Serbia must adapt to EU foreign policy and Moscow sanctions, says the commission
Serbia, the largest EU candidate country in the Western Balkans, has withdrawn on its foreign policy alignment and needs to step up its commitment to EU strategy and reforms, the enlargement report published on Wednesday (12 October) said.
The report assesses the events and progress of the past year and clearly points out that Serbia needs to redouble its efforts in order to join the European Union. In particular, it must join the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and pursue serious reforms with political will.
“Serbia’s compliance with EU foreign policy has fallen significantly from 64% in 2020 to 45% today”says the country report, alluding to its refusal to join Western sanctions against Moscow.
This finding was confirmed by EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who told reporters he was too “clear that Serbia needs to step up efforts to align with foreign policy positions, including declarations and sanctions in line with the negotiating framework”.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution in 2021 saying that Belgrade’s position undermines its progress towards EU membership, but the situation has steadily deteriorated since then.
“Serbia should, as a matter of priority, fulfill its commitment and progressively align with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, including EU restrictive measures, in line with the EU-Serbia negotiating framework.”says the report.
Belgrade, which has traditionally taken a neutral stance on NATO and Russia, is now finding itself increasingly forced to choose sides under mounting pressure from Brussels and Moscow.
Furthermore, Serbia has been in the headlines in recent months due to a multitude of pro-Russian and anti-European demonstrations in the country. Demonstrators, including pro-Russia organizers, have indeed praised Vladimir Putin, waved banners bearing his likeness and trampled on European flags.
Serbia has long had good relations with Russia, including culturally and historically, and is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas.
However, Mr Varhelyi urged Serbia to show solidarity with the bloc in the context of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. “We need Serbia to help us, we need all the help, all the allies we have”he explained.
The country has been an official candidate since 2012. While it was originally expected to complete negotiations in 2024 and join in 2025, that possibility now looks very unlikely.
Apart from the sanctions against Russia, the other main obstacle to Serbia’s EU accession is the refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Belgrade has repeatedly said that its path to membership should not be tied to the issue of its former province, which declared its independence in 2008.
Other major areas of concern in Serbia are the media, which is almost entirely under the control of the ruling party, freedom of assembly, the handling of war crimes and the human rights record of minorities such as the Albanians in the Preševo Valley in the south of the country, whose names are being removed from the civil register. Corruption, organized crime and money laundering are also concerns.
“No progress was made in the reporting period on freedom of expression”, says the report. However, it notes that progress has been made in responding to attacks on journalists by national authorities.
Another key topic was EuroPride, which takes place in a different European city every year – Belgrade was chosen for 2022.
Amid right-wing outrage, President Aleksandar Vučić said the event was canceled due to the “Great Crisis in Kosovo”. Authorities later banned the event citing safety concerns, but organizers held the protest anyway.
The case has been condemned by MEPs and international human rights organizations, who have warned of the possible consequences for Serbia’s EU candidacy.
But the report’s harsh language is likely to have a negative impact in Belgrade, as the Serbian public is showing less and less interest in EU membership.
Although results vary by survey, the general trend is that around half of the population opposes EU membership. This figure increases significantly when recognizing Kosovo is mentioned as a condition.
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