Monday, 21 July 2014. PDF Print E-mail
Joining the EU is one of the priorities of the Government of Serbia - Ambassador Lopandic
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parliament magazineIn an extensive interview to the prestigious magazine The Parliament, Ambassador of Serbia to the EU Dusko Lopandic talks about Serbia's EU accession process enjoying broad public support, but also about the challenges faced the European family of nations in the enlargement process.

"The year 2014 was significant for Serbia and its path towards European Union membership. Earlier this year, on 21 January 2014, the EU accession negotiations with Serbia were opened. Parliamentary elections held in March brought exclusively pro-European parties into the National Assembly, regardless of whether they represent the government majority or the opposition parties. The new Serbian Government with Aleksandar Vucic at the helm has announced very ambitious economic reforms aimed at, among other things, reducing the budget deficit, completing the privatization process, changing the systemic economic laws, such as the Labour Law, Insolvency Law and the Public Administration Law, as well as measures that will facilitate business operations and attract more foreign capital. Although Serbia recorded some very positive economic results in 2013, such as an increase in exports by 26% and reduction of the foreign trade deficit by a quarter, these data were overshadowed by the negative performance in the public finance sector (mounting foreign debt) as well as the prolonged, very high unemployment. This year's economic hardships have been intensified by the difficulties created after May's catastrophic floods which affected large areas of the Balkans and because of which the European Commission, with the support of France and Slovenia, organized a special Donors' Conference for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (16 July 2014).

The EU accession process is the main foreign policy priority for the Government of Serbia, which is also closely related to the process of internal political and economic reforms and the overall Europeanization of the society. Accession enjoys large public support (about 55% of the polled citizens support EU membership), although there is an awareness that this is a process that will be neither quick nor easy. EU membership is seen as a way of joining the community with which the Serbian society shares the same values politically and socially. It is also an important way for the modernization of the economy and the entire state administration.

The enlargement of the European Union has, in a way, fell victim to its own success among the public of the EU member states, which led to the emergence of a political "fatigue" reflected in the pace and methodology of the ongoing and future membership negotiations of the Western Balkan countries. According to the so-called "new approach" to the negotiations, certain topics which in earlier enlargement cycles were only incidental (such as the functioning of justice and home affairs) are now being considered throughout the whole process of the negotiations. According to the EU "negotiating framework" for the negotiations with Serbia, Chapters 23 ("Judiciary and Fundamental Rights") and 24 ("Justice, Freedom and Security") should be opened in the early stages of the negotiations, which is interpreted by some Member States as a precondition for initiating the negotiations for any of the other 35 chapters in the accession negotiations. Regarding Serbia's accession, membership negotiations have a special specific feature reflected in the fact that the final completion of the negotiations is conditional on the commitment to the so-called "comprehensive normalization" of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The process of the so-called "dialogue" between Belgrade and Pristina is in a way being monitored by the EU Member States through the special negotiating chapter 35, reviewing the normalization process and the implementation of the Brussels Agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

In the course of the current year, under the Greek Presidency of the EU, Serbia and the European Union have organized a total of 32 meetings for the so-called "screening" of the acquis of the Union and the Serbian legal system, which represents a technical prerequisite for further negotiations, namely for opening individual negotiation chapters. During the first semester of 2014, "exploratory" and "bilateral" screenings for a total of 13 chapters were held, while only "exploratory" screenings were held for 6 chapters. It is expected that at the next accession conference during the Italian Presidency, likely to be held in October 2014, first chapters of the negotiations will be opened (it might be Chapter 32 - financial control, along with Chapter 35 about the process of normalizing relations with Pristina). The entire screening process should be completed in the first quarter of 2015. According to the plan of the Government of Serbia, all accession negotiations should be over by 2018, and the EU membership by the beginning of the next EU financing cycle (around 2020).

The question arises, however, as to what the Union will be like when Serbia accedes to it in half a decade or so, when the membership negotiations are completed? In recent years, the European Union has undergone a difficult and complex process of reforms initiated by the entry into force of the Lisbon Agreement, while the long economic and financial crisis and the crisis in the Eurozone raised the key issues associated with the functioning and competences of the Union. This year opens another political chapter of the never completed transformation of the EU. Elections for the European Parliament have, on the one hand, strengthened the Eurosceptics and ultra-right parties in some EU Member States. On the other hand, the election of the Spitzenkandidaten as President of the new European Commission added a further democratic legitimacy to the EU institutions and confirmed the progressive completion of the EU as a common political space where specific political issues are deliberated and resolved at the level of the whole Union. Serbia is interested in further strengthening the EU as a functioning democratic community of nation states. We support the building of the Union as a unique community of peace and prosperity which will be ready to adequately meet the demands of its citizens on economic and social levels, and equipped to operate effectively in the interest of the Member States in the increasingly complicated international circumstances".