Serbia

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

European Parliament elections and their impact on EU Enlargement Policy

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion cam­paigns did not gain sig­nif­i­cant media atten­tion in Ser­bia, prob­a­bly part­ly due to the fact that it coin­cid­ed with the for­ma­tion of the new gov­ern­ment in Ser­bia and the dis­as­trous floods that affect­ed cen­tral and west­ern parts of the coun­try. More­over, one should bear in mind that the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions are not seen as a fac­tor with direct con­se­quences on Serbia’s path to the EU: first, since this insti­tu­tion does not have any role in the nego­ti­a­tion process for EU mem­ber­ship, and sec­ond, because the Ser­bian pub­lic inter­est­ed in EU issues is still not suf­fi­cient­ly aware of the Parliament’s increased role and pow­ers in EU pol­i­cy and deci­sion-mak­ing intro­duced by the Lis­bon Treaty. Only a hand­ful of writ­ten media report­ed on the pre­dic­tions with regard to the turnout and the suc­cess of polit­i­cal par­ty groups with­in the Par­lia­ment.

It seems that the pub­lic was most­ly intrigued to observe the grow­ing impact of extreme right-wing polit­i­cal par­ties across the EU, which is seen as a neg­a­tive out­come for the future EU set­up of which Ser­bia is sup­posed to become a mem­ber. Ser­bia was repeat­ed­ly told dur­ing its EU inte­gra­tion process to adhere to and pro­mote the EU’s core val­ues. One would won­der whether the EU itself might not lose its attrac­tive­ness in the eyes of Ser­bian cit­i­zens if the val­ues pro­mot­ed by the EU’s extreme right con­tin­ued to gain impor­tance over the next 10 years?

At the same time, the debate was fea­tured by an analy­sis on how the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions will affect the Enlarge­ment pol­i­cy of the next Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. It was argued that despite the fact that the Par­lia­ment has no for­mal role in the acces­sion process, its polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance should be expect­ed to grow in the next five years. Name­ly, since the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not expect­ed to have enlarge­ment as the main top­ic on its agen­da in the next term, cer­tain pub­lic fig­ures in Ser­bia fear that such a sit­u­a­tion might have neg­a­tive con­se­quences for Serbia’s acces­sion process. There­fore, it was argued that the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment could fill this gap and enhance its activ­i­ties as an enlarge­ment-friend­ly insti­tu­tion by pro­vid­ing encour­age­ment and polit­i­cal sup­port to the can­di­date coun­tries. The expect­ed rise of right-wing MEPs was not per­ceived as a threat to the Parliament’s engage­ment on enlarge­ment issues, giv­en that right-wing MEPs nei­ther have a uni­form posi­tion on future enlarge­ment, nor have they so far shown much inter­est in this issue.

Pro-European but considering alternatives

When it comes to the Ser­bian cit­i­zens, accord­ing to opin­ion polls pub­lished bian­nu­al­ly by Ser­bian Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion Office, the sup­port for EU mem­ber­ship since the demo­c­ra­t­ic changes in the 2000s var­ied between 73 per­cent and 41 per­cent. The high­est sup­port was not­ed in Decem­ber 2009 when Ser­bian cit­i­zens were grant­ed visa-free trav­el in the Schen­gen Area coun­tries, while the low­est sup­port was record­ed in Decem­ber 2012, prob­a­bly due to “acces­sion fatigue”, i.e. the per­cep­tion by the Ser­bian cit­i­zens that the EU mem­ber­ship is unat­tain­able in the long term. Accord­ing to the lat­est opin­ion polls con­duct­ed in Decem­ber 2013, 51 per­cent of the Ser­bian cit­i­zens would vote pos­i­tive­ly on EU mem­ber­ship if the ref­er­en­dum were held the next day, 22 per­cent would vote against, 20 per­cent would not vote, while 7 per­cent are unde­cid­ed. A more inter­est­ing indi­ca­tor of the cit­i­zens’ per­cep­tion of the EU may be the fact that 68 per­cent believe the reforms essen­tial for EU acces­sion would need to be imple­ment­ed even if the EU had not set them as con­di­tions, but for the sake of cre­at­ing a bet­ter Ser­bia.

On the polit­i­cal lev­el, the gen­er­al par­lia­men­tary elec­tions held in March 2014 were a major blow to anti-EU polit­i­cal par­ties, as they all remained below cen­sus. As a result, polit­i­cal par­ties present in the Nation­al Assem­bly of Ser­bia are all in favour of EU inte­gra­tion and mem­ber­ship, for the first time since the demo­c­ra­t­ic changes in 2000. The poor results of anti-EU polit­i­cal par­ties par­tial­ly stem from their frag­men­ta­tion — if they had formed a coali­tion in the pre­vi­ous elec­tions, they would have passed the 5 per­cent thresh­old nec­es­sary to receive a place in par­lia­ment. The event which had the largest impact on the polit­i­cal land­scape in Ser­bia as it is today in terms of the for-or-against EU debate was the break-up of the anti-EU Ser­bian Rad­i­cal Par­ty in 2008. This schism gave birth to a pro-EU Ser­bian Pro­gres­sive Par­ty, the main rul­ing par­ty cur­rent­ly, which gained 49 per­cent of the votes in the last elec­tions, while the Rad­i­cal Par­ty has been left below the cen­sus ever since.

