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26th Jan 2020

EU enlargement freeze prompts Serbia rethink

  • Belgrade: One EU diplomat told the Financial Times that Serbia belongs in the EU 'because of simple geography' - a statement valid for the rest of the Balkan region (Photo: Milos Milosevic)

The president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Wednesday (23 October) that following the EU's rejection to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, "the region cannot rely solely on its western neighbours".

During the last EU summit, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands blocked enlargement talks with the two Balkan countries in what was considered a "historic error" by senior EU officials.

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Despite the reform efforts undertaken by Albania and Northern Macedonia in areas such as economic policy, human rights, anti-corruption and the rule of law, this decision made it clear to the region that "it is not all up to us", said Vucic.

MEPs will vote on Thursday on a resolution proposed by the Greens which points out that "by failing to deliver on its promises and commitments to both countries, the EU risks losing credibility" in the Western Balkans region.

"We need to take care of ourselves. That's the only way, that's the only approach. Everything else would be very irresponsible," Vucic said.

The president of Serbia decided to strengthen regional co-operation.

Last week, the leaders of Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia signed a so-called "Balkan Schengen" agreement, which allows the free movement of people, goods, capital and services within the three countries.

The prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, also expects that the rest of the Western Balkans - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro - will join.

"We cannot depend on the next decision of the European Council or on whether the Dutch government will decide this way or that, or whether the Danish government will do something opposite to our expectations," Vucic said.

Vucic told the British newspaper that the commitment to cooperation between Balkan states was strengthened once the enlargement negotiations failed.

However, the previous inter-ethnic and regional conflicts in the former region of Yugoslavia might suppose a problem to establish real economic, political and social cooperation.

Vucic also said EU opposition to start negotiations talks with Albania and North Macedonia as a vindication of Belgrade's closer ties with Russia and China.

For Russia, the Balkans hold significant historic, cultural, and religious connections. But, Russia does not play a significant economic role in the western Balkans.

According to a report by the German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, only 6.6 percent of investment in the region comes from Russia, while Moscow's share of regional foreign trade is 3.9 percent for exports and 5.3 percent for imports.

However, these figures might increase once Belgrade signs a free trade deal with the Eurasian Economic Union on Friday - a Russian-centred customs union with five members.

The European Council stated during the EU summit last week that the subject of enlargement will probably not be discussed again before May 2020 at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb.

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Denmark, France and the Netherlands opposed opening talks on EU accession with Albania and North Macedonia in a blow that may invite greater Russian influence in the Balkan region.

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