Dacic: “Serbia’s reform efforts need to be fully recognized by the EU and their value reflected in new chapters being opened”

Statement by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Visegrad Four and the Western Balkans Six held today in Budapest on “Speeding up Enlargement in the Western Balkans”:

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank you for the invitation to another meeting held in this format that I find important for the exchange of views and opinions in the common interest of both regions. Security issues are today topical more than ever before, but the aspect of politics and that of security go hand in hand and are indivisible. In this context, when discussing speeding up the European integration of countries of the region, Serbia included, there are a number of points that need to be said and reflected on, aiming to answer anew questions that have kept us politically alert for some time now.

In addition to being the topic of this panel discussion and conference, the question of speeding up Serbia’s European integration is a daily business of the Serbian administration and society as a whole. Full membership of the EU is the top priority of Serbia’s foreign policy and its economy. There can be no doubt about it, and claims portraying our foreign policy as that of sitting on two, three or I-don’t-know-how-many chairs are untrue. We have been very clear to all our partners worldwide about where we are headed. The relations with our partners in the East need not be continuously assessed, for they are traditional, friendly and include a strong economic aspect.

You know that an enlargement fatigue has been talked about for a while now in some of the Member States, primarily the EU founding countries. However, a few weeks ago we were pleased to hear the State of the Union Address by President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, that we hope the Member States will support too, where he called for creating and implementing a Strategy for a successful EU accession of Serbia and Montenegro by 2025, as frontrunner candidates in the Western Balkans. We believe that this is a goal that can be reached. Since 21 January 2014 and the launch of its EU accession talks, Serbia has opened 10 out of a total of 35 negotiating chapters. In our view, therein lies the problem. In the past years, a false notion was devised within the EU, I would say on no grounds whatsoever, that no more than two chapters should be opened during one Presidency of the Council of the EU, to prevent a purportedly false image of a negotiating process being carried out in a manner “faster” than it actually is. Objectively speaking, the current pace of opening chapters is lacking and does not reflect the true situation concerning the degree to which Serbia is prepared for accession talks. The current pace is being hindered for reasons solely of a political nature, due to internal problems in some of the Member States. Such an approach will not yield results desired by either side. I need not remind you that the opening of chapters does not automatically imply them being closed as well, but it is in the interest of all, as was the case with Chapters 23 and 24, that they are being opened in accordance with the quality of negotiating positions and progress made in the reform process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is another element the resolution of which could help accelerate the negotiating process, which is at the same time most certainly affecting the overall security situation in the region. We have brought this up on several occasions, we continue to warn about it regularly – namely, the necessity to resolve open bilateral issues solely through mutual political dialogue, instead of using these issues as an instrument, a tool, for imposing conditions and slowing the negotiating process. Needless to say, we are aware this is motivated by none other than interests of daily politics, however, the EU institutions and other Member States need to show their political will and point to the need to set aside these issues from the process of accession talks. Approaching bilateral issues in such a way will benefit neither any of the Member States in particular nor the EU as a whole. Serbia stands ready to work together with all concerned to address bilateral issues, but this process needs to be realistic in terms of politics, without prejudice, political conditions attached to it and use of an old political terminology.

May I also point to another issue, possibly one of utmost importance and complexity, one that is seriously affecting the speed of Serbia’s negotiating process. We believe that Serbia’s reform efforts need to be fully recognized by the EU and their value reflected in new chapters being opened, on merit of the progress made on any particular chapter. Linking the process to normalize the Belgrade-Pristina relations with that related to the opening of new negotiating chapters can only have a harmful and decelerating effect on Serbia’s European integration process. Not only that the continuing insistence on conditioning by all means the progress of the negotiating process on the progress made in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina does cause an unnecessary bureaucracy-induced delay, but also inflicts political damage. Allow me to point to the fact that this is only the case with Serbia’s accession talks. Monitoring of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, as an opening benchmark for new negotiating chapters, is absolutely unprecedented and unique to our case. However, it is imperative for the EU Member States to understand also that the dialogue and progress in this framework do not entirely depend on the readiness of Belgrade. Introduction of a “third party” into the evaluation of our progress has unnecessarily complicated matters and obviously slowed the negotiating process, including even in cases where Belgrade was not responsible. The issue of the normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations should only be considered within Chapter 35, without any parallelisms being drawn between this and other chapters or conditioning of other chapters on this particular chapter. Insisting on this position will cause more political damage than many of the participants in this process are able to realize.

Thank you.”