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J. Joksimović: We cooperate with everyone, but our strategic goal is Serbia in the EU

October 26 2019 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: We cooperate with everyone, but our strategic goal is Serbia in the EU

The EU’s decision on North Macedonia and Albania should in no way interfere with Serbia's European path, Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović has said today and expressed her expectation that Serbia could open one, two or three chapters in the EU accession process by the end of the year.         

Joksimović has said that this depends on the informal EU report on the state of implementation of reforms and obligations undertaken under Chapters 23 and 24, which will be completed in November. As she has explained, based on this report, the EU countries will decide on how many chapters will be opened with Serbia.

"Serbia already has negotiating positions that have been prepared, and I expect an intergovernmental conference to be held by the end of the Finnish EU Presidency, as well as one, two or three chapters to be opened," Joksimović has said while appearing on morning TV show "Novo jutro" on TV Pink.

Asked about the possible consequences of the EU's decision not to open accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana and about Euroscepticism that such a decision provoked in the public, the Minister has recalled how the beginning of accession negotiations between Serbia and the EU looked like, where Serbia received its candidate country status in 2012, was given the date for launching accession negotiations a year later, followed by the beginning of negotiations in January 2014 and the opening of first chapters in December 2015.

"It took more than three years for the negotiations on entering the accession process to begin. I do not remember it being perceived as a blow and a threat to the stability of the region at the time, while these days we have been listening to various interpretations and mostly catastrophic and claustrophobic narratives,” Joksimović has observed.

She has said that there is no reason for Euroscepticism, that Serbia deserves faster progress in the EU integration process, but that it acknowledges the moment in which the EU currently finds itself and which, Joksimović has added, has its own problems, such as Brexit and the migrant crisis.    

At the same time, she has pointed out that the message from the EU Leaders Summit in Brussels was that the enlargement policy and decisions on North Macedonia and Albania will again be on the agenda at the EU-Western Balkans Summit, scheduled to take place in Zagreb in the first half of 2020, during Croatia's EU Council Presidency.

"Therefore, no one has given an absolute No, yet disappointment followed, especially in North Macedonia, given the Prespa Agreement and many difficult issues they have managed to resolve. They expected that only North Macedonia would be given a date, but the EU apparently perceived that the Skopje - Tirana 'package' was important for the stability of the region and that is why the decision concerned both countries," the Minister has explained.

She has stressed that Serbia is not happy about such decision by the EU, and that, as a candidate country, it is not fully satisfied with the pace of European integration, despite it being in the accession process, unlike North Macedonia and Albania - which are expecting a date for the beginning of negotiations, and with that – the beginning of the accession process.

"Now is the time to show that we have more capacity for a good future than the constant self-destructive urge to constantly explain how this region is the centre of all evil and backwardness," Joksimović has said.

In this context, she has stressed the importance of President Vučić's initiative ("Little Schengen"), by which, according to her, he has shown the best European manner of intra-regional cooperation, namely the model of free movement of capital, goods, services and people.

"Through this mechanism, Vučić has preemptively shown that this region has a future if we all act proactively and with good intentions," Joksimović has said.

Responding to the observation that the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, puts the entire Balkans within the vision of the EU decision, Joksimović has noted that there was disagreement within the EU, assessing that some countries assured North Macedonia that they would receive a date for the beginning of negotiations, but that the entire Balkans cannot be placed within this vision because the largest Balkan countries - Romania, Bulgaria and Greece - are already EU Member States. The Minister has said that we should not make parallel worlds where there are none, and that the common goal is for the rest of the Balkans to enter the EU.

She has reiterated that the EU's decision was not a good one, and that Serbia regrets it and wants sincere cooperation, as well as that it is in Serbia’s interest that everyone moves forward and meets all the criteria that Serbia also had to fulfil.

She has stressed the importance of all countries in the region working together on these criteria and reforms over the next six months, and has expressed Serbia's willingness to assist the candidate countries with its experience acquired in the European integration process.

Commenting on the statements of the outgoing EU representatives Federica Mogherini and Jean-Claude Juncker, that conflicts may ensue if the Western Balkans were not to be admitted into the EU, Joksimović has said that these statements bear no ill intent, but that their aim is to elevate to a higher level the reason why it is important for this region to be active in the European integration process.

"However, danger feeds on danger warnings. We should not ignore and sweep our problems under the rug, but if we keep ‘sounding’ the alarm, then this benefits this danger. I think there are more important and better ideas here, such as 'Little Schengen', which has a political and economic dimension.

Joksimović has also reflected on a report by the European Parliament Think Tank, which has noted that Serbia is frustrated at the decision on Skopje and Tirana and that it is increasingly turning to Russia and China, assessing that it is a legitimate view of the EP's Think Tank but also that Serbia is not frustrated.

"There are frustrated individuals, but not countries and governments, and Serbia has no reason to be frustrated; we are highly motivated to do everything for the advancement of our economy, political stabilization and a better life for our citizens," the Minister has said.

Commenting on the EU's objections to Serbia's cooperation with China and Russia, Joksimović has said that Serbia does this for its citizens, at the same time pointing out that certain EU countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have significantly increased the volume of their trade with Russia in the last year, despite the sanctions that exist.

She has added that the agreement signed between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union is important for the Serbian economy.

"We are talking about a market of around 183 million people, but it should not be overlooked that the EU has a market of 550 million consumers - our citizens need to know that. This does not mean that we should not be signing such agreements, as this is our right until we enter the EU, which no one can dispute, but it is important to know the facts,” Joksimović has stressed.

The Minister has also specified that Serbia achieves more than 65% of its total trade with the EU, and that the total trade with Russia and China amounts to a little more than the trade with the CEFTA countries, not because they or Serbia do not want more than that, but because it is the reality of Serbia’s economy and a natural orientation towards the European market.

Asked about the statement by US Special Representative for the Balkans, Matthew Palmer, that the EU decision was bad and discouraging, that it would poorly reflect on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue which promises European perspective if a deal on Kosovo and Metohija is reached, Joksimović has said that this is a multi-layered policy of the USA, the EU, Russia, and even China.

"These are the layers of foreign policy starting points of the USA, but also of the EU, Russia and China and their economic and geo-strategic interests. Our European path is clear, but it is important for us to understand the world we live in, and I think that, in synergy with President Vučić, the government considers prudently the circumstances and the current moment; however, we will never forgo our ultimate and strategic goal, which is Serbia in Europe." Joksimović has said.

Source: TV Pink and Tanjug