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J. Joksimović: Serbia to demonstrate seriousness in reforms, EU with regard to new enlargement methodology

January 02 2021 | Belgrade

J. Joksimović: Serbia to demonstrate seriousness in reforms, EU with regard to new enlargement methodology

Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović talks about Serbia’s European integration in 2020 and expectations in 2021, about new negotiating methodology, pandemic and other challenges along the path to the EU.

How do you evaluate the year 2020 when it comes to Serbia’s European path?

The year we left behind has brought about a change that reflected on the entire world and on each individual. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the usual way of work, communication, way of life, but also of thinking both of individuals and of states and economies, and it naturally affected the course of international relations. Serbia’s European path is no exception in this sense, since both the European Union and the candidate countries had one priority – to preserve the health of their citizens and to come to terms with the consequences of this health crisis. I would say that solidarity and cooperation between our country and the EU and its member states in this fight marked this year, with mutual commitment to Serbia’s European Union accession process albeit in such difficult circumstances.

The highest EU officials reiterated several times that the Western Balkans remain a priority of the Union as well as the European Commission as the institution administering the accession process on their side. Two facts are supporting this – the new methodology of negotiations that will speed up and strengthen the negotiating process by making the EU enlargement policy mode credible, effective and foreseeable for all parties in negotiations. Secondly, the EU’s focus on economic alignment of the region with the European Union and support to post-pandemic recovery through Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans in the amount of nine billion euro.

On our side, I would like to stress that this year demonstrated that Serbia is a credible European state which preserved economic resilience amidst the greatest pandemic of the modern world, whilst ensuring quick appropriate health care for all our citizens. We participate in all key policies of the EU, from COVAX mechanism that will enable us to receive the vaccines purchased through this mechanism at the same time as the EU member states, through joint purchases of medicines and medical equipment, but also the Green Agenda and fight against the effects of climate change, digitisation and all other key topics of EU’s new economic growth plan.

Expectations in 2021?

I expect that the year 2021 will be more dynamic and much more concrete regarding the entire EU enlargement policy, mutual trust between the EU and candidate countries and with more mutual enthusiasm.

In order to accelerate the dynamics of accession, it is first necessary to urgently define the application of the new methodology for Serbia’s negotiating process, that definition being somewhat late because, as it appears, member states and the EC still cannot agree upon the negotiating frameworks for North Macedonia and Albania, which indirectly affects negotiations with Serbia.

Now that the chapters – their opening and closing – are no longer the main instrument but instead the fulfilment of criteria for opening the entire clusters of related chapters, with strong political monitoring of the process, we need a clear and precise plan of our European partners regarding benchmarks for reform progress and for the manner of their assessment.

The priority assignments of the new government will continue to be faster implementation of the reforms that influence the pace of negotiations with the EU, particularly those in the area of the rule of law i.e. first cluster, where all chapters have been opened and which are already being aligned with EU recommendations. These include primarily constitutional changes as a part of judicial reform, implementation of Media strategy, further improvement of human and minority rights etc.

With regard to the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkan, we expect that the support to construction of the vital regional infrastructure will begin in the upcoming year, as well as assistance to further development of private sector and additional integration of the region into wider economic courses of the EU. The European Union is thus continuing its contribution to further connectivity of the region and improvement of relations between the Western Balkan and the EU, which will accelerate free movement of people and goods and increase overall trade and economic cooperation.

What will be the greatest challenges in the enlargement process –for Serbia and for the EU?

Every challenge is essentially an opportunity and a possibility for a qualitative step forward. For the EU – to prove that it has been serious regarding new methodology as an instrument for acceleration of credible negotiating process and a strong instrument of support to a sincere enlargement policy that will strengthen resilience and vitality of the EU. For Serbia – to prove that we are serious regarding substantive reforms, strengthening of the rule of law, resilient economy, good governance and thorough intertwining of our policy with the key EU policies grouped in six clusters.

With regard to technical aspect of negotiations, we are already proactively working on our current priorities, which is aligning of all structures to the new methodology based on what we know at the moment. We are preparing to negotiate in the manner as announced by the EU, which means acceleration of the process through stronger political monitoring and detailed implementation of strategic reform plans that are the essence of the new methodology.

Political plan includes improvement of relations in the region, with continued negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina that our side responsibly and consistently undertakes, through mediation by the European Union.

On the other hand, we believe that it is important that the EU member states also show more enthusiasm for enlargement, since Western Balkan is no longer a part of the problem but instead a solution for achieving stability in the very Union, particularly after Brexit. Also, we are the part of solution for overcoming economic and migrant crisis, which are present as a consequence of global trends.

As a country with great integration capacity in most sectoral policies of the EU and being now a candidate country, Serbia can greatly contribute to the improvement of EU’s competitiveness and our citizens will certainly benefit from full membership as they will live in a more stable and resilient Europe, on a continent that we all share.