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J. Joksimović: Important year for the EU and Serbia

January 25 2020 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: Important year for the EU and Serbia

Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović has said that the Serbian Government is seriously, thoroughly, actively and devotedly implementing the reform process and is preparing negotiation chapters in all areas on its path towards the EU, and added that this year is important for Serbia due to defining of some important policies for the EU itself and, as part of this, of the "enlargement policy, which matters the most to Serbia".

Asked about what Serbia can expect on its path towards the EU in a year when the EU Council is presided by two important countries for Serbia – Croatia in the first half and Germany in the second half, Joksimović has said that European integration is a process that cannot be measured by the six-month presidency of any country over the EU Council.

She has stressed that this year is important due to defining of some important policies for the EU itself, and therefore for "defining the future of the enlargement policy, which matters the most to Serbia".

Other things are also important, the Minister has said, highlighting the debate on the EU budget for the next 7 years, since, based on the planned allocated financial resources, it can be assumed whether enlargement is planned in terms of accepting new EU members. However, as Joksimović has explained, this also does not have to mean anything, because if Serbia becomes ready for accession in the next 7 years or before that period, the EU's budget will be adapted to the new enlargement.

"The enlargement policy itself has also in a way begun to gain traction with the topic of the future of enlargement, following the French proposal on a new accession methodology. It is primarily aimed at those countries that have yet to start the negotiation process," Joksimović has said, recalling that this mostly relates to the expectations of North Macedonia and Albania.

The Minister has recalled that Serbia has opened more than half of the chapters, and that it has a clearly defined negotiating framework that has been adopted by all EU Member States.

According to her, it is good that the EU Member States and the European Commission are showing interest in our position on the enlargement policy, because "the process of European integration is nevertheless a meeting of two political wills and we must be involved in it, express our expectations, and see how to measure the progress which Serbia has undoubtedly achieved so far," Joksimović has explained.

She has added that she does not expect the changes under the new methodology to be substantial, at least as far as Serbia is concerned.

"At the moment, Serbia has prepared five negotiating positions. I expect that, considering the clear progress in the area of the rule of law, we will open new chapters by the end of June, i.e. by the end of the Croatian EU Council presidency."

She has also said that it is essential to redefine the common interests within the EU, but also the common interests between the EU and candidate and potential candidate countries.

"The goal is to define common interests from the Arctic all the way to the Mediterranean, as the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 1990 envisaged, noting that Europe would be whole when it is united in peace, prosperous from the north to the south and from the east to the west of the European continent,” she has stressed.

She has added that this will, in fact, be the topic of a major conference on the future of Europe, which is to be held during the Croatian EU Council presidency, and that it is good that the German and French Ambassadors to Belgrade, Thomas Schieb and Jean-Louis Falconi, have said that they expect all candidate and potential candidate countries, with particular emphasis on Serbia, to be involved in it and provide their views and contributions.

With regards to the EU-Western Balkans Summit, scheduled to be held in Zagreb in early May, Joksimović has expressed her expectation that decisions to open negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania will be adopted by then, as well as the decisions concerning the enlargement policy itself which, according to the Minister, is very closely monitored by Serbia. She has also stressed that the European Commission's proposal on a new methodology is also expected to be presented in early February.

"Every day, I have discussions on the subject with various representatives of EU Member States and the European Commission," she has said.

An important segment of defining a new European deal is also the Green Deal, presented in January by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

"This will be very important for us as well," Joksimović has said, "because there is no sustainable Green Deal for Europe unless the Western Balkans is included. In that sense, I also expect some kind of Green Deal for the Western Balkans to be presented."

Asked to comment on the latest public opinion poll conducted by her ministry, which states that 54 percent of Serbian citizens support Serbia's EU membership, Joksimović has stressed that long journeys are always difficult and troublesome, but that they are ultimately worth it because of the end goal.

"European integration is a difficult and demanding path for Serbia, because this process is politically quite complicated for Serbia, but when you ask the people if they are in favour of full membership and how they would vote in a referendum, 54 percent of them would be for Serbia joining the EU," Joksimović has stressed.

According to the same poll, 24 percent are against the EU membership, while around 22 percent do not have a clear position on the issue.

When asked if they support the reforms being implemented, 73 percent of citizens have said "yes", which indicates that the reform path is clear and has made many positive changes in the lives of Serbian citizens.

She has added that Serbia is implementing reforms in all areas, and especially in the area concerning the rule of law, while the overstressed criticism by some representatives of civil society, non-governmental organizations and opposition parties is unfounded and malicious, and, in most cases, politically motivated.

Commenting on the statement by the Chair of the Committee on European Union Affairs of the German Bundestag, Gunther Krichbaum, who, reflecting on Serbia's foreign policy, has said that "it is unbecoming for an accession candidate to view the EU and Russia as equal partners", Minister Joksimović has said that there is no room for comparing Serbia's relations with the EU and Serbia's relations with the Russian Federation, because Serbia has a contractual relationship with the EU. She has explained that the Stabilization and Association Agreement defines Serbia's numerous reform activities and commitments, that the EU is Serbia's largest trading partner and that the largest investments come from the EU, which has already resulted in significant momentum to the economies of EU Member States. The Minister has specified that Serbia’s strategic commitment is the EU, and that, this year, it would be good for the EU to also define the enlargement policy in the direction of credible partnership and with more commitment towards candidate and potential candidate countries.

She has stressed that Serbia is the only country that negotiates under strict and rigid criteria, stating that it is the only country that had to open the chapter concerning the rule of law at the beginning of negotiations, which will be closed at the very end of negotiations, i.e. before the accession.

She has also recalled that Serbia has sent its negotiating position for Chapter 27 concerning environment and climate change, which, according to her, is one of the most challenging chapters on which a large number of institutions and stakeholders have worked for a very long time.

Joksimović has concluded that the upcoming elections are the best test that will show whether citizens support the Serbian Government's course, which is also linked to the European path and, primarily, to Serbia's development and reforms, and that she expects the elections to confirm that citizens have recognized the reforms and overall progress achieved.

Source: Tanjug