EU warns Serb yet again that accession in danger; Serbia not aligned with EU foreign policy

Serbia was again sharply criticized by the EU with regard to non-aligned foreign policy this week by both EU politicians and through an European Commission released report that noted that although some progress has been made with regard to rule of law, issues such as corruption, press freedoms and alignment with EU foreign policy are lagging.

“Serbia’s alignment rate with relevant High Representative declarations on behalf of the EU and Council Decisions therefore dropped from 64 % in 2021 to 45 % in August 2022,” according to the report. “A number of actions and statements by Serbia went against EU foreign policy positions.

“Serbia is expected, as a matter of priority, to fulfil its commitment and progressively align with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, including with EU restrictive measures, in line with EU-Serbia negotiating framework,” the report added.

The subtext here—especially when taking into consideration recent statements on the part of both the union and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic—is that Serbia is increasingly at odds with the EU, primarily on issues of Russian sanctions and the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state.

The latter is a no-go issue for Vucic, as not only his party but the majority of Serbs are against Kosovo independence. Russian sanctions are also an issue, although Serbia has stood behind a refusal to recognize Russian sham referendums and annexations of Ukrainian territory—a position that Vucic has likened to that of Kosovo independence.

But the EU has continued to apply pressure, with old-nemesis Croatia lobbying at the last minute to block Russian oil exports to Serbia during the latest round of EU sanctions. This has definitely hit Serbia where it hurts, as Vucic has lamented Serbia’s limited options for both oil and gas and dependence on Russia.

The EU stated in 2021 that its stance on foreign policy was putting Serbian accession at risk, and in a recent draft put together by MEPs it appeared that the growing stance is that accession should be put on hold altogether. Morever, as quoted by the news site Novinite, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, stated that is is „clear that Serbia needs to step up its efforts to align its foreign policy positions, including with declarations and sanctions in line with the negotiating framework.”

The report also noted other trends, including the following:

·* According to the report, Serbia is “moderately prepared as regards public administration reform” and “overall, limited progress was made in this area during the reporting period, when the start of implementation of the new strategic framework began.”  

·* Serbia has “some level of preparation when it comes to its judicial system. Overall, some progress was made during the reporting period. Serbia took an important step towards strengthening the independence and accountability of the judiciary with the approval of relevant amendments to the Constitution in February 2022 […].

·* Serbia also has “some level of preparation in the fight against corruption,” with the report stating that “overall, some progress was made during the reporting perod” and that “the recommendation on prevention of corruption has been further implemented, and the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) concluded in March 2022 that the adoption of amendments to the Law on prevention of corruption had addressed the previously identified shortcomings and was sufficient to strengthen the framework aimed at preventing and combating conflicts of interest of members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors.”

* Serbia has also, according to the report made progress in the fight against organised crime, although it was deemed that “limited progress was made over the reporting period” and that “the number of new investigations and final convictions increased in 2021 compared to 2020” although “the number of indictments and first instance convictions decreased,” and that “the number of cases involving seizure and final confiscation of assets is still limited.” The report also added that “extended confiscation is not systematically applied,” but that “the level of understanding and the investigation approach have improved, which should lead to better results in the future.

·* While the report noted that human rights mechanisms were in place, it stated that “Serbia needs to strengthen human rights institutions by allocating the necessary financial and human resources and by putting in place procedures to ensure compliance with the European Court of Human Rights’ measures, including interim measures. Likewise, the report noted that “in September 2022, Europride was hosted for a first time in the Western Balkans, in Belgrade. The Europride route was banned, and the holding of the march was uncertain until the very last moment. The authorities claimed safety concerns related to threats by extreme right groups as the basis for their decision. An anti-Europride and, anti-Western demonstration was also banned. Finally a march, via a shorter route took place on 17 September 2022, without major incidents. A high number of law enforcement officers protected it, nevertheless, some instances of violence against the participants were reported.

* Regarding freedom of expression—i.e. media issues—the report stated that “no progress was made in the reporting period,” but that “in several cases of attacks and threats, the police and the prosecution reacted swiftly, also thanks to the coordination facilitated through those groups.” That said, the report stated that “cases of threats and violence against journalists remain a concern and the overall environment for the exercise of freedom of expression […].”

Noteworthy is that Vucic stated that the report is factual and essentially true, but that Serbia views national borders “differently” than does the EU in a remark that clearly pointed to the question of Kosovo independence.

Photo credit: The original uploader was Wikiwind at Serbian Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 RS <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/rs/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

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