The European Union is not an ATM, it is the best place to live and work
July 08 2018 | Belgrade
We do not perceive the EU just as a source of money, but as a system of life and work that can bring us multiple benefits - in terms of economy, policy, security, culture...
Our country receives EUR 200 million in grants annually from the Union.
Serbia’s entry into the European Union in 2025 is a realistic objective, while the reforms that we are pursuing on this path should result in a better life for citizens and their satisfaction with their state, institutions and quality of life, Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimović has highlighted for daily Kurir. The EU, she said, is still the best place to live and work. She has added that Serbia receives EUR 200 million in grants annually from the Union.
Let's start from the first anniversary of the Government, which was marked on Thursday. How satisfied are you with the performance over the course of 12 months?
I think that this Government, in total, has achieved visible results in several areas. We continued what the previous two Governments during Vučić’s mandate as prime minister had set up as a strategic direction for reforms and policies in various fields. It is therefore vital to maintain, and even accelerate, the strategic direction of the reforms in the upcoming period and complete the reform process by the end of the mandate. This primarily means to keep a clear course on the European path, because citizens need to understand that the European path is a major stability policy and a framework that has enabled us to devote ourselves to internal development, and that all these reforms are part of our alignment with EU standards and the transfer of best practices into our system, of course with fine tuning, so that citizens could have a better life and be more satisfied with their state, institutions and quality of life.
Could the Government have done something better or more?
It is important to maintain a responsible fiscal policy, stable macroeconomic parameters, utilise new domestic and foreign investments that lead to new employment, higher salaries and pensions, healthy continuous growth, and consequently responsible consumption growth, as well as sustainable regional development. Of course, there is progress in many sectors, highly visible and crucial. I would not consider this as a question of whether and what could have been better, but whether we could do it faster.
Is there, as speculated, friction within the Government among the ministers and in relations with Prime Minister Ana Brnabić?
Results are important, so is everyone’s understanding regarding the strategic direction we are taking, and I believe that this exists within the Government. Of course, all of us as individuals have our own distinctive characteristics, different political styles, different views on certain matters, but this does not impede the common goal of this Government. It is impossible and unnecessary to strive for uniformity, it is vital to strive for the realisation of a common platform, and everyone in their own way contributes to it within their own area of competence.
How realistic is 2025 as the year of Serbia's entry into the EU? Is this an overly ambitious goal?
For the sake of clarification, it is important for me to emphasise that 2025, as the year mentioned in the Strategy for credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans, was perceived by us as important encouragement to continue with the implementation of reforms, but not as a certain and definite promise regarding the year of EU accession. The aforementioned year, which I would like to recall was first mentioned by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker when he talked about Serbia and Montenegro as the leaders of the European integration process in the region, is a fairly clear indicator that the Union is seriously counting on our country. I would say - rightly so.
Visas will not be reintroduced
Is Serbia’s visa-free regime at risk?It is speculated that the Union is angry over Serbia's decision to lift the visa requirement for certain countries, which has increased the number of migrants to the EU, and therefore it has threatened with the reintroduction of visas.
In 2015, when the intensity of the migrant crisis was the highest, Serbia showed its ability and responsibility towards EU countries, but also towards our citizens, in terms of responsible border control and participation in joint solutions. Because it is also in our interest, as a candidate country, to solve this problem in the best possible manner. Of course, EU Member States monitor the situation regarding the movement of citizens from the countries on the EU negative lists towards countries of the Union. We also do this; we very responsibly monitor the situation and control flights at the airport together with members of Frontex. That is why I believe that there is no reason for our visa-free regime to be compromised. We intend to align the visa policy until the accession, because we believe that this will mean greater security for our country.
Why are you so sure of it?
Serbia has shown and proved on multiple occasions and on various grounds to be a reliable EU partner - we have constructively and actively participated in solving the migrant crisis, we share the same attitude towards terrorism, we advocate a stable region - as that is a prerequisite for cooperation, peace, progress and development ... Therefore, it is my opinion that 2025 is not unrealistic for Serbia's membership, if we preserve our own, but also the region’s political stability, as well as speed up the reforms, which are actually the strategic goals of the Government. This would allow for an accelerated pace of opening chapters.
