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J. Joksimović: Brussels Agreement is stuck in Pristina’s mud

May 19 2019 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: Brussels Agreement is stuck in Pristina’s mud

Given the current atmosphere and European calculations regarding both the EU and the region, opening two chapters in June would be more than satisfying.

This time, the Progress Report on Serbia, no matter the content, will somewhat be in the shadow of a pre-election–post-election atmosphere in the European countries, and especially in the institutions, where enlargement and candidates are obviously not first on the list. Regarding the annual report itself, I expect it to reflect balanced assessments that are based on systematically and seriously gathered facts and evidence, and not on perceptions – as it has almost become customary, particularly regarding the areas dealing with the rule of law, i.e. chapters 23 and 24, emphasised Jadranka Joksimović, Minister of European Integration, answering the question on whether there is a chance that this document – which the European Commission will present at the end of the month – will bring such assessments on Serbia that they would enable the opening of more than the already standard two chapters.

– It is true – it has become common practice to open two chapters per a six-month presidency, which would mean that almost identical progress has continuously been noted. And it has not really been like that: sometimes there was more, other times there was less progress, but we would still get the Member States’ consent for usually two chapters, noted Joksimović.

Can a different – tougher or softer – EC position be expected, given that its mandate is nearing the end?

Given the reforms that we have implemented in the area of the rule of law in the past six months, and bearing in mind that we are not responsible for the Brussels Agreement stalemate, I believe that we have deserved the opening of at least two chapters. On the other hand, given the aforementioned atmosphere and other European calculations regarding both the EU and the region, two chapters would be more than satisfying. You see how the European integration process, as a par excellence political process, is susceptible to relativizing expectation management, imbalance of (un)deserved (de)feats, and is thus complex and arduous for the society. However, what matters is to climb uphill and reach the final goal, and that is a more efficient state, better quality of life and more opportunities for everyone in every part of Serbia. And of course – full membership.

EP Rapporteur for Serbia David McAllister has said that media freedom is the key indicator of a country’s readiness to become part of the EU, while Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House have levelled criticism at Serbia regarding the matter. Thomas Ossowski, Director for EU Policies at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, has stated for our newspaper that substantive progress in the rule of law has not been noted in the previous months. If you are right in saying that assessments are made based on perception and not facts – whose fault is that?

It is not a matter of fault but a matter of credibility of the entire process – both the reform and the reporting process, as well as the valorisation of the achieved. But it is also a matter of standards that are the same for everyone, fair and unwavering. Equal for everyone. So, no one is denying that there is unfinished business, particularly in establishing the legislative framework, which is the primary and conditio sine qua non for any reform. Of course, reforms in the rule of law are difficult – everyone knows it, it is just that no one has explained why they are difficult…

So, why are they so difficult?

Well, because they most frequently and unavoidably delve into and sometimes make tectonic changes to the notion of “vested rights” of stakeholders, professions, the establishment, as well as individuals. Therefore, there is strong resistance, while interpretations and perceptions of reforms are often subjective and disregard the bigger picture. That is why loud discontent of groups and individuals can create an image of majority dissatisfaction or faulty action. And if the Government is responsible, as this one is, it must do its job in addition to all those politically unpopular measures instead of constantly trying to prove that it is the right thing to do. That is why I said – facts and facts, comparative analysis, quality analysis from the process to the results. Everything else is a matter of opinion and perception, which is important, but it must not cloud the clarity of the facts. That is why we have invested great efforts into establishing transparent, participatory, comprehensively deep and broad dialogue and framework for defining a media strategy that is the cornerstone for regulating media landscape and the independence and status of journalism.

What are the report assessments you expect in chapter 35, given that the Kosovo dialogue has been blocked for six months, since Pristina introduced 100% taxes? Do you think the EC will assess that Belgrade is also partly to blame for this halt?

