Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Opinion

Serbia's pro-EU transformation not yet guaranteed

  • Prime minister Aleksandar Vucic is trying to thrust Serbia in a pro-EU direction, but he faces spirited opposition. (Photo: Reuters)

There will have been quiet relief in Brussels that a solidly pro-EU parliament has just been re-elected in Serbia, and that the nation appears strongly committed to the reforms needed for entry. But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. In this case, the detail relates to the number 35.

There will now be 35 new Serbian MPs who are strongly opposed to Belgrade’s EU accession. In a 250-seat parliament, where nearly all others are broadly in favour of what Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic calls the European Path, this might not seem like a major problem.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But these dissident ultra-right-wingers are street fighters well accustomed to mustering crowds of sympathisers and attracting public attention. They were unrepresented in the previous parliament as they failed to meet the 5 percent voter support threshold needed for parliamentary representation in the last election in 2014.

But odd things happened this time. First, in mid-election, war crimes charges in The Hague against the leader of the ultra-right-wing Serbian Radical Party were dismissed, giving him and his supporters a burst of local publicity. They wound up with just over 8 percent of the vote nationally.

Another right-wing grouping, a coalition of two anti-EU parties, Dveri and the conservative Democratic Party of Serbia, came up short of the required 5 percent. Short, remarkably, by a single vote. There were protests of course, and ultimately election authorities agreed to annul the votes in 15 polling stations and organise a rerun.

The second 35

Then another odd thing happened. Bojan Pajtic, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, and a number of figures from the political left who were formerly highly supportive of EU accession, campaigned on behalf of Dveri-DSS.

They urged their left-leaning and liberal supporters to cast their votes for a grouping that supports nationalist and pro-Russian views and is anti-gay.

These were centre-left and liberal leaders often praised in EU circles for their enlightened views on European integration.

Many of their own supporters were shocked. But enough voted for Dveri-DSS in this mini rerun to push its vote above 5% and give the group 13 parliamentary seats creating, with the Radical Party, an anti-EU bloc of 35 MPs.

The second area where the figure 35 appears is in the 35th chapter in the memorandum relating to Serbia’s accession to the EU. This chapter requires resolution before the accession process can be completed.

Chapters 1- 34 cover formal issues related to an EU accession including free movement of goods (chapter 1) through the judiciary and fundamental rights (chapter 23) to institutional reform (chapter 34).

Chapter 35 is then blandly titled “other issues”. The “other” issue in Serbia’s case relates to its relationship with Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008.

Serbian accession to the EU is almost certain to depend on a satisfactory resolution to the de facto recognition of Kosovo – even if it is extremely difficult to obtain a de jure resolution.

The difficulty for Serbia is that its constitution specifically forbids recognition of Kosovo. That is a provision which is supported by many of those who otherwise support EU accession and, as a consequence, creates a major difficulty for Serbian negotiators.

There is some hope that these issues can be resolved and this is recognised in Chapter 35, which states that the negotiating process would expect “continuation of the normalisation process and its dialogue with Pristina”.

That phrasing should, hopefully, help the Vucic government’s position.

Avoid over-confidence

There are, however, concerns about the process and how the 35 new anti EU MPs will respond.

There are tricky negotiations for both the EU negotiators and the Vucic government. But it is vital that they find a formula that satisfies the EU accession requirements and at the same time carries a majority of support among the Serbian people.

There are historical examples of this process. Taiwan and China have dealt with the practicalities of their diplomatic relations over a long period of time and there is effective “normalisation”.

Much hard work needs to be done by all of those who support Serbia’s EU accession. I believe such an accession will make a major contribution to stability and peace in the Balkans and throughout the European continent.

But Brussels needs to avoid over-confidence. In Serbia’s more complicated parliament, some of the people the EU has relied upon as stout advocates for integration may have party political reasons to make the process more difficult.

Douglas Henderson is a former UK minister for Europe and minister of state for the armed forces and former chairman of the defence committee of the Western European Union. He is actively engaged in academic teaching in universities in Eastern Europe, and writing about the politics of the region.

War crimes law poisons Serbia accession talks

Croatia wants its neighbour to scrap a law on universal juridiction in the former Yugoslavia. The request is delaying the opening of a new chapter of negotiations.

Serbia election: EU grasping at straws

The Macedonia crisis showed what happens when EU pupils turn autocrats. The elections in Serbia do not rule out the same scenario for the Serb PM.

Ukraine language law does not harm minorities

Some European politicians keep spreading fictitious arguments on Ukraine's language law as being an impediment to minority rights, Ukraine's education minister says.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement