Serbia cannot make progress on the path to European Union membership if it does not gradually align its policy with the EU's regarding third countries, including Russia, the HINA news agency reported members of the European Parliament as saying.
Slovak Christian Democrat Vladimir Bilcik presented his report on Serbia for 2021 at the EP’s plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The report will be put to a vote on Wednesday.
A successful European journey of Serbia is now more important than ever, said Bilcik, a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), a political group which also includes the Serbian Progressive party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vucic.
Serbia belongs to the EU, but a lot remains to be done, Bilcik said, stressing that the Russian aggression against Ukraine was a wake-up call to step up the process of European integration. Bilcik’s report says that Serbia’s progress towards EU membership will depend directly on the strengthening of the rule of law, normalisation of relations with Kosovo and alignment with the EU’s foreign and security policy, including sanctions against Russia. Russia is mentioned in the document about thirty times, but the report also stresses that the EU remains fully committed to Serbia’s EU journey.
European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic of Slovenia spoke about the gradual alignment of Serbia’s foreign policy with that of the EU’s, including the introduction of restrictions against Russia, as done by the EU as well as other countries wishing to join it. Lenarcic said it was important for Serbia to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, in which the EU was helping it, for example, by financing an interconnection with the gas pipeline in Bulgaria.
The report, which is expected to be adopted on Wednesday, reiterates the EU’s commitment to Serbia’s EU membership and criticises it over restricted media freedoms and attacks on political opponents. It calls on Serbian authorities to investigate the criminal group led by Veljko Belivuk and legally resolve the unlawful destruction of private property in Belgrade’s Savamala neighbourhood and it criticises lack of access to the Yugoslav historical archives, notably those concerning the Yugoslav UDBA security service.
MEPs were mostly agreed that Serbia yet has to do a lot on the path to EU membership, with emphasis on the consolidation of democratic institutions and weakening of relations with Russia. Some of the MEPs objected to what they saw as a condescending tone of the report, noting that it could alienate the country.
Bulgarian MEP Aleksander Jordanov, also a member of the EPP, spoke about the „Serbian world“, a phrase frequently mentioned by Serbian Minister of the Interior Aleksandar Vulin, likening it to the Kremlin’s hegemonistic policy. Issue of people gone missing in Homeland War Also participating in the debate were four Croatian MEPs, all EPP and HDZ party members.
Tomislav Sokol said that Serbia was not a democratic country but was ruled by „one-track politics, while the development of civil society is prevented and independent media practically do not exist.“ He said that Serbia’s frequent hegemonistic ambitions towards neighbouring countries still existed, the latest example being attempts to destabilise Montenegro.
Karlo Ressler said Serbia „has been shamelessly calculating“ with regard to Ukraine’s struggle for survival and freedom, objecting that current Serbian policies lack the will for improvement of relations with neighbouring countries.
Zeljana Zovko said Serbia was showing progress on reforms, but not on several key aspects. She called for alignment with the EU’s foreign and security policy and noted, like other Croatian MEPs, that Serbia must provide answers regarding the issue of people gone missing in the 1991-95 Homeland War. She welcomed the election of a Croat minority representative to the Serbian parliament in this year’s election, but added that the Croat minority’s rights were still below European standards. Sunčana Glavak expressed doubt about the sincerity of Serbia’s commitment to reforms, objecting to what she described as „suppression of media freedoms“.