Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic participated, in Belgrade, today, in the Conference “Multi-speed Europe: Deepening the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy”.
The Serbian Foreign Minister spoke at the main panel, which was also addressed by German Federal Foreign Office Secretary of State Markus Ederer, and European External Action Service (EEAS) Director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey Angelina Eichhorst.
Following is the address by Minister Dacic:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I, first of all, thank the ISAC Fund for inviting me to speak at this conference, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. The fact that I was invited by Mr. Pajevic for the third consecutive year, reflects that the theme of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Serbia’s role in the process, is highly important, attracting a considerable amount of attention.
Looking back on the last three years, since we started addressing this issue, Serbia has not made much progress in terms of procedure, for we are still expecting to receive the Screening Report on Chapter 31, although the bilateral screening meeting where I headed the Serbian delegation, back in October 2014, was assessed as very successful. However, in the absence of the report as a clear framework for our further guidance, we have nevertheless continued to work hard by holding regular meetings of the Negotiation Group for Chapter 31 – a continued and highly overt dialogue with civil sector representatives, and devoted particular attention to talks with those EU Member States which have demonstrated a special interest in this area. We are very pleased, and encouraged by the fact that the European CFSP heeded Serbia’s request which I expressed at the screening meeting on Ch. 31, and held consultations with the Western Balkans Six, in January, while we also expect bilateral consultations on a wide range of foreign-policy themes, during the summer. I believe that it would be very useful if the EU included in its process of CFSP decision-making and strategic document adoption, states which have already commenced their membership negotiations.
It is regrettable indeed that the issue of cooperation between Serbia and the EU in this area is primarily perceived, and probably assessed as well, only through one segment, i.e. Serbia’s alignment with EU decisions and declarations, particularly concerning Russia. This is, most likely, the main reason that EU Member States were unable to agree on the content of the report, which has been in the adoption process for a year and a half already.
Unfortunately, Serbia has not yet joined the EU and, since it does not participate in the decision-making process, it is unable to protect its interests in the same way as it will be able to, after becoming its member. We are faced with decisions that have already been defined, which we can only accept or reject, which is what we occasionally do, but due to which the percentage of our alignment with EU decisions in the past few years has been around 64%, on the annual level. I do not deny that I am probably being subjective, but I believe that this is realistic in the current phase of Serbia’s European integration, and considering all the challenges we are facing. All our alignment decisions are carefully weighed and balanced, taking our national interests into consideration.
Since alignment is not an issue that can be classified as a requirement based on legal commitments – for the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) and the EU negotiation framework are clear – Serbia is expected to gradually align itself with the CFSP and reach full alignment on the eve of joining the EU – which is indisputable, this is frequently explained as a need of respecting European values. I wish to underline that Serbia belongs in Europe in terms of values, geography, policy and security, which we demonstrated and proved in innumerable cases. In fact, Serbia’s European integration process has been underway since 2003, aimed at having Serbia become, some day, an EU Member State.
I believe that it is necessary to underline that,from the very beginning of Serbia’s alignment with EU decisions, that is, after signing the SAA back in 2008, Serbia’s position was very clear, and unambiguously brought to the attention of the EU. Serbia cannot align itself with the decisions and restrictive measures related to Russia and China, as Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, because its territorial integrity is threatened by attempts at secession of a part of its territory, and these two states have persevered in the respect of international law. Our attitude is the same towards all other countries that have been supporting Serbia on issues related to Kosovo and Metohija.
Serbia’s position in this respect has been consistent and has never changed, while the positions of the EU and a part of the international community towards the Russian Federation have changed. Why? They say, because of international law which must be respected in the case of Ukraine, but does not have to be respected in the case of Serbia, or so it appears.
I would like to note that, unlike some others, Serbia has always been consistent. It was also highly cooperative and committed to the resolution of all outstanding issues through dialogue, rather than threat and potential conflict which is Pristina’s model of behaviour. Serbia did not insist upon digging up the past and making unreasonable requests, but on the need for looking into the future and cooperation based on common interests, but with mutual respect. Belgrade agreed to conduct dialogue with Pristina, with the facilitation of the EU High Representative, where Madam Eichhorst plays a very active and important role – without imposing any conditions. However, despite all the efforts made, and the fact that our stakes were very high – since it is an extremely sensitive political process – we often witnessed disrespect for agreements and rejection of possibilities for talks, let alone for reaching agreements on issues of crucial importance to Serbia.
For example, I would like to refer to the issue of property, or the protection of religious and cultural heritage, which Pristina refuses even to discuss, but nevertheless wishes to join the UNESCO. What about the Association/Community of Serbian Municipalities (CSMs), whose establishment was agreed by the first Brussels Agreement, in 2013, which I signed myself? Do you think that I would have signed it had the Agreement’s first six items not been related to the CSMs? We saw it as a guarantee that the livelihood of some hundred thousand Serbs, who remained in Kosovo and Metohija, will be safe and sustainable. In this context, I wish to refer to UNHCR information according to which, out of more than 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo and Metohija, only 4,500 of them had a sustainable return. I did not notice that any concern was raised by this devastating information or non-fulfilment of obligations, such as that related to the establishment of CSMs.
