Serbia and EU

By | March 4, 2021

EU integration

On January 21, 2014, Serbia started accession negotiations with the European Union – a historic day for the Balkan country. This was preceded by a corresponding decision by the Council of the EU in December 2013.

According to usaers, Serbia is a country located in Southern Europe. For several years at the latest, EU integration has been the all-encompassing coordinate system of Serbian politics – not only in terms of foreign policy orientation, but also as a framework for democratic and market-economy reforms. Serbia’s EU integration process has experienced a delay in relation to neighboring states such as Croatia due to political instability over the past decade. Only under the current government did Serbia embark on a course of accelerated implementation of the reform conditions in order to take important steps on the way to EU membership. In Serbia, the tasks associated with the implementation of the technical requirements of the EU integration process were the responsibility of a government institution founded especially for this function – the Office for EU Integration.Ministry of European Integration. On the one hand, the government has initiated important reforms in key areas such as market liberalization and judicial reform; on the other hand, it has developed active lobbying work in Brussels and the EU capitals. Serbia’s progress in the EU integration process has long been blocked or slowed down by the country’s lack of cooperation with the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)in The Hague, in particular the arrest of wanted Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladić. When Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 a few days after the formation of the incumbent government, the way was clear for the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. While the Serbian parliament ratified the agreement in September of the same year, the ratification process by the 27 EU member states remained frozen due to insufficient efforts to arrest the volatile Ratko Mladić. Further reform demands of the European Commission remained the reform of the judiciary and the reform of the electoral law. After Mladić was arrested in northern Serbia in mid-2011, the last major stumbling block fell when considering the application for candidate status, which the Serbian government had previously submitted to the Commission. However, with the outbreak of the Unrest in northern Kosovo in the summer of 2011 and quickly moved another aspect into the center of Serbia’s EU integration goal, which had long been pushed into the background by the internal disagreement of the EU: the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the majority of the EU – In the final analysis, Serbia’s wish to join the Union can only be realized through (at least) factual acceptance of the loss of the former province.

The breakthrough in the Kosovo conflict in 2013 cleared the way for Serbia’s previously blocked EU integration process, which was followed by the start of accession negotiations in January 2014. In the spring of the same year, the screening process of the 35 chapters of the accession negotiations began on the basis of a framework agreement between the EU member states. Chapter 35, which relates to the question of Kosovo, is a specialty and novelty. Through the negotiations on this chapter, which will remain open throughout the entire accession process, the full normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo and the defacto detachment of Kosovo from the Serbian state should be achieved.

The screening process for all accession chapters was completed in March 2015. The Serbian government had been hoping and pressing for the early opening of the first chapter since autumn 2014. However, this hope was initially not fulfilled: as a result of the new elections in Serbia and Kosovo and the government formation crisis in Prishtina in 2014, the continuation of the political dialogue until the beginning of 2015 was effectively blocked. The conditions for the opening of the Kosovo chapter, Chapter 35, were thus missing. Great Britain and above all Germany had, however, enforced in the Framework Agreement that Chapter 35 would be opened at the beginning of the accession process. Belgrade and other EU member states could not prevail with their demand to open the first chapter without chapter 35.

With the continuation of the 2015 dialogue – a justice agreement in February and a partial agreement on the Serbian municipal association in August, the way was paved for the continuation of the accession process: As part of the second accession conference between the EU and Serbia on December 14, 2015, the first two chapters, Kosovo Chapter 35 and Chapter 32 on Financial Control opened.

Serbia and EU

In spring 2016, the EU’s accession negotiations with Serbia stalled again: the new conservative Croatian government announced that it would block the opening of two further chapters, the so-called justice chapters 23 and 24. Zagreb called for changes to some laws related to the legal processing of Serbian war crimes from the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s. At the end of May, the Croatian government announced an agreement with Belgrade on the matter and thus the end of its blockade. The two new chapters were opened in mid-July 2016. In December of the same year, Serbia opened two more chapters, Chapter 5 on public procurement and Chapter 25 on science and research. The latter was immediately closed again – for the time being.

In mid-January 2017, the EU member states gave the green light for the opening of a further negotiating chapter, Chapter 26, on culture and education. On February 27, 2017, the EU opened two new chapters with Serbia, in addition to Chapter 26 on education and culture, and Chapter 20 on corporate and industrial policy. Chapter 26 was immediately (temporarily) closed. In June and December 2017, two further accession chapters each opened – Chapter 7, Intellectual Property, and Chapter 29, Customs Union, and Chapter 6, Company Law, and Chapter 30, External Relations. Another four chapters followed in 2018: 13 (fisheries), 33 (finances and budget), 17 (economic and monetary policy) and 18 (statistics). No further chapters were opened in 2019, which, among other things, led to the French blockade of the enlargement process, which tied to the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and led to the adoption of a new methodology for the accession process in early 2020,

Serbia failed again in June 2020 to reach a decision to open new negotiation chapters by the EU member states. Several member states blocked the opening, mainly because of a lack of progress in the rule of law, i.e. chapters 23 and 24. Instead, President Vučić announced at a Serbia-Kosovo conference organized by French President Macron in Paris in July that Serbia would join the new EU Accept methodology (which was optional for candidate countries already negotiating).

Since 2015, Serbia has opened a total of 18 accession chapters with the EU; two of them have been temporarily closed.