Statement of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic at the New Year’s reception given for Heads of foreign diplomatic missions and international organizations, directors and editors-in-chief of the media:
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to wish you all the best in the New Year, both at the professional and personal level so that all of us may have a lot of good reasons to meet and celebrate our joint successes.
Speaking of Serbia’s foreign policy in 2017, we can be pleased with the achieved results. Pursuing wise and balanced policies we promoted our vital national interests, above all protection of territorial integrity and sovereignty, continuing at the same time intensified activities in connection with the implementation of Serbia’s key foreign policy priority – full EU integration. We sought to maintain and deepen relations with all our partners and friends, even with those with whom we do not always share the same views and to address many challenges we have been faced with.
An open and meaningful dialogue and partner relations have been and will continue to be the only means to resolve all open questions. In that sense, in 2017 we not only maintained a high-level political dialogue with neighbouring States, namely those from the region of South Eastern Europe, but even managed to raise those relations with some of them to the highest level in recent years.
In 2017, Serbia opened six negotiating chapters with the EU. Since the onset of the negotiating process, a total of 12 chapters were opened. Two of them have been provisionally closed. This surely is a success, but judging by our efforts and the results achieved in the negotiating process, that number should have been higher. I hope that during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the number of opened negotiating chapters will be considerably bigger in rightful recognition of Serbia’s progress along the European road.
In his State of the Union address, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker singled out Serbia and Montenegro as leaders of European integration, emphasizing that he would continue to work on a strategy for their successful accession until 2025, which is the first clearly defined tim-line for Serbia’s accession to the EU. This is a good message for Serbia which may have a positive impact not only on our country but on the European path of the rest of the region. Serbia’s contribution to the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy has been validated by our continued participation in military and police UN- and EU-led peace missions, by strengthening our capacity to take part in civilian peace operations, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, close cooperation with the European Defence Agency and successful cooperation with the EU during the refugee and migrant crisis. Serbia has proven to be a credible partner through its activities.
Allow me to highlight the results achieved within the Berlin process: setting up the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, with head office in Tirana and a representative from Serbia as its first Secretary General as well as assigning Belgrade to be a seat of the Transport Community. We perceive the establishment of the Western Balkans Fund of importance to the promotion of regional cooperation.
In 2017, Serbia was visited by Foreign Ministers of the Czech Republic, Austria, Norway, Italy, Germany, Estonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Australia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Sweden, Finland, Kyrgyz Republic, Congo, Tunisia, Iraq, Qatar. In addition, there were numerous meetings with foreign officials, members of the highest-level delegations visiting Belgrade. There were also many important meetings with foreign officials at the margins of major international events. In 2017, a dialogue in a trilateral format between the Foreign Ministers of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey was renewed (first at the margins of the 72nd UNGA session and later in Belgrade). In 2017, I paid bilateral or working visits to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Norway, Vienna, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Argentina and other countries. The first session of the High-Level Cooperation Council between Serbia and Greece, which was on our side headed by President Aleksandar Vucic, was held in Thessaloniki on 13 July. I attended the 65th National Prayer Breakfast and met, among others, with the newly-appointed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I also participated in the Ministerial Meeting of the Association of Caribbean States.
Firm commitment to developing comprehensive relations with Russia has been reaffirmed by regular meetings between high-ranking officials and their meaningful discussions as demonstrated by a recent visit of the delegation of the Republic of Serbia to Moscow, headed by President Vucic. In 2018, we shall mark 180th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with this country, which will be observed in the presence of the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and joint activities in Belgrade and Moscow. At bilateral level, we made progress in our relations with the United States.
President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic visited Washington D.C., which was a good political signal. US President Trump was invited to pay a visit to Serbia. Overall strategic partnership with China was additionally promoted in 2017 with a continued upward trend. We are proud that Serbia is among the 29 countries that participated at the highest level in the first International Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May 2017 when our delegation was headed by President Vucic. Also, in 2017, Serbia continued to play an active role in all fields of cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic participated in the 6th Meeting of the Heads of Government between China and Central and Eastern European Countries. We are pleased that the relations with some major Asian partners have substantially improved over the past few years. Also, after 31 years, we shall host a Japanese Prime Minister – Mr Shinzo Abe will visit Belgrade on 15 and 16 January this year. Moreover, during the visit of then Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to India in January 2017, when he participated in the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in Ghandinagar, the traditionally good relations with that country, dating back to the days of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, have been promoted, without any outstanding issues.
Serbia continued to restore its ties with old friends from Africa. Its commitment to strengthening its relations with Africa, Serbia symbolically reaffirmed by proclaiming 25 May as the Day of Friendship with African Peoples. More visits of the African officials to Serbia and many meetings with African Foreign Ministers including at international gatherings testify to our readiness to enrich relations with these countries and the African Union as a whole, as well as to give them new content and quality.
