Serbia: EU urges Kosovo resolution before accession to bloc
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In October, the European Union’s 27 leaders promised future membership to their six Balkan neighbours, restating a pledge first made 18 years ago. After weeks of deliberation, EU leaders agreed that Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania have a place in the world’s largest trading bloc if they fulfil the criteria on areas from judicial reform to economics.
But with the “enlargement process” blocked by various disputes in Brussels and Serbian political leaders reluctant to ever recognise Kosovo’s 2008 independence, many in the Balkans felt the EU declaration was an empty statement.
“The EU reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans,” the final October summit declaration said.
“The EU reconfirms its commitment to the enlargement process,” it said, although leaders insisted that the bloc focus on “credible reforms by partners, fair and rigorous conditionality and the principle of own merits.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the Balkan countries “family”, while French President Emmanuel Macron struck a conciliatory tone, saying the Balkans were “at the heart of Europe” and deserved a pathway to membership.
But according to a poll completed in March, only half of Serbia’s citizens support EU accession and only one in five has a positive opinion of the Brussels bloc.
Speaking at a conference called “(The Wrong) Perception of the European Union in the Western Balkans”, leading polling expert Srdjan Bogosavljevi said the poll showed that 46 percent of Serbian citizens would support the country’s EU accession in a referendum, but that a mere 21 percent of respondents had a positive opinion on the Union.
He added that the number of people who believes Serbia will never join the EU has tripled in the past seven years.
He said: “In 2015, 14 percent of respondents said they did not expect Serbia to join the EU ever, as opposed to this April when 43 percent were of the same opinion.”
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In 2008, 32 percent of Serbs felt that the country should not follow the path of EU membership if it was conditional on recognising Kosovo’s independence, but in 2022 this figure went up to 49 percent, he added.
The EU is by far the biggest foreign investor and trade partner of the six countries that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia and the ethnic wars of the Nineties.
China accounts for only about 8 percent of the Balkans’ international trade, according to the World Bank, compared with almost 70 percent with the EU, but has offered money for infrastructure on a huge scale in a region that lacks road and rail links.
Russia, which is trying to exploit its history of links in the region to challenge EU and US involvement, opposes the accession of Balkan states into the European bloc.
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Taking the 27-nation club to 33 members would complicate its strained decision-making and require internal EU reform that few states want to embark upon, something that Macron and EU Council chair Charles Michel acknowledged to reporters in October.
EU northern countries such as Denmark, France and the Netherlands fear a repeat of the rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain that turned many Britons against the EU.
Bulgaria is against North Macedonia, already a NATO member, joining because of a language dispute.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic conceded more publicly than usual in October that his country would not be able to join the EU unless it resolves outstanding issues with Kosovo.
“Without resolving issues with Pristina, Serbia would not be able to join EU,” he said.
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