This part of the report is written by the European External Action Service, headed by Ms. Mogherini who is in charge of mediating and facilitating the dialogue. I highly doubt that anyone would now think to keep the so-called mirroring language in our progress report, i.e. to use the same formulations both in the Report on Serbia and on so-called Kosovo regarding the progress made in the dialogue, which has been the case so far. The Brussels Agreement is stuck, both because of the mud of unilaterally introduced taxes and bad messages coming from Pristina on a daily basis, and because, having adopted the platform against the dialogue in the so-called Kosovo parliament, Pristina is breaking off the wheel of the Brussels Agreement’s carriage that is now rushing downhill. Nowadays I wonder whether anyone ever remembers or mentions the Community of Serb Municipalities, expect for the Serbian side. What is happening with the statute and the work of the Management Team? What is more, since this bluff that Pristina performed in April 2018, a series of unilateral and destructive moves has been made. Belgrade and particularly President Vučić have acted in a civilised and European manner – we have been implementing what we have signed, we have honoured the reached agreements, we have been patient and tolerant, we have answered every initiative, waiting for the modern European code of political culture based on respecting agreements to be taken in by Pristina, but it seems to me that we are the sole guardian of the agreement-based diplomacy.

To which extent has the recent meeting in Berlin, called by Macron and Merkel, removed doubts about the problems in the Belgrade–Pristina dialogue?

That initiative of the EU’s leading duo – Germany and France, has had its significance in sense of “establishing contact” at the highest level for exchanging opinions among all from the so-called Western Balkans and those that are physically – but also in a broader sense – connected, given that representatives of Slovenia and Croatia were also present. In the case of Belgrade and Pristina, it served to enable any kind of contact between the two sides and open the possibility of agreement on the continuation of dialogue. I think that Vučić used this opportunity optimally to reiterate Serbia’s clear positions, and that everyone understands that the strategy of exhausting the position of Serbia and Vučić with a combination of harmful taxes and the indolent rhetoric of international community’s call for Pristina to remove them, has failed. Therefore, I believe that in July, the German-French initiative to revitalise the dialogue must go hand in hand with an altered situation regarding the taxes, because, otherwise, there will be no particular added value.

Estimates say that the so-called sovereignists and populists will take significantly more seats in the next EP composition. How would a different composition of the next European Commission affect our European integration?

There will certainly be changes, but I personally believe that they will not be so significant that they would change the core direction of the EU advocated by mainstream – although ideologically different – parties of the centre-right EPP and the centre-left European socialists. What is more, it is often the case that the rise of far-right parties is justifiably stressed, while the fact that green and liberal parties will actually have the greatest “coalition capacity” for both mainstream groups is unjustifiably missed and disregarded. For example, the EPP will hardly wear the triple crown again as it has in this composition, where EP President Tajani, EC President Juncker and EU Council President Tusk are all members of the EPP group. However, I truly believe that this kind of change will not have a crucial, either positive or negative, effect on Serbia, which has already come a long way in the negotiation process and is perceived as one of the frontrunners.

Significant reshaping of the EU could be expected in the near future, either towards “more Europe” or “less Europe”. This could certainly affect its enlargement policy?

Regarding the enlargement policy in general, I can only hope that most responsible parties in the EU, regardless of the group they belong to, will regain the understanding that enlargement is part of renewable leadership capacities of the EU and that it can encourage strengthening of integrated capacities and economy of European countries. The matter of the Commissioner and Directorate-General for Enlargement “surviving” in the new structure is, in my opinion, a matter of preserving the credibility of the EU, given the promised European perspective to the region of South-East Europe. As regards more or less Union, that is a tale as old as the EU itself, which will continue to be told as long as the EU exists. Be there more or less integration, it is important that integration, which brought peace to European countries, persists.

Do potential changes in the EU cause the rising discussion in Serbia on the need to establish deeper connections with the Visegrad Group and “the most powerful Italian politician” Matteo Salvini?

We have long had a concrete and fine cooperation with countries of the Visegrad Group – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, to which we feel close, in the sense that we are the southern part of Central Europe, and, with those countries that have Slavic origin, we also share similarities from the past that facilitate understanding, exchange of experiences, mutual learning and support. It is a cooperation platform that has demonstrated that countries, despite some crucial differences, manage to jointly advocate interests that they have defined as mutual. On the other hand, Matteo Salvini is a politician who managed to earn significant trust with Italian citizens after a long time; he has some new ideas, rhetoric, he inclines to the far-right but is essentially pro-European, the same as the members of the Visegrad Group. After all, it is easier to criticise the EU when you are its member. We are a candidate, and we observe what is happening, we follow the situation so as to adjust our agenda to the reality, because what is first and foremost important to us is a predictable, reliable, stable and sustainable progress of our citizens, which we will best achieve through continuous development of a responsible reform policy and our multilateral and regional pillar of action in international politics that will bring us to EU membership.

Author: Biljana Baković
Photo: Ivan Milutinović

Source: Politika