Serbia closely watches the situation in the Middle East and builds partner relations with all countries of this region, not taking any sides in the ongoing conflicts and misunderstandings burdening the region. At the same time, Serbia is ready to help, as much as it can, to overcome the existing problems.
Serbia has largely engaged itself in establishing stronger bilateral relations with Latin American countries and in 2017 it accredited its Ambassador to the Caribbean Community – CARICOM. In addition, Serbia has initiated a procedure to obtain observer status in the Pacific Alliance. In September 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched an initiative to establish diplomatic relations with Tuvalu, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia, the implementation of the World in Serbia project has resumed (scholarships for students, postgraduate students and PhD degree holders from the Member States and Observers in the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries at Belgrade University) for academic 2017/2018. So far, 25 scholarships to applicants from 12 countries have been awarded under this project.
Serbia attaches exceptional importance to cooperation within the United Nations, an organization whose purposes and principles it fully honours and respects. Our activities have been directed at reaffirming the respect for international law and the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, convinced that they have to be respected without exception and fully, if international law is to preserve its universality. This cooperation is of particular importance also within our efforts to maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity. That is why we have consistently pointed to the importance of UNMIK engagement in Kosovo and Metohija which is vital to building and promoting stability and security in the Province, protecting human rights and freedoms of all its residents, above all of Serbs and other non-Albanians, as well as creating conditions for unhindered and sustainable return of internally displaced persons.
As part of its efforts to safeguard the national interests of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, comprehensive efforts in various multilateral fora have been continued in order to protect with all available diplomatic means our territorial integrity and sovereignty and thwart the attempts that “Kosovo” be granted membership in various international organizations. In that respect, we have achieved positive results in the INTERPOL, World Customs Organization, UNESCO. We received strong and unselfish support from our friends around the globe in this endeavour, to whom I express my sincere gratitude on this occasion as well. They include some of the countries that earlier recognized unilateral declaration of independence of “Kosovo” which later on backtracked on their decisions like Suriname and Guinea Bissau. Some other consider to go along the same path.
I would like to emphasize once again that Belgrade is fully committed to dialogue with Pristina under EU auspices and expect Pristina to respect and honour the obligations it had undertaken as well.
We continue activities to intensify Serbia’s engagement in the work of international organizations. In that context, let me highlight Serbia’s continued participation in the work of the UNESCO Executive Board. Also, in the September-December 2017 period, Serbia chaired the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation while representatives of Serbia participated in all major meetings and gatherings in all three OSCE dimensions as well as in the meetings of the Council of Europe.
Proceeding from the notion that diplomacy and our activities at the international level should serve the purpose of economic and social development of our country, I would like to single out our engagement towards the implementation of the 2030 Global Agenda for Sustainable Development. Activities at the international level to promote the position and protection of the refugees and internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija have continued as well as the activities to fully implement Regional Housing Program for refugees.
In 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued an active cooperation with other competent institutions to implement priorities in the field of security policies, which encompasses our cooperation with NATO through the Partnership for Peace programme on the basis of military neutrality; cooperation with the EU within our negotiating process in the field of Common Security and Defence Policy; engagement within the OSCE security pillar as well as in many other forms of cooperation in the field of collective security and defence.
Serbia demonstrated its resolve to share efforts in combating current security challenges (terrorism, cyber and energy security) which serves to promote its foreign policy position and role of a responsible partner. Of particular importance is our participation in the fight against terrorism, especially our engagement in the coalition fighting DAESH.
Last year, we abolished visa requirements with many countries to make Serbia more attractive to tourists and fresh investments. Let me mention some of those countries: Peru, Iran, India, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau and Suriname. Foreign nationals from 78 countries can visit Serbia without visas. The nationals of the Republic of Serbia can travel to 68 states without visas.
Aware of the role played by honorary consular officers, Serbia can boast to have 74 of them around the world. In 2017, we established a consular post of the Republic of Serbia in Spain, headed by an honorary consul with a seat in Zaragoza. We expect to establish consular posts headed by an honorary consular officer in Australia with a seat in Perth, in the Slovak Republic in the town of Martin, in New Zealand, with a seat in Auckland and in the Republic of Turkey, with a seat in Antalya. The importance of a consular aspect of cooperation was best proven in last year’s evacuation of 14 of our nationals stranded in the wake of Hurricane Irma, in a joint action with the Governments of Spain and France, for which I extend my gratitude on this occasion as well.
Finally, let me wish all of you once again a lot of private and professional success, good health, well-being, and may 2018 be peaceful and prosperous for the world at large.