Foreign Minister Dacic participated in the Annual Ministerial Meeting of Visegrad Group

Statement by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the Annual Meeting of  the Foreign Ministers of the Visegrad Four and the Western Balkans Six, held in Warsaw:

“Dear colleagues,

Allow me to begin by thanking our host for the excellent organization of this meeting in Warsaw, a city steeped in rich, but also tragic history, which serves as a reminder. Today we had an extraordinary opportunity for a thorough-going exchange of views between the members of the Visegrad Group and Western Balkan Ministers, and between our neighbours, on the current political and economic topics, but also on the diverse challenges we are faced with.

Even though huge progress has been made since 2014, when we first convened in this format, numerous challenges will lie ahead of us until we reach substantial reconciliation in the region. At the same time, challenges within the European Union itself have been mushrooming, all affecting our European prospects and, in such circumstances, the task of EU accession becomes a more and more difficult one. Therefore, we are especially grateful to the members of the Visegrad Group for lending us their frank support in our European integration process, and we also expect such support from all our neighbours, for they must know best how important that is for the further progress and stability of the entire region.

In our case, the process of accession negotiations does not solely mean that we have to grapple with the all-encompassing reforms, but also with the demanding process of the dialogue on the normalization of relations with Pristina, whose results will have an impact on the whole region. When it comes to the policy of imposing conditions, the bar that is supposed to be fixed, the aim we are all striving for, is increasingly becoming a movable target, fluid in its size and form, therefore diminishing our confidence and faith in the final outcome – becoming an EU member. Unlike the wave of a victorious sequence of events after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when you became EU Members, today’s circumstances are significantly different, the bar being raised significantly higher.

Due to all the aforesaid, our citizens are justifiably wondering if there really is a true intention for Serbia and the rest of the region to become members of the European family of nations, or the infinite posing of conditions and delaying the opening of certain chapters is just a mere disguise hiding the lack of readiness, if not an open objection of the majority of Member States to further expansion of the Union. We need to know what the European Union expects and what it wants us to do. Seeking strategic patience from a region that has not managed to become significantly closer to the EU in a decades’ span will not contribute to the intensification of reforms and solidification of stability. We need the strategic support of the EU on all aspects.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate once again that we are committed to EU membership. In a way, it turns out that these meetings are serving that purpose. Each of us could have brought the speech from the last time. Perhaps once we need to hear from you people from the EU whether you are in favour of the EU, yourselves. The EU has most support in the Western Balkans for there is nowhere else the EU enjoys such a strong and plays an important role as in the Balkans. Issues dominating the global scene present  a problem here – Trump’s electoral victory in the United States, Brexit, possible change of government in France, the survival of the Renzi government after the referendum on the Constitution, the fate of Angela Merkel after the elections next year. These are the key issues that need to be discussed at such meetings, not only whether Serbia or someone else will open a chapter and which one. The time when our countries will enter the EU is a matter of a political decision. This is the reality we have to confront.

Serbia has great respect for the cooperation with the V4 countries. We believe that we have to cooperate even more intensively, especially at the political and economic level, because it is very important for us in the Western Balkans. The question is why this term “the Western Balkans” is used in referring to us – it must have been coined by Croats so that they would not be in the Balkans. I think we should be looking for common interests and work on it. Our goal is to become an EU Member, but each of us has our own national and state interests or agendas. Every time the former UK Prime Minister Cameron went to Brussels, he used to say he was going to defend British interests. Should we be less Serbian than he was British? We are no part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU and we have interests that do not always coincide with your interests. Once we become the EU member, you will have to respect our positions. Let’s take the example of Kosovo. The question for the EU is whether the SAA was signed with Kosovo in the same way as with other countries, or is it a different SAA? Are representatives of Pristina designated with an asterisk and a footnote at meetings? Do you respect the neutrality status? You talk about them as if they were a country, and we do not agree with that. Has the SAA with Kosovo been ratified in the national Parliaments of the Member States? No, it has not, it was only ratified in the European Parliament. How can you talk about Kosovo as a country? We are tolerant, but you in the EU should stick to your own decisions. Do you think that Serbia will accept Kosovo’s independence if this is not done by all EU Member States? We are asked to align with the EU decisions on CFSP which are not in accordance with our national interests.

We have a dialogue going on with Pristina on normalization, we are constructive, but it does not mean that we agree that Kosovo is a state. Also, a large number of citizens of Kosovo already have a visa liberalisation through Serbia, because they are citizens of Serbia and they have our passports. We have nothing against that, we supported all of the Western Balkans to obtain visa liberalisation. We have to solve our problems.

We in the region have to embark on the road of shared interests, aware that this is our common space where we have to live next to each other, and especially of the fact that it is only united that we have the chance to make progress and to be competitive as a market and an investment destination. Consolidation of our economies is the key to our progress. We have to seize the time that the EU will use for its own consolidation in order to make as much progress as possible in the process of reforms and achieve the highest possible level of European standards in all areas.

On this occasion, I would like to emphasize that we are against ETIAS system that the EU wants to introduce for our citizens to pay a fee to enter the EU. There is no logical explanation behind it. If an EU entry fee is charged, we should consider imposing a counter-measure, based on the principle of reciprocity, and I will advance such a proposal. How is it possible that such a step is taken unilaterally? Is it logical that our nationals pay for entry into the EU, and that the citizens of EU Member States travel to Serbia without the fee? We need to respect each other and work in the common interest.

Ladies and gentlemen,

After the three summits on the Western Balkans, held in Berlin, Vienna and Paris, we should not be forgetting the annual meetings of the entire Central European region with the People’s Republic of China as well, we are making progress on infrastructural projects, cooperation between small and medium-sized enterprises, economic chambers.

It is with impatience that we await the Western Balkans Fund, that came into existence with the great support of the International Visegrad Fund, to become fully operational, and I want to inform you that we are near the end of the ratification process of this Agreement. We are working intensively on the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans, which will bring to life one of the initial ideas of the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Albania, within the “Berlin Process”. Both newly-established regional institutions will be seated in Tirana. Both projects will bring a considerable impetus in the cooperation between the civil society, NGOs, youth and experts from different areas, thus tangibly contributing to the better livelihoods of all the citizens in the region, and to regional reconciliation.

Nowadays, we once again hear about the possibility of entering into the Agreement on the Establishment of the Transport Community. As you know very well, the seat of the Secretariat of the South East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO) has been successfully operating in Belgrade for more than 10 years now, and it is logically expected that it will be transformed into the seat of the Transport Community Secretariat. That would secure a follow-up to the already institutionalized cooperation and existing structure. Belgrade is also an important regional transport hub, accessible from the aspects of road and rail transport, and particularly from the aspect of air transport frequency and destinations. Therefore, dear colleagues from the region, please support us this time round, in the same way Serbia supported you – Tirana for the seat of the aforementioned two regional organizations, Skopje for the seat of MARRI, Sarajevo for the seat of the Regional Cooperation Council, Danilovgrad for the seat of ReSPA. In this manner, an equitable representation for seats of regional organizations would be ensured and the region would show that it is mature and capable of working in its own interest.

Serbia has well advanced in the process of reform of society as a whole. However, we have the impression that our accession process is not progressing as envisaged, because it is largely determined by the progress made in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Serbia is firmly committed to the dialogue on normalization, in order to solve the issues of concern to citizens and secure stability which is still a relative notion in Kosovo and Metohija. Finally, I want to ask you to support us in our efforts to open, in December, three negotiating chapters (5, 25 and 26), which would give a powerful impetus to our European perspective.

Thank you for attention.”