Yes, but Serbia has recently opened two new negotiating chapters, even though it was ready for five ... Is this a normal pace as regards chapters?
Our intention is to create conditions for holding more than one Intergovernmental Conference per Presidency, which means over the course of six months. In that case, it is realistic that we will open all the chapters by the end of 2023 and by that time we will gradually start closing those that are currently open. The 2025 framework would then be realistic as the year of accession.
How much support do we have in that regard from EU Member States?
We expect the support of Austria, which took over the six-month Presidency on 1 July, as well as from Romania, and we believe that the topic of enlargement will be credibly and reliably returned to the European agenda, despite all the challenges the EU will have next year, given the upcoming European elections, as well as the situation in certain larger Member States, Brexit negotiations, migration, intensification of trade relations and so-forth. It is therefore crucial that we work hard and remain coolheaded.
Do you think that in recent years it has become clearer to the citizens what the EU actually represents and how accession to the Union reflects on their everyday lives?
The European Union, in spite of certain current and past weaknesses, is still the best place to live and work. Through the process of accession, as well as through future full membership and implementing reforms, we are creating a country tailored for the citizens' needs - legal and just, socially secure, economically stable, modern and developed, just as we promised them - the Government of Serbia, President Aleksandar Vučić and SNS, as the strongest party of the ruling majority. We are aware of the importance of the reforms we are implementing. They are not always easy, or simple, but their ultimate result serves the wellbeing of citizens. I believe that citizens are aware of this fact because I have the impression that they support and understand that the decisions we make - no matter how unpopular they seem at one moment - result in numerous benefits and advantages.
Please highlight some of these advantages...
For example, one of them, in the period of accession, is the use of resources from EU funds (IPA). At the annual level, our country receives EUR 200 million in grants used for the implementation of numerous projects - infrastructural and others, primarily at the local level. Everywhere you look in Serbia, you will see that almost every town - bigger or smaller, has a facility - whether a kindergarten, school, hospital or a road - constructed from EU funds. A few days ago, in the presence of my colleague Nedimović, I signed an IPARD programme for the development of villages and agriculture, providing funds that our farmers will be able to use from 2014-2020 in the amount of EUR 175 million in grants from the EU. When we add national contributions and a part of the investments, the sum will be much higher. And this is one in a series of positive examples of cooperation with the Union.
The impression is that citizens perceive the EU only as an inexhaustible source of money ...
Of course, we do not perceive the EU just as an ATM, but as a system of life and work that, adjusted to some of our specificities, can bring us multiple benefits - in terms of economy, policy, security, culture, development. We are a European country and nation and I do not know why we would give up the prospect that many, some perhaps not fully deserved, have used before us.
The rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media are always mentioned in EU progress reports on Serbia as areas where more work should be invested. What is being done specifically in order to acknowledge such remarks and not allow them to repeat?
These are topics that are always at the heart of the accession process and they are covered in Chapters 23 and 24. They are among the first to open and last to close in the negotiation process and the opening of other chapters may depend on the results achieved in them. At the same time, these are the hardest chapters - they change the entire system, institutional habits and culture, one’s perception of the world, way of life ... Reforms in the areas you have mentioned are long-term and systemic and take a lot of time to implement. Of course, this is not easy. We have done a lot - which, I think, has been noticed in the EU, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us. We are working hard on aligning our legislation with the EU’s, we have acknowledged all the remarks that have been expressed and are aligning them with the EU law. We will continue to do so in the same way, devotedly and responsibly, in the future.
The Venice Commission recently commented on the proposed draft amendments to the Constitution...
As regards constitutional amendments concerning the election of holders of judicial functions, we have received comments from the Venice Commission and we will accept them all, so that we would truly have an independent and efficient judiciary. It has turned out that we were thinking in the right direction when it comes to European standards.
What do you have to say about the EU's remarks regarding the media?
Work on the media strategy has been renewed, a new working group has been formed and it includes representatives of journalist associations, the OSCE Mission to Serbia, so I think results will also be achieved in this area.
(Source: Kurir, interviewer: Boban Karović)