I am convinced, however, that principles and rules should equally apply to all. I also believe that EU response to their violation should be the same, regardless of whether the violation is committed by Serbia or others. This will affect the enhancement of the credibility of, and trust in the EU, in my country. There should be more understanding for issues of crucial importance to Serbia, such as the preservation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty. In the absence of that, it is difficult for Serbs to recognize the European Union not only as their major foreign trading partner, the largest donor or investor, but also as a political community that respects and appreciates partners like Serbia. For this reason, some others seem to be more visible in our public, while the issue of EU accession is increasingly seen by our people as a highly politicized process, where the same rules do not apply to all. For instance, over the past few years, the EU has called for our patience strategically regarding the enlargement process, and strategic action, at the same time, in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), for which we did not even receive the Screening Report. This kind of logic I find difficult to understand.
As regards CFSP cooperation, the EU should know that Serbia will always be a credible, predictable and reliable partner, willing to share all challenges and risks with the EU. However, the European Union should make more effort to understand Serbia’s position, which is highly rational – as you, Europeans, would say – we are only acting in the spirit of principled pragmatism. The Serbian Government is pursuing an active, clearly profiled and designed foreign policy, whose top priority is EU membership, but also to intensify dialogue, cooperation and relations with countries across the world, particularly with the traditional partners. Considering that Serbia’s economic growth is the prerequisite for the progress of society as a whole, as well as the EU accession process, particular attention is given to creating conditions for increasing exports, foreign direct investments and job creation. We further believe that it would be irresponsible to jeopardize our relations with some of the major world economies or hamper our energy supplies. We wish to pursue a policy that would contribute to Serbia’s better positioning on the regional, European, multilateral and broader international level. In this context, we see no obstacles to Serbia’s cooperation with a wide range of countries, in different areas, in the same way as we cooperate with EU Member States or with our neighbours.
For example, it seems to be a problem if Serbia annually has two military exercises with Russia and Belarus, although the remaining 14 are held with the US (9), NATO (2), Balkan countries (2), or with Hungary (1). Please note that in the past five years, there we had 44 exercises with the United States, and only 6 with the Russian Federation. I believe that numbers clearly demonstrate Serbia’s basic orientation, and therefore believe that putting its cooperation with other partners in a negative context, reflects an exclusive and erroneous approach.
May I take this opportunity to say a few words about the areas of cooperation between Serbia and the EU within the frameworks of CFSP and CSDP. It is important for us to draw your attention to this, as there seems not to be much interest in such information, unfortunately, although Serbia is making a substantial contribution in this area.
Based on the existing treaty framework of 2011, Serbia has been exchanging classified information with the EU, participating in multinational EU operations, and has developed close and intensive cooperation with the European Defence Agency. Serbia is the eighth-largest troop contributor in Europe to the peacekeeping missions, and the first in the Western Balkans region. In 2016, a total of 643 military personnel participated in EU peace missions and operations worldwide. Currently, 329 Serbian military personnel are engaged in EU and UN operations. We have undertaken activities aimed at adopting a legal and institutional framework for unhampered participation of civilian structures in international peacekeeping operations and missions. In this process we are closely cooperating with the ISAC Fund, as well as with Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden and Norway. Last year, Serbia acceded to the technical agreement establishing the EU battle group – HELBROC. By the end of the year, we expect to see the finalization of the process of elaboration of the National Security Strategy, Defence Strategy and the so-called White Book, where representatives of 29 institutions are participating. Our main guidelines along this path are EU membership, military neutrality, as well as an integrated and comprehensive approach to security. Drafting of the new Foreign Affairs Law is underway, while the Law on Restrictive Measures was adopted last year, as one of the EU requirements.
The EU singled out three priorities in the CFSP area, regarding the Western Balkans region: regional stability, fight against terrorism, and migration. Serbia will continue intensive cooperation with the EU in all three of these areas. We have been making an exceptional contribution to curbing the effects of the large migration crisis – since 2015, some 1.4 million migrants transited the Serbian territory, while some 8,000 have been stranded in Serbia, for months. In relation to our capacities and financial potential, it is evident that we are under a greater strain than some EU Member States. Serbia’s acts have been demonstrating the country’s wish not only to share the burden, but the responsibility as well, and contribute to addressing common problems.
Serbia expects all these highly specific and demanding activities to be adequately valued in the overall assessment of our contribution to CFSP, in order that a realistic conclusion, rather than a conclusion based on emotions or perceptions, can be made when the country’s progress in this area is scrutinized. Serbia sees its future in the EU, and there is no doubt that Serbia will always be an extremely devoted partner in tackling all the challenges facing it, as well as in the preservation of regional stability and strengthening of regional integration, but this must not be a substitute for the European integration process, and should only contribute to the acceleration of our pace on the EU path.
Serbia considers very important the message released by the EU in the Global Strategy – that a credible enlargement policy assumes strategic investment in security and European prosperity, and that it will continue to be based on a clear, strict and fair accession process. We anticipate that when the EU defines the framework of its reform process, by the end of the year, it will attach significant attention to our region and support Serbia in its intensions to considerably accelerate its own reform process and EU accession.
Thank you for your attention.”