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J. Joksimović: We do not measure who, when and how much someone helped

May 10 2020 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: We do not measure who, when and how much someone helped

TALK OF THE WEEK: Jadranka Joksimović, Minister of European Integration

I do not think there is anything left unsaid or moot in the manner or conditions for running the election process in Serbia

The phenomenon of the parrot rhetoric used by various interpreters of European integration, which then becomes part of general buzzwords in the media, is irritatingly superficial and shows either non-understanding or political opportunism of those who want to impose ideas that someone in the EU, or rather someone in Serbia, likes. The European perspective is the horizon towards which the enlargement policy ship sails. One cannot exist without the other. And those who wanted to avoid mentioning the enlargement policy accomplished nothing in terms of reducing the European perspective, while those who explicitly requested the mentioning of enlargement or membership lost nothing.

This is how Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović comments on the assessments that the Zagreb Declaration, adopted on 6 May at the video-conference of the leaders of the EU and the Western Balkan Six, does not bring anything new. The Declaration reaffirms the unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, but it does not mention either enlargement or EU membership.

“The criteria are familiar, and they would not be reduced by a clearer mentioning of potential membership. But it was unambiguously stated – and I attended the Summit with President Vučić from the beginning to the end and heard the presentations of all participants – that the idea of the EU is not complete without the Western Balkans, and that we need each other equally. I believe that in circumstances when the whole world, and particularly some European countries, are still fighting the pandemic, this is alright and more than enough,” stresses Jadranka Joksimović for Politika.

Two decades after the first summit of the EU and non-EU countries, also held in Zagreb, when the region’s European perspective was opened, we are still talking about that perspective. When could Serbia move forward from this position where the greatest consolation and reward is the promise of the European perspective?

The European perspective is neither a consolation nor a reward, but a conscious choice, based on interests and values, which the supported political elites made through the Serbian citizens’ support to the European integration policy, taking into account the benefits and well-being of the society. What is more, it seems that many forget the context of the Summit where the European perspective of the entire Western Balkans was discussed. What exactly could have been done more than this in the current state of play both in the EU and in various parts of the Western Balkans? Or maybe those who say that more could have been done really believe that the reform process, the negotiation process and the functionality of societies are equal across the Western Balkan region. I myself am not inclined to accept it, because I know how much Serbia has done with regard to substantive reforms through the European integration process, real and functional reforms, institutional, economic and political, which was clearly evident during our response to the pandemic-caused crisis. And everyone in the EU has also noted that. Therefore, in the context of the entire region, what is currently the most accurate and fair is the emphasised European perspective and strategic partnership.

Former EC President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke about the year 2025 as an “indicative” year for Serbia’s and Montenegro’s membership, but it has already fallen into oblivion. At the moment, would you dare speak about a concrete year in which Serbia could become an EU member?

Juncker did not only speak about it, it was also written down in the relevant EC document ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’ from February 2018. The documents are still valid, as are the obligations of accelerated reforms, and, accordingly the possibility for it to happen. I do not understand this level of dispiritedness and disappointment. We should do what is our job within the reform process, and I believe that the EU and the member states will credibly implement a functional enlargement policy.    

When will Serbia decide whether it will accept the revised EU enlargement methodology?

There is no specific deadline for making the decision. My opinion and clear expectation is that we should first see the roadmap of the new methodology implementation for Serbia, as a country that is well-advanced in the negotiation and accession process. We need to see how the progress we have made so far and the chapters we have opened will be measured, and I told this to all my colleagues in the EU – we are not against the new methodology, but I want to see what it means exactly in terms of valorising the progress Serbia has made so far. I think this is a simple and understandable question, and when we receive a clear answer, it will be easier for us to decide.

The Zagreb Summit was marked by a call for unity and solidarity. Was that also an attempt to redeem for the behaviour at the beginning of the health crisis?

This was the way to formally and fundamentally invite and remind, as well as oblige, everyone to solidarity as a fundamental idea of the EU. I do not see any secret plans for redemption or reprimand. It is good that it was done in such a way, at a time when the pandemic is still in force, so there are no more doubts about it.

In the previous weeks, European media reported accusations that Serbia undermined the EU’s assistance for political reasons and disproportionately glorified Russian and Chinese assistance.