Despite the fact that the major­i­ty of cit­i­zens and the entire polit­i­cal spec­trum are in favour of Serbia’s EU acces­sion, euroscep­ti­cism does play an impor­tant role in the pub­lic dis­course. The debate among schol­ars and influ­en­tial pub­lic fig­ures revolves around top­ics such as aban­don­ing EU inte­gra­tion and turn­ing to Eurasian inte­gra­tion and the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion, and con­sid­er­ing alter­na­tives to EU mem­ber­ship, such as adher­ing to the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Space. There­fore, in the inter­est of demo­c­ra­t­ic debate and rich­ness in the pub­lic dis­course, it would have prob­a­bly been bet­ter if the euroscep­tic par­ties had had their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Nation­al Assem­bly, as they gath­er in total some 15 per­cent of the elec­torate.

Who will manage EU Enlargement?

Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion results did not raise sig­nif­i­cant media atten­tion in Ser­bia. While most of the reports focused on the low turnout and major gains for euroscep­tic par­ties, cer­tain authors claimed that the elec­tion results should be observed in a pos­i­tive man­ner, as a proof that mod­er­ate polit­i­cal par­ties will con­tin­ue to play a major role in shap­ing EU poli­cies in the next term. What the Ser­bian pub­lic is more con­cerned with is what comes after the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions – the nom­i­na­tion of Com­mis­sion­ers by the mem­ber states and their approval by the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. The issue of the next Com­mis­sion­er for EU Enlarge­ment Pol­i­cy; whether or not there will be a dis­tinct enlarge­ment port­fo­lio; and which indi­vid­ual will be in charge of enlarge­ment are some of the ques­tions in the lime­light of the Ser­bian pub­lic. In addi­tion, Ser­bia is watch­ing with great inter­est the nom­i­na­tion of the heir to Cather­ine Ash­ton, giv­en the role of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice in medi­a­tion between Bel­grade and Pristi­na.

The curios­i­ty of this year’s Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions is that a Ser­bian cit­i­zen, who is also a Hun­gar­i­an cit­i­zen, became an MEP on behalf of the Fidesz par­ty. In his per­son­al view, the posi­tion will allow him to rep­re­sent and pro­mote the inter­ests of both Hun­gary and Ser­bia with­in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

A difficult choice between East and West

Through­out his­to­ry, Ser­bia has had very close polit­i­cal ties with Rus­sia. In the mod­ern era, Rus­sia was strong­ly opposed to NATO intervention/aggression in Ser­bia in 1999 and is one of Serbia’s most impor­tant glob­al allies in terms of refus­ing to recog­nise Kosovo’s uni­lat­er­al procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence. As regards ener­gy secu­ri­ty, the Russ­ian Gazprom holds 56.1 per­cent of shares of the Ser­bian nation­al gas com­pa­ny, while the con­struc­tion of the South Stream gas pipeline through Ser­bia was launched in Novem­ber 2013. When it comes to eco­nom­ic rela­tions, Russia’s share in Serbia’s export is 7.6 per­cent while Rus­sia rep­re­sents Serbia’s sec­ond largest import part­ner, account­ing for 10.2 per­cent of total imports (accord­ing to 2013 sta­tis­tics). The trade between Ser­bia and the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion is cus­toms-free on 99 per­cent of prod­ucts, which makes Ser­bia an attrac­tive invest­ment des­ti­na­tion for Euro­pean com­pa­nies aspir­ing to export to Rus­sia.

When look­ing into the future, such a sit­u­a­tion leaves many ques­tions beyond any obvi­ous answers. To what extent is Serbia’s EU acces­sion process com­pat­i­ble with its cur­rent rela­tions with Rus­sia? Will Ser­bia need to make a clear choice between the EU and Rus­sia, or on the con­trary, could it cap­i­talise on its geostrate­gic posi­tion and facil­i­tate the trou­ble­some rela­tions between the EU and Rus­sia? So far, EU offi­cials have shown under­stand­ing with regard to Serbia’s com­plex posi­tion on its rela­tions with Rus­sia. How­ev­er, if becom­ing an EU mem­ber state required a cer­tain alien­ation from Rus­sia, it would be an enor­mous test for Serbia’s state­hood and abil­i­ty to make clear-cut deci­sions. Cer­tain nation­al and exter­nal stake­hold­ers believe that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is unsus­tain­able, and that Ser­bia needs to make an unam­bigu­ous choice as soon as pos­si­ble.

