EU advances on Serbia talks despite UK departure
The decision to open two more “chapters” in Serbia accession talks on Monday (18 July) showed that EU enlargement policy is alive and well despite Brexit, the EU has said.
Speaking at a meeting with Serbian PM Aleksandr Vucic in Brussels, Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak said: “The UK might be on its way out, but there is strong support for enlargement in the EU. We want to maintain the credibility of the enlargement process and to make it tangible."
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Lajcak, whose country chairs EU Council meetings for the next six moths, added: “Once a candidate country delivers on the necessary commitments, the EU moves it forward.”
The EU enlargement commissioner, Austria’s Johannes Hahn, said that when German and French leaders met counterparts from the Western Balkans in Paris on 4 July they confirmed that EU expansion in the region was still their “strategic goal”.
Monday’s meeting saw the opening of chapters 23 and 24 of the EU legal codex, on judiciary and fundamental rights, and on justice, freedom and security.
The decision came after the opening of chapters 35 and 32 last December, on normalisation of relations with Kosovo and on financial controls on spending of EU funds.
Hahn said four more chapters could follow this year: on public procurement (chapter five), industry and enterprise (20), science and research (25), and education and culture (26).
"There should not be the slightest doubt about our strong commitment to welcoming Serbia in the EU family, where it belongs," Hahn said.
Vucic, the Serbian PM, said the fact the UK, a leading supporter of EU expansion, was to leave the bloc changed nothing in terms of the EU’s attractiveness.
He said the UK decision was based on “emotions, not [its] strategic path”.
He said that “people in Serbia know” that their country could not have achieved economic growth, attracted foreign investment, or overcome the damage caused by last year’s floods without EU support.
He also said that Serbia was developing closer business ties with Albania, Croatia and Kosovo on the back of the EU process.
“The type of society we want to belong to is an EU society and that’s it,” he said.
Monday’s decision was made possible after Croatia lifted its veto on chapters 23 and 24.
Its threat came amid complaints that Serbia was unwilling to cooperate with war crimes prosecutors in The Hague, had plans to go after alleged Croatian war criminals, and had not done enough to protect the rights of the Croatian minority in Serbia.
Croatia would “closely and carefully monitor” Serbia’s behaviour, the Zagreb government said on Monday after its PM, Tihomir Oreskovic, met war veterans at a protest against lifting the veto also on Monday.
"That law [on Serbia’s jurisdiction over Croatian war crimes] will have to be changed as part of the European accession. We expect the Serbian top officials to voice a clear position on this," Croatian foreign minister Miro Kovac said.