This story of Nikolija ÄodanoviÄ, journalist of istinomer (Truth-O-Meter), a fact-checking initiative of the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), originally appeared on Transitions. A modified version is posted below as part of a content sharing agreement with Global Voices.
Serbia continues to tout the country’s progress in aligning with EU foreign policy, but real gains will not come with Kosovo on the agenda.
In early September, Serbian President Aleksandar VuÄiÄ visited the shores of beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia to talk about the future of Europe. He was one of many leaders to appear at this year’s 16th Bled Strategic Forum and took the opportunity to complain about the EU’s lack of will for enlargement and how “Europeans and Americans are concerned about China â.
VuÄiÄ entrusted to the media: “As soon as they step away from the cameras – and in front of the cameras their topics are the green agenda and climate change – all that’s left is China.”
But, gossip aside, VuÄiÄ had a chance for something more important: advancing his country’s European prospects with Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, the European Union body that brings together the leaders of the EU to define the political agenda of the bloc. VuÄiÄ then boasted to reporters that he told Michel that Serbia had kept its promise to align its foreign policy closer to that of the EU, while protecting its national interests.
“What’s important is that we made our promise to increase the match rate with the foreign policy decisions of the European Union, and we have increased it from 48.28% to over 62%, âVuÄiÄ said, adding thatâ specific limitations âexisted regarding theâ complex connection âof interests. Serbs linked to Kosovo. The process was also “not as easy as it sounds”.
Most Serbian analysts would agree with this assessment, although they would likely place the source of the complexity elsewhere. The country can, theoretically, increase its “alignment rate” (the numbers are questionable, however, as shown below) but so much progress can be made as long as VuÄiÄ and his government put as much emphasis on strategic relations with the country. China and Russia. With the two countries, the public focus is on strengthening economic cooperation, especially with China, as evidenced by the growth in investment in recent years. Serbia depends on Moscow for natural gas, and some officials see potential in the free trade agreement signed in 2019 with the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union. In addition, good relations with Moscow remain important for a large part of the electorate and can be used for internal political reasons.
At the heart of the government’s goodwill towards Russia and China, however, remains Kosovo, whose independence, along with Serbia, they have refused to recognize. Belgrade clearly hopes that Beijing and Moscow will continue to support the country in the UN Security Council on any resolution regarding Kosovo.
77% of respondents in Serbia have a recent Poll by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy thought China had a positive influence on Serbia and 72% thought the same about Russia. Only 26% have such an opinion of the EU and 15% of the United States.
The first article of the Serbian Constitution defines a European agenda for the country:
âThe Republic of Serbia is a state of the Serbian people and all citizens who live there, based on the rule of law and social justice, the principles of civil democracy, human and minority rights and freedoms , and the commitment to European principles and values.
At least on paper, Serbia is embarking on the European path. She became a candidate for EU membership in 2012 and has since started negotiations 18 of 35 Membership “chapters”, but only two have been provisionally closed and no discussion of other chapters has started for almost two years.
One of the most critical unopened chapters is that on foreign, security and defense policy. According to Progress report of the European Commission for 2020, Serbia has made “progress as the parliament adopted new security and defense strategies”. However, âthe alignment models have remained largely unchanged â, andâ a number of statements and commitments have been made by high-level officials who have gone against EU positions on foreign policy â.
Contrary to VuÄiÄ’s claims, the Belgrade-based Center for International Affairs and Security (ISAC) recorded a slight decrease in the percentage of Serbia’s foreign policy positions that followed the EU line, bringing the total percentage in 2020 to 56%. The ISAC said the lowest alignment rate in Serbia so far was 47% in 2017, while the highest rate was 66% in 2015.
One of the authors of the analysis, Igor NovakoviÄ, said the study showed that Serbia’s position mainly contrasts with the EU when it comes to EU policies linked to Russia and China. He presumes that Serbia’s positions have been the reward for the support these countries have shown in the Security Council on the issue of Kosovo.
“If there is less [EU policy] statements regarding Russia and China then the number of statements that we support, ie the alignment rate, increases, âsaid NovakoviÄ. For example, he recalled that in 2012 and 2013 the alignment was over 90%, but at the time almost no EU statement made reference to Russia and China.. âThat explains it all,â he added, saying that simply citing percentages without analyzing which issues are points of conflict reveals little.
Vladimir MeÄak, former deputy director of the Serbian government’s Office for European Integration, agrees that alignment percentages are not what matters. MeÄak is now vice-president of the European Movement in Serbia, an NGO which campaigns for the full European integration of the country.
âThe numbers are completely irrelevant if you go to Washington and to sign an agreement on the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem and appoint an ambassador to Damascus, absolutely contrary to EU foreign policy positions, âMeÄak said, adding that Serbiaâ is far beyond the point where a percentage can impress anyone â. He doubts that anything can be done to improve the country’s adherence to EU foreign policy positions since so much concerns Kosovo.
Adopting an “independent” foreign policy, as the government describes it, is “the equivalent of” not aligning with the foreign policy of the European Union “,” MeÄak said. âWhat did Serbia gain by opening an embassy in Syria, because that only created a problem with the EU? “
Alignment does not equal support
According to MeÄak, Serbia may be claiming an agreement with EU foreign policy, but the reality is elsewhere.
âWe have introduced sanctions against [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka and supported the European Union’s reprimand against Lukashenka, then apologized to him. This clearly means: “We had to do it because of the EU, but we don’t really believe in it”. “
If Serbia talks about European values ââand acts completely the opposite, it is only a matter of time until someone asks if Serbia is compatible with the EU at all, he said. he declares.
“Are our values ââmore compatible with Loukachenka and [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan or the European Union? MeÄak asks. âThe decision on our membership of the European Union will be adopted by those countries which seriously defend human rights.
ISAC’s NovakoviÄ also highlighted the importance of alignment for those deliberating on the future of Serbia. âBy aligning ourselves, we demonstrate that one day we will be prepared to act within the political framework of the European Union and that we will also take into account the interests of the Member States of the European Union,â he said.
If that doesn’t happen, all will not be lost, believe some of VuÄiÄ’s closest associates. The current Minister of the Interior Aleksandar Vulin, when he was Minister of Defense, said once that Serbia would not beg to join Europe if Europe did not want Serbia.
âWe don’t need to be a member of anything, but we need to preserve our dignity and see what our political and economic interests are,â Vulin said. âEurope doesn’t want us? We will find a way to be sought after by other great and powerful countries.