Neutrality on Ukraine and the ‘membership carrot’

The events in Ukraine are close­ly mon­i­tored in Ser­bia, as they pro­duce mixed reper­cus­sions for Serbia’s posi­tion vis-à-vis both the EU and Rus­sia. On the one side, Ser­bia ful­ly respects Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty, which was expect­ed, giv­en its stance on Kosovo’s uni­lat­er­al procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence. How­ev­er, at the same time Ser­bia did not fol­low the EU offi­cial line on Rus­sia, i.e. it did not intro­duce any sanc­tions against Russ­ian offi­cials. Being a can­di­date coun­try for EU mem­ber­ship, Ser­bia gen­er­al­ly aligns its posi­tions on for­eign pol­i­cy issues with those of the EU. How­ev­er, while many believe that Ser­bia should remain neu­tral in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, there have been voic­es that the acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions process will require from Ser­bia that it entire­ly har­monis­es its posi­tion with the EU. Name­ly, there have been rumours that the nego­ti­at­ing chap­ter which address­es EU’s for­eign, secu­ri­ty and defence pol­i­cy (Chap­ter 31) will be opened ear­li­er than antic­i­pat­ed, for the sake of putting pres­sure on Ser­bia to ful­ly fol­low the EU path.

The per­ceived fail­ure of the EU’s engage­ment in the Ukrain­ian cri­sis has to a cer­tain extent brought a new dimen­sion to the future of EU enlarge­ment pol­i­cy. It is argued that the evolv­ing out­come of the Ukrain­ian civ­il war will have neg­a­tive con­se­quences on the EU’s Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy in gen­er­al, espe­cial­ly with regard to the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. The EU, thus, des­per­ate­ly needs a suc­cess sto­ry, which is far more like­ly to mate­ri­alise in the coun­tries under its enlarge­ment agen­da. The most impor­tant achieve­ment of Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice so far has unde­ni­ably been the Bel­grade-Pristi­na dia­logue, which again is anoth­er proof that the “mem­ber­ship car­rot” is one of the EU’s most suc­cess­ful for­eign pol­i­cy tools. That being said, one could antic­i­pate that the EU would slow­ly aban­don its polit­i­cal ambi­tions towards the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries and focus more on inte­grat­ing the West­ern Balka­ns.

The Balkans and the ‘Turkish scenario”

The polit­i­cal debate in Ser­bia is not pri­mar­i­ly focused on Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive, but rather on its grow­ing polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al pres­ence in the West­ern Balka­ns coun­tries. Cer­tain experts in Ser­bia argue that Turkey lost its faith in becom­ing an EU mem­ber and is com­pen­sat­ing by invest­ing in its trans­for­ma­tion into a region­al pow­er. The Balkan region holds a spe­cial place in Turkey’s for­eign pol­i­cy, as only for­mer Ottoman province on the Euro­pean soil and sym­bol of Turkey’s “Euro­pean­ness”. Accord­ing to cer­tain schol­ars, Turkey’s grow­ing pres­ence in the region can be under­stood as its desire to demon­strate itself as a cham­pi­on of the same val­ues pro­mot­ed by the EU – rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, while for exam­ple medi­at­ing between Bosnia and Ser­bia in 2010; mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, when rein­vent­ing its Ottoman lega­cy; and fos­ter­ing eco­nom­ic coop­er­a­tion and cul­tur­al exchanges across the West­ern Balka­ns. Behind these ini­tia­tives sup­pos­ed­ly lies the “secret agen­da” of reviv­ing the for­mer Ottoman Empire, in which the Mus­lim-dom­i­nat­ed Balkan coun­tries would be priv­i­leged. When talk­ing about pos­si­ble future sce­nar­ios for the EU mem­ber­ship of the can­di­date coun­tries, some authors do not exclude the “Turk­ish sce­nario”, in which the entire West­ern Balkan region will remain out­side the EU and will thus be nat­u­ral­ly forced to cre­ate stronger ties with Turkey.

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3. Power relations in the EU

German power and influence on EU enlargement

In Ser­bia, Ger­many is per­ceived as by far the most pow­er­ful and influ­en­tial EU mem­ber state. Thanks to its eco­nom­ic pow­er, Ger­many is seen as a leader in shap­ing future devel­op­ments in the EU’s insti­tu­tion­al struc­ture and mon­e­tary pol­i­cy. At the same time, Ger­many is admired for its labo­ri­ous pop­u­la­tion, impres­sive eco­nom­ic indi­ca­tors and polit­i­cal sta­bil­i­ty. When it comes to ques­tions of region­al rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and tran­si­tion­al jus­tice in the coun­tries of for­mer Yugoslavia, the man­ner in which Ger­many faced its past is often tak­en as an exam­ple to be fol­lowed by Ser­bia. The com­mon his­to­ry man­u­als joint­ly writ­ten by Ger­man and French his­to­ri­ans have been tak­en as mod­els for Balkan his­to­ri­ans in their attempt to demon­strate dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of the same events from the shared past.

