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J. Joksimović: The doors of the EU are not closed, we are continuing our reforms and our European path

November 09 2019 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: The doors of the EU are not closed, we are continuing our reforms and our European path

Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović has said today that she does not expect the European Council's decision to postpone granting the date for the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania will impede the European path of Serbia.

Joksimović has told TV Pink that the enlargement policy has its ups and downs, but that "the doors are not closed", especially not to Serbia, which, as she has stated, is already deep in the accession process.

"We are an acceding country, we are not an associating country, because once you open the negotiations you become an acceding country. Therefore, we do not expect this decision to seriously affect our European integration path," Joksimović has said.

She has stated that Serbia has clear criteria for accession negotiations, as well as a negotiating framework.

Joksimović has said that, by the end of November, it is also expected for the EU Member States to receive an informal document on the implementation of the reforms concerning the rule of law in Serbia, on the basis of which they will decide how many new chapters Serbia will open by the end of the year.

She has added that Serbia has already completely prepared four negotiating positions, i.e. that the Chapters are ready for opening, and has further clarified that the decision on the opening of one, two or more chapters depends on the assessment by the EU Member States regarding how much progress has been achieved thus far.

The Chapters that Serbia has prepared are the following: Chapter 2 - Freedom of movement for workers; Chapter 4 - Free movement of capital; Chapter 14 - Transport policy; and Chapter 21 - Trans-European networks.

In the meantime, as the minister has stated, new negotiating positions are also being developed and preparations are now being made for the negotiating positions for Chapter 28 - Consumer and health protection, Chapter 27 - Environment and Climate Change, Chapter 10 - Information society and media, and other chapters.

"Therefore, we are in no way slowing down our preparations and our work on the reforms which should move us forward on our European path, although the atmosphere regarding the enlargement is not very favourable," Joksimović has stressed.

Talking about the delaying of the date for the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, Joksimović has said that many different narratives and opinions have been heard, such as that this decision is a disaster or a historical mistake, but that she would not go so far as to take this so dramatically.

As she has said, the decision has been made on the EU Council to reopen the issue of the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania by the time of the EU-Western Balkans Summit, which will be held in May 2020 in Zagreb, where it will be seen how the Member States will react.

She has recalled that Serbia signed the Brussels Agreement in 2013, but that it was not until June 2013 that it was presented with the opportunity to possibly get a date; therefore, it was not until January 2014 that the negotiations officially began, with the opening of the first chapters occurring in December 2015.

Serbia then had to fulfil a lot of difficult conditions and had numerous delays, the Minister has said, adding that no one bothered dealing with Serbia back then and that no one talked about historical mistakes and catastrophe in the region, although Serbia is the most important country in the region in terms of its economy, size and other matters.

She has also added that in 1993, when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the expectation was that they would soon become EU Member States, while the reality showed that they became members 11 years later.

When it comes to the survival of the enlargement policy, Joksimović has said that the same debate that is taking place in the EU today took place some 30 years ago, i.e. the debate on whether to support enlargement or deepening.

"These are the stages of the EU, and it has been designed to function under constant crises," Joksimović has said.

Asked to comment on the statement by French President Emmanuel Macron that the EU had suffered a stroke, Joksimović has said that, during his visit to Belgrade in July, at a joint press conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Macron said for the first time that reforms within the EU were necessary, but that it did not mean that a credible enlargement process cannot go hand in hand with such reforms.

The Minister believes that this message is a signal of relations towards Serbia and a confirmation of understanding that Serbia is deep in the European integration process, that it is an important country and a strategic partner of the EU - which is contractually defined.

Asked about what she expects from the EU General Affairs Council to be held on 19 November, for which France has announced it will deal with the enlargement reform, Joksimović has said that this would mean "that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and that we all now hope that all the negative narrative will be resolved at some dawn, i.e. during the next year."

She has clarified that every idea in the EU, no matter from which Member State it originates, and even from a country as big and old as France, must first reach a consensus of all Member States, because the point of decision-making and the decision-making process in the EU is exactly consensus - to find the most acceptable framework against which no one will object.

"All ideas, all methodologies, all enlargement ideas must undergo a serious debate among all Member States, and only then may they become a part of the official policy. Until then, we are doing our job," she has said.

Joksimović has pointed out that we are in a paradoxical situation where everyone is solely concerned with ‘what ifs’ even before any official ideas, instead of dealing with current state of affairs, which is Serbia’s European path and the reforms that Serbia is implementing.

She has stressed that she does not want anyone to think that Serbia is now taking advantage of this situation and looking forward to further complications regarding the enlargement process so that it may stagnate the reforms.

"This is not what the Government is doing, as the President said in Geneva yesterday," Joksimović has said, adding that the "mini-Schengen" initiative, which has been initiated by the Serbian President with the Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, is to be continued today in Ohrid.

"We work on our European path and we try to help everyone else in the region, but above all we work for the benefit of our citizens, and that is what is most important," the Minister has said.

Commenting on the US interest and involvement in the EU enlargement policy, Joksimović has said that North Macedonia and Albania, which have a Euro-Atlantic component, will certainly have support on their European path.

“Serbia is a military neutral country, we have no aspirations for NATO membership, which is not a precondition for EU membership,” Joksimović has said, adding that the US nonetheless recognizes that Serbia is objectively the leading country in the region, and that it is in the best interest of the US and the EU for Serbia to stay on its European path.

"This is also very important to us, and we should not forget that the largest number of investments come from the EU countries, as well as the largest number of donations, i.e. grants, the largest volume of trade is also achieved with the EU countries - these are important facts that we should not forget," Joksimović has said.

Joksimović has also stated that the citizens prefer, regardless of their doubts about Serbia's European path, for their children to live, work and study in the EU countries. "We want our youth to remain in the country, and that is why we are creating the same conditions as in the EU," the Minister has said.

Asked about what she expects of the Croatian Presidency over the EU, which will begin on 1 January 2020, Joksimović has said that she also believes that they have multiple reasons to be interested in the enlargement process in the Western Balkans.

"I think it would be wise for them to use that to their advantage and to the benefit of the region, as well as to profile themselves as someone who does not constantly cause some bilateral issues. Their interest is to deal with this issue, as is our interest to deal with the whole region," Joksimović has said. She has stated that serious states act in this way, and that those who think otherwise can freely shut themselves in their own little worlds, while Serbia wants everyone to move forward together.

Source: TV Pink and Tanjug