Relations in the world are changing, rearrangements and recalculations are being made. That is why we could hear various interpretations of the roles of various great powers in terms of the pandemic. And we are yet to hear more. I think that we as a country and people have shown that we value every assistance and that we do not measure who, when and how much someone helped. As regards the EU’s assistance, in Serbia, it is continuous and systemic, not only momentary. For years, we have directed significant amounts from the EU funds to strengthening our capacities in the areas of healthcare, police, public administration, local self-government, economy and infrastructure. Not to mention the largest number of investments that come precisely from the EU and member states. All of this has made us better prepared and more resilient to the crisis. Furthermore, the Summit also noted Serbia’s role in helping others, including EU member states, and its large donation of medical equipment to Italy and some countries in the region, as well as Serbia’s participation it the ‘Team Europe’ and the donation worth EUR 2 million to the COVID-19 vaccine research fund. We are grateful to everyone who helped, and we helped others.

The EU has already allocated EUR 3.3 billion to the Western Balkan partners for tackling the effects of the crisis. Out of this amount, how much is Serbia supposed to get and when?

Out of the total of EUR 93.4 million reallocated from the IPA funds for the purpose of undertaking immediate measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, EUR 15 million was intended for immediate procurement of medical equipment, while EUR 78.4 million was allocated to Serbia for short-term and medium-term measures of economic recovery. I would like to emphasise that Serbia is already using these funds, and that, owing to them, it managed to buy 75 ventilators, 50 monitors, 100 triage containers, 800,000 masks, many tests and thermometers, 100 oxygen concentrators etc. In addition, we used the EU funds to pay for flights which delivered around 750 tons of medical equipment and material that we either bought or received as donations from abroad.

The presentation of the big investment plan for the region has been postponed for autumn. Will it include smaller amounts than expected, given that the European Commission predicts a historical recession in the EU due to the pandemic?

I expect the amounts to be greater, with a larger share of grants compared to favourable credit lines, primarily with regard to projects with a regional component – projects related to trans-European road networks, energy and digitisation, as well as significant funds for national priority projects within the Green Agenda, including wastewater treatment, waste management etc, where we must start doing more as individual countries. We have already identified important projects that we will submit, and President Vučić has also spoken about it. We are ready, because, for years, we have worked on using IPA funds, and we have good results and institutional capacities in this area. Since I have been the National IPA Coordinator for years, I can claim with utmost certainty that, if we became an EU member, we would be ready to use much greater EU structural funds from the so-called EU cohesion policy, owing to which many recent member states have developed significantly. 

Everyone agrees that the holding of the Summit itself is proof that Brussels wants to keep the region in its orbit. Would there be a summit in these circumstances, and could we count on such assistance, if there were no fears that Serbia, and the region in general, may fall under the influence of other powers, particularly China and Russia?

So you find it legitimate that global powers such as the PR China, RF, EU, and the USA play geopolitical games of influence on the Western Balkans and in Serbia, in the middle of the pandemic? I cannot agree with such a principle of conducting international relations, but is it happening – yes, it probably is. And then why is the legitimacy of the European Union’s interests called into question, while the legitimacy of the interests of others is not? First of all, Serbia has a contractual relation of strategic partnership with the EU, both through the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and through the accession negotiation process. For me, the EU’s natural interest in the region is completely understandable, because we are part of the European continent, and our economies and people are connected.

With the pandemic dying down, the EU’s focus will return to the reform and political processes at the Western Balkans, as announced by EP Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimír Bilčík. Do you expect Brussels to give an objective assessment of the election process in Serbia?

I do not think there is anything left unsaid or moot in the manner or conditions for running the election process in Serbia. EP Rapporteur Bilčík and Co-chair of the Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee Tanja Fajon have participated in three rounds of mediation, and all agreements regarding the improvement of electoral conditions have been implemented in the meantime. Election activities will continue since the state of emergency has been lifted, and Serbia will enter the process of regular parliamentary and local elections, adhering to best European values and practices. The citizens of Serbia will democratically choose the policy they want and the people who will implement it. I think the Government has done a good job, in difficult circumstances we have pursued sustainable and resilient economic and foreign policies, the institutions are getting stronger, and Serbia is becoming a country that has a bright present and future, if we continue following this reform path.

Source: Politika

Photo: S. Miljević/Government of the Republic of Serbia