Giv­en its dom­i­nant role with­in the EU, Ger­many is equal­ly per­ceived as the most influ­en­tial coun­try on issues relat­ed to EU enlarge­ment. In Serbia’s EU asso­ci­a­tion and acces­sion process so far, Germany’s role as agen­da-set­ter was cru­cial for Serbia’s progress on its path towards EU mem­ber­ship. Ger­many is seen as the hard­lin­er on Serbia’s mem­ber­ship aspi­ra­tions, in the sense that it sets the most demand­ing con­di­tions for Ser­bia to ful­fil, espe­cial­ly with regard to the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of rela­tions with Koso­vo. At times when Ser­bia was expect­ing to become a can­di­date coun­try, the major­i­ty of the Ser­bian pub­lic argued that Germany’s hard posi­tion on Ser­bia may be counter-pro­duc­tive. Name­ly, the insis­tence on resolv­ing com­plex issues pri­or to start­ing acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions was not nec­es­sary, when they are more like­ly to be resolved dur­ing the acces­sion process itself. In that sense, the Ser­bian pub­lic is very atten­tive to Germany’s com­ments and requests con­cern­ing the acces­sion process, while the polit­i­cal elites are aware of the impor­tance of invest­ing in fos­ter­ing more pro­found and inten­sive rela­tions with this coun­try.

Austerity measures to prevent the ‘Greek scenario”

Ser­bia has had mul­ti­ple and long-stand­ing chal­lenges when it comes to its fis­cal and mon­e­tary pol­i­cy, which were fur­ther ampli­fied by the EU’s eco­nom­ic and finan­cial crises. How­ev­er, the link­age between the endur­ing lega­cy of eco­nom­ic prob­lems in Ser­bia and the “aus­ter­i­ty ver­sus growth” debate in the EU cir­cles would be unfound­ed in Serbia’s case. There are no clear indi­ca­tors that Serbia’s econ­o­my would be seri­ous­ly affect­ed by any of the direc­tions the EU could pur­sue in the future.

In Serbia’s case, hav­ing an exter­nal debt of over 70 per­cent of its GDP, and hav­ing had a bud­getary deficit of over 5 per­cent in the past five years, aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures are of utmost impor­tance. In his exposé, the Prime Min­is­ter point­ed out that mea­sures to improve the eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance of the coun­try will con­sti­tute the main focus of the envis­aged reforms. Fur­ther­more, accord­ing to his words, in order to pre­vent the “Greek sce­nario” in the next two years, bud­get con­sol­i­da­tion, through reduc­ing expens­es and increas­ing rev­enues will be nec­es­sary.

The mea­sures are expect­ed to be imple­ment­ed with major oppo­si­tion by the cit­i­zens, giv­en high rates of unem­ploy­ment (around 20 per­cent) and the grow­ing pro­por­tion of social­ly vul­ner­a­ble in the pop­u­la­tion.

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Limited salience of a possible ‘Brexit’

The Ser­bian pub­lic has so far bare­ly tak­en notice of the announced UK EU-exit ref­er­en­dum sched­uled for 2017, pro­vid­ed that the Con­ser­v­a­tives win the next elec­tion. Only cer­tain euroscep­tic cir­cles com­ment­ed on how such a devel­op­ment is fur­ther proof that the Euro­pean project is falling apart and ques­tioned why – in light of this fact – the Ser­bian polit­i­cal elites are still attract­ed by the idea of join­ing the EU.

The UK has always been per­ceived as a pro­mot­er of the expand­ed EU, for the sake of thwart­ing attempts of forg­ing an “ever clos­er Union”, and thus, as a friend of enlarge­ment to the Balka­ns. How­ev­er, as the enlarge­ment to Roma­nia and Bul­gar­ia politi­cised the top­ic of migra­tion of its nation­als to the UK, it seems that the UK is nowa­days chang­ing its course on enlarge­ment and is start­ing to fol­low the hard­lin­ers, cham­pi­oned by Ger­many. The UK pub­lic is no longer in favour of enlarge­ment, fear­ing that it would bring more migrants. In that sense, it seems that Serbia’s mem­ber­ship aspi­ra­tions would not be sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect­ed if the UK leaves the EU in 2017. The UK has so far been par­tic­u­lar­ly insis­tent on Nego­ti­at­ing Chap­ter 35, which, among oth­er things, con­cerns the rela­tions with Koso­vo. One could won­der – if the UK leaves the EU – what its lever­age in influ­enc­ing and incen­tivis­ing Ser­bia in its own favour would be.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.