MESA10, in cooperation with its partner, Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade (CEAS), launched the continuation of the project of innovative online debates between the university students from Serbia, Moldova, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovakia “Promoting Democratic Values Among Youth”.
Students from seven universities from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Chisinau, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Bratislava, and Banská Bystrica had the opportunity to attend the webinar “Western Balkans and the EU Membership: Status, Prospects and Perspectives” led by Suzana Grubješić from the Center for Foreign Policy. Ms. Grubješić held several crucial positions impacting the Serbian EU integration process: she was the Deputy Prime-Minister for European Integration of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (2012-2013), Special Advisor for European Integration at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, and she was the Secretary General of the European Movement in Serbia.
Ms. Grubješić talked about the integration processes into the European Union of Western Balkan countries with special attention to Serbia. Based on the document published by the European Commission in 2018, the A Credible Enlargement Perspective for an Enhanced EU Engagement with the Western Balkans, Serbia and Montenegro was labeled as frontrunners of the accession in the EU and 2025 was set as a potential year for possible accession. The next EU-Western Balkan summit in Sofia in 2018 made many wishful for concrete talks about the upcoming enlargement, unfortunately, it did not happen. “EU members failed on three previous occasions to agree on inviting North Macedonia and Albania to begin membership talks, but finally on March 24th and in the midst of pandemic, they gave green light to start accession negotiations. The date has not been set yet. Hopefully by the end of this year at least one of them will start the accession talks”.
Prior to that, the European Commission introduced a more credible, dynamic, and political accession process—The New Enlargement Methodology. “This proposal put emphasis on the fundamentals: democracy, rule of law, economic development and competitiveness. It aims to make the enlargement process more political, not only technical, not only ticking the boxes and leaving the job to administrations. Member states will be more involved in the process, they will be more involved in the negotiation process with the European Commission. It aims to become predictable and fair, not open-ended, which is also important. Entering the EU seemed like a moving target. The new process offers the possibility that it becomes more predictable”.
North Macedonia and Albania will start the negotiations under the new methodology, Serbia and Montenegro is given a choice to adopt the new methodology. “Some technical clarifications are needed but I always say: what do we have to lose? It goes slowly. It would be beneficial for Serbia to accept this new methodology as well”.
According to Ms. Grubješić, the biggest challenge for both the EU and the Western Balkans is that enlargement should not become containment—the political will of both sides is needed. “The stop and go engagement of the EU opens the door for others: China, Russia, Turkey. The mask-diplomacy or coronavirusvirus diplomacy showed us that China is here to stay. It’s the reality and we have to deal with it—the Western Balkans and the European Union as well. There is no vacuum in international relations. If someone is not active, others will jump in, especially in the Balkans”.
The importance of good regional cooperation, good relations is undeniable. “We have more than 70 regional initiatives, maybe we could assess the effectiveness of these initiatives, how effective they are. Because there are always elephants in the room and uphill battles, we need to resolve all bilateral issues in the foreseeable future, the biggest of them is the resolution of the Kosovo issue”.
We will face two challenges: first of them, the post-pandemic recovery, which will only deepen the problem with the exodus in the Western Balkans. Second of them, is a communication strategy. “Better explanation of the interests of both parties is what we need, in Serbia in particular. What Brussels can do is to adopt a more aggressive communication strategy. You have to win the hearts and minds of people. The government should also start promoting the EU, what the EU has done for us– it´s not its job to provide information and facts to our media. There are people who think the biggest investors are Russia or China. EU is by far the biggest trade partner, donor, investor, it should be repeated until everybody is aware of this fact. We belong to Europe. Economically, culturally, politically. We have no other option only to belong to Europe”.