European Commission Enlargement Strategy confirms that EU recognizes enlargement to the Western Balkans as an achievable goal in the near future

The address of the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at an informal meeting of the EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs and candidate countries held in Sofia (Gymnich)

“Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished Colleagues,

I am very pleased to have yet another opportunity to have talks in the format enabling direct and sincere exchange of views among the EU Member States and candidate countries. I would like to thank Bulgaria, holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a neighboring and friendly country to Serbia, for organizing this meeting and its great efforts aimed at making the enlargement of the European Union to the Western Balkans once again one of the central topics.
At the beginning, I would like to touch upon the European Commission enlargement strategy. This document is important for Serbia in many ways – its affirms that the EU recognizes the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans as a goal that can be reached in the near future; it also recognizes Serbia and Montenegro as the current front-runners in this process and provides the framework within which the process will develop in the years ahead.
We are aware of the fact that there were opinions within the EU that setting the timeframes would be counter-productive. Allow me to respectfully disagree with these views. There is no better motivation for political leaders, administration and citizens of a country than setting concrete timeframe for conclusion of a strategic process to which we have all been strongly committed. I was Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia when Serbian nationals were exempted from visa requirement for travels to the Schengen Area and we are all familiar how encouraging that measure was for the continuation of the European integration process and national reforms. I am deeply convinced that the road map with a timeline for Serbian membership, with specific dates will have an equally positive effect on the perception of the EU by the Serbian people.
The upcoming EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia will be the major meeting at the highest level ever since the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit. We would like to see more of such meetings in the future with encouraging results for Serbia and the region as a whole.

My Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that I am heading, are actively working in order to reach the highest possible level of cooperation with the EU in the security and defense areas. Serbia’s participation in EU missions in various hotbeds of crises around the world – Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, including Serbia’s notable participation in UN Missions – reflect our genuine desire to be recognized as a reliable and credible partner of the EU in crisis situations, sharing the responsibility in overall European efforts to ensure global and regional peace and stability.
I am sure that you will agree that in the past years, Serbia has achieved a high level of cooperation in crisis situations such as the migrant crisis. I am also sure that many other aspects of our cooperation including participation in the EU HELBROC battle group, cooperation with the European Defense Agency, initiatives for participation of civilian structures in multinational operations, testify to Belgrade’s clear position that full EU membership is considered as the country’s foremost foreign policy priority.
The transnational nature of the current security threats requires joint response of all actors, and I would like to reiterate that you may most seriously count upon Serbia in the context in the fight against challenges including terrorism, human trafficking, hybrid threats and proliferation.
The greatest security challenge for Serbia is posed by the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo and the situation in the Province which generated a series of security threats to the safety of all citizens, bearing in mind the discrimination and violence to which the members of the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija have been subjected since 1999 and threats to Serbian cultural and historical heritage. I would also like to recall that out of more than 200,000 expelled Serbs, only 1.9 per cent returned to Kosovo and Metohija. Does anyone take care of that? Serbia entered the dialogue on the normalization of relations with Pristina convinced that what the citizens of Kosovo and Metohija, as well as Albanians and Serbs in general needed most, was the normalization of relations. In order to reach the Brussels agreement, Serbian political leaders have invested their utmost political credibility in this dialogue.

Unfortunately, the largest part of the agreement that I initialed as then Serbian Prime Minister together with Hashim Thaci and Catherine Ashton has not been implemented for which Belgrade is not to be blamed. It is our expectation that this will change in the near future so that the establishment of the Association/Community of Serbian Municipalities may ensure security and perspective to the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija. We shall continue the dialogue in good faith for we believe that it is a necessary precondition to stability and security in our region.

As for bilateral disputes, it is EU’s position that it does not want to import instability and that final solutions should be found before accession. However, I have to note that this has rule has not been respected so far. There is a huge border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia. How come this rule has not been respected then?

On the other hand, I would like to ask all colleagues to respect the joint EU position. It is absolutely counter-productive that some Ministers of Foreign Affairs send arrogant messages to Belgrade that it has to recognize unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija.
I would like to recall that this is a unilateral act and that Serbia is ready to engage in a dialogue to reach a lasting solution but that is not what you in EU want to hear, having in mind the importance of Kosovo for Serbia. Do not insult or humiliate us. We are in favor of agreement, but agreement implies respecting the interests of both sides. We shall, as before, continue to invest efforts towards a final solution aimed at achieving peace and stability in the region.
Thank you for your attention.”