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It is time to move faster towards the European Union: Is the new negotiation methodology a step forward or not?

February 06 2021 | Belgrade

It is time to move faster towards the European Union: Is the new negotiation methodology a step forward or not?

From now on, stronger political steering of the accession process is a given, with the expectation that Western Balkan countries show greater commitment to their European paths. If we go back a year, it was a fine 5 February 2020. We mostly did not think about corona seriously, we lived in an “old” normal, everyone worked from their offices, we were all packed in buses during rush hour, restaurants, cafés and night clubs were full, and the European Commission adopted the proposed revised methodology for the EU accession process.

Serbia was not imposed with this methodology “as a must”, but it was allowed the possibility to accept the new procedure if it wished to. Last year, there were suggestions that Serbia would decide on that, the Ministry of European Integration took numerous steps in that direction, and during the recent visit of President Aleksandar Vučić to France, we learned that Serbia had definitely accepted the new methodology for EU accession negotiations.

Today, one year after the announcement of this system, which is still not entirely clear to the public and through which we will fight for EU membership, there is no better interlocutor to remove certain doubts than the person who is the most familiar with the EU accession affairs – Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović, who responded to Srbija Danas’s invitation to explain this process that we are getting into.

What does the new negotiation methodology entail?
- Precisely a year ago, on 5 February last year, European Commissioner for Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi announced a proposal of a new methodology for EU enlargement, saying that “the whole process must be more credible, predictable, dynamic and political”. Since then, we have been holding intensive discussions with representatives of the European Commission and member states about the format of negotiations that would be applied to Serbia as a country that is well-advanced in the accession process. I alone, as the minister in charge of coordinating EU membership negotiations, have had more than 70 meetings, both bilateral and with representatives of EU institutions, striving to jointly, as partners, define a common way of negotiations that will contribute to the achievement of our goals, but also the goals of the European Union – says Jadranka Joksimović.
- The details of this new methodology have still not been fully elaborated. What is known and important is that clusters, in which previous chapters are grouped, represent six leading EU policies that Serbia is aligning with and gradually joining. The first cluster is political, referring to the rule of law and a part of the economic criteria; the second is related to internal market – macroeconomic and fiscal policy and candidate country market convergence with the EU market; the third cluster involves competitiveness and inclusive growth; the forth – Green Agenda, digitisation and infrastructural connectivity; the fifth comprises resources, cohesion and agriculture; and, the sixth – external policy.
- The new methodology primarily focuses on stronger political steering of the process and on expectations from all Western Balkan countries to demonstrate greater commitment to the European path. On the other hand, this also obliges the EU that, if a country makes progress on its own merit, it will have more access to EU funds and other instruments of common policies.

What does the cluster model of negotiations entail?
- I expect that, by the end of February, the European Commission will present a roadmap, i.e. clearly defined criteria for cluster negotiations, and that, by the end of June, the Intergovernmental Conference will be held, as a political forum where we will determine the application of the new methodology to Serbia with our European partners – states Jadranka Joksimović.
- I believe that the new system will suit Serbia, and that it will result in the acceleration of the accession process. The first cluster that deals with the rule of law is practically already open because the chapters it contains have already been opened. It is the most important cluster as it will measure Serbia’s progress in meeting the political criteria.
- As regards other clusters, we have an excellent state of play in cluster 3 – Competitiveness and inclusive growth, and this cluster is very important both for Serbia and the EU in terms of instruments for economic recovery in the period after the COVID-19 pandemic, while we also have a rather good score in other clusters. We will see which direction the process will take when criteria for the opening of clusters are presented. What is important is that we are ready for the application of the new methodology and that we are simultaneously working on reforms related to all clusters.

Will the new methodology influence a more efficient negotiation process?
- I have been leading this process since December 2015, when we opened first chapters, and having opened 18 out of 35 chapters, I know how much hard work and diplomacy was needed to achieve results and maintain the pace in a situation when the enlargement policy was no longer a favourite EU common policy.
- I am convinced that the new methodology will find a way to valorise the progress Serbia has so far made in the process and to accelerate the process itself. This was the main goal behind changing the old way of negotiation: on the one hand, to accelerate the reforms in candidate countries, and on the other, to join the EU faster and following predictable rules – stresses the Minister of European Integration.

What does the opening of chapters under this new model of negotiations mean in terms of economy and potential withdrawal of money from EU funds?
- According to the currently available information, there are three main criteria based on which the European Commission will decide on the scope of assistance: project relevance for the European integration process, readiness for contracting and the implementation of these projects, as well as the overall progress in the European integration process. In this regard, we can expect that, in the upcoming period, following the pace of the new methodology’s further development, the details on the distribution of pre-accession funds will also be established.
- What is also known is that projects which are crucial for the economic and infrastructural connectivity of the region will be financed from the EC Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. This Plan, worth EUR 9 billion, was adopted in early October last year to provide assistance for, inter alia, the green and digital transition, for the purpose of faster integration with the European Union.
- In that sense, mid last year, I coordinated the activities for identifying and preparing project proposals for financing from IPA III funds, which we submitted in late July, as well as proposals to be financed from the Western Balkans Investment Framework for the purpose of realising the Economic and Investment Plan. At the end of last year, we received first feedback from the European Commission, indicating that we had successfully identified key strategic projects, which resulted in the EC assessing seven projects as highly important and suitable to be supported within the realisation of this Plan – concludes Jadranka Joksimović. 

Therefore, the Minister of European Integration’s answers clearly imply that the acceptance of the new negotiation methodology is a huge step forward for us, particularly given this last financial aspect of the story. Certainly, everyone has the right to think differently, and that is necessary and useful so as to reach the best solutions through discussion, but while we think, we should also bring food to the table… so we are back to finance…

Source: Srbija Danas