Serbia’s Greatest Challenge Yet
Ten years after establishing democratic institutions and a functioning parliamentary democracy, Ambassador of Serbia Mr Dejan Popović considers his country’s potential status as an EU candidate country
2011 is the year in which Serbia is facing one of its greatest challenges yet: will we be granted the status of an EU candidate country, or will this decision be postponed for the forthcoming period? Ten years after establishing democratic institutions and a functioning parliamentary democracy, Serbia’s application for EU membership has been forwarded to the European Commission. The notorious questionnaire, containing a full 2,483 questions on the country’s performances, has been answered within a brief period of 45 days – which may be taken as a confirmation that our administrative capabilities are not too bad!
Hit by the global recession in 2009, Serbia’s economy is now recovering; but whereas between 2004 and 2008 it grew at an average annual rate of six per cent, in 2010 it showed only a modest growth of 1.8 per cent. Given the currently high unemployment rate (19 per cent), a return to robust GDP growth is a prerequisite for tackling serious social issues. To achieve this, Serbia is compelled to rely on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). It is worth mentioning that this year the Italian car giant FIAT is starting its production of automobiles in a new car plant in the city of Kragujevac, while our country’s largest mobile telephone service provider, TELEKOM, is to be sold later this year (the other two major service providers already being subsidiaries of Norwegian and Austrian companies, respectively).
Serbs have a reputation for being short-tempered, yet while the still-fragile Serbian economy represents a fertile soil for various types of dissatisfaction, their general perception of the EU remains positive, with an approval rate ranging between 60 and 65 per cent. I tend to consider our pro-European spirit a major guarantee that, were Serbia granted the candidacy, the necessary reforms would continue in the years to come. Indeed, radical economic, financial and legal reforms have already been carried out in Serbia, and a number of new measures, drafted in accordance with best European practice, are currently in the pipeline – for example, a comprehensive judicial reform, set to be finalised this year, for which a sound basis has been laid by the recent successes of anti-corruption campaigns.
Similarly, in 2010 some major advances in the struggle against organised crime were made, primarily thanks to the close co-operation between Serbian and Croatian police forces. Following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, criminals from both successor states had been operating sans frontières, while the police forces had followed their respective government’s negative prejudices against any ‘closer ties with the neighbour’. However, 2010 represented a turning point: mutual police co-operation and extradition-of-suspects agreements between Serbia and Croatia meant that dozens of criminals who used to roam the territory of ex-Yugoslavia freely – knowing that they could find safe haven ‘across the border’ – are now behind bars. As the year came to its end, similar treaties were also signed with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.
It is our view that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the EU. The people living within this region – Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Albanians – have a rich cultural heritage to offer to other Europeans. Their economies have already become integrated with the EU, and their societies are dependent on European influences. The feuds of the past may be most conveniently settled by following the example of Europe during the second half of the twentieth century; accordingly, Serbia considers regional co-operation and best relations with its neighbours as a strategic goal of its foreign policy.
All the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes committed in relation to the conflicts of the 1990s must be brought to justice, whether before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague or other judicial fora. Following this principle, 44 out of 46 indictees of Serbian origin have been delivered to the ICTY, and Serbia is fully co-operating with the ICTY prosecution team in trying to locate, imprison and deliver the remaining two fugitives. Meanwhile, our own War Crimes Prosecutor and courts have successfully prosecuted dozens of Serbian nationals.
Dedicated to realising its EU membership aspirations and sharing European values, Serbia is determined to solve the historic conflict between Serbs and Albanians on the Kosovo issue through a dialogue with Priština under the auspices of the EU. Since late October 2010, Belgrade has been ready to start this dialogue, which we expect will begin with some of the more practical, presumably ‘easier’ issues on the agenda and hopefully eventually result in an agreed framework under which all people residing in the territory of Kosovo are able to lead a better life, having secured the European perspective. However, the Serbian government has had to patiently wait for the other side to partially re-run its elections (in order to rectify established irregularities) and to undertake delicate, drawn-out negotiations among various political parties on how not only to form a new coalition but also to assess the consequences of the recent report, adopted by an overwhelming majority of votes in the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, on human organs trafficking and other heinous crimes allegedly committed by some people positioned at the top of its political hierarchy. Together with the EU and other major international stakeholders, Serbia is deeply convinced that an independent and reliable criminal investigation into these must be carried out, and all the perpetrators and their accomplices brought to justice. That said, from the very beginning Belgrade’s position has been that nothing should jeopardise the dialogue, and that it is entirely up to Priština to decide who will constitute its delegation.
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