dušan ReljićHead of Brussels Office, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, German Institute for International and Security Affairs

1. I do not think that there are any challenges during the negotiations because actually no negotiations take place. Candidate countries have to prove that they have assimilated the legal framework of the EU and that they are implementing it. They can ask for delays in some fields if they want to protect their industry or cannot cope with EU’s environmental rules. But that’s all.

The real challenge for all EU membership candidate countries in southeast Europe, including Serbia, is how to catch up in terms of economic and social development with the EU average. Most of the countries have not yet reached the GDP levels that they had before the wars in the 1990s. Their hope was that by aligning themselves strongly with the EU, they would increase the speed of their economic development. However, since 2009, there has been no or little economic growth in the region. Last year, Croatia joined the EU with more than 10 percent drop in GDP in comparison to what it had in 2009. The reason is that the economic and financial crises in the EU was exported to its periphery: through a lower demand in trade (and all countries in former Yugoslavia, including Serbia, have about 2/3 of their foreign trade with the EU, to be more precise, with Germany and Italy, and then come less relevant countries such as Austria, Hungary or Greece), through far less investments from the EU, through a withdrawal of banking funds from the EU in the so-called Western Balkans (about 90 percent of the bank capital in the region belongs to a small number of banks from Italy, Germany, Greece and Austria) and through less remittances from migrant workers in the EU.

At the moment, I do not see the chance for Serbia and the other countries in the region to boost their economic and social development to a level that will offer optimistic perspectives to the population in the next five to ten years. This is something that the European Commission and the governments of the EU countries have not yet really considered.

2. Several EU countries that have most importance, such as Germany, France and the UK, have made it clear that they will condition every step forward for Serbia with further normalisation in the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina. However, this is an open ended process not only Serbia will probably for a long time resist to recognise Kosovo’s secession and will have the support of Russia and China in the UN Security Council to prevent Pristina’s bid for UN membership. Equally important is that several EU countries, such as Spain and Cyprus, and to a lesser extent Greece, Romania and Slovakia, for their own political interest, must resist unilateral secessions. Therefore, a lot of “constructive ambiguity”, as some EC diplomats say, will be required to manage further Serbia’s and, indeed, Pristina’s, relationship towards each other and in the triangle with the EU.

Davide DentiPhD student, School of International Studies, University of Trento, Editor for East Journal

1. Serbia will start the negotiations with some of the toughest accession chapters, including #23 (judicial and fundamental rights) and #24 (Justice, freedom and security), according to the new negotiating strategy that the European Commission has put in place after the lessons of Croatia: no double standards but starting to tckle the most difficult issues from the beginning. These are also, together with environment, agriculture, and financial control, the accession chapters for which the Commission foresaw that major efforts are needed by Serbia to bring its legislation and practices in line with the EU acquis and standards. Negotiating in these chapters will require Serbia to engage in deep reforms of its justice system and apparatus, including the fight against corruption and organised crime, and the protection of human rights (some noteworthy cases concerning Serbia may be found in the ECHR country factsheet) and may include issues such as the meaningful protection of freedom of expression for minorities (e.g. the Belgrade Pride issue).

2. Starting accession negotiations is the expected and deserved reward that Serbia cashes in, for its engagement in the bilateral dialogue leading to the April 2013 Normalisation agreement and to the elections in North Kosovo in November and for having fulfilled all others relevant conditions put forward by the European Commission, including full cooperation with the ICTY. Not rewarding Serbia, after already six months of delay, would have sent to Belgrade the message that the EU is not serious in its approach. The two processes, accession negotiations and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, reinforce each other, as the EU will keep track of the implementation of the normalisation agreement with Kosovo during the accession negotiation process.

Florian BieberProfessor of Southeast European Studies, Director, Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz

1. As elsewhere, the rule of law is going to be a key issue. It has become the central topic of negotations with Montenegro and it is likely to be so with Serbia. Negative experience with previous enlargements, in particular Romania and Bulgaria have made the EU very much focused on this theme.

2. The accession negotations are important from two points of view. First, they provide a concrete reward for Serbia to engage in negotations. Thus, it is signal that compromise with Kosovo pays off. Second, the more Serbia is engaged through negotations, the more likely it is to further pursue compromises. Now, thousands of civil servants and politicians will be engaged closely with Brussels and this will change the dynamics—as long as negoations are going on and not being blocked or interrrupted by individual member states as has been the case for Turkey. The final step, full recognition of Kosovo is not yet on the agenda, but down the road it is most likely to be the final step in the process of rapproachment beteween Kosovo and Serbia prior to Serbia”s full EU membership.

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