Serbia and the EU – a long journey to nowhere

The Serbian leadership wants to get Serbia in EU and they want it badly. This has been the main goal of every single goverment for the past 17 years, a long journey, a turbulent path, and the finish line has been moved further more than a few times. After the fall of Milosevic (autumn 2000) and democratic changes, the majority of the people in Serbia was genuinely pro EU, hoping to integrate in the European Union and other international organisations once again and to join the peaceful “house of nations”.

At first, Serbians were told that they will probably join the EU in 2004. The Western backed democratic oppositon at the time could count on huge financial support from the West and fast integration with democratic countries seemed very much within its reach. People had high hopes, but reality struck back soon. As the years of transition went by, Serbia showed that it didn’t get much more in terms of democracy, but only the worst form of capitalism. As in many other European countries attempting to quickly brigde the gap between a Socialist past and capitalist future, privatisation destroyed Serbia’s economy. Serbia could have learned from other countries experience, and opted for a slower transition, but overzealous for change, it did not.

There are also some Serbia-specific things in its long journey to the EU. After all wars from the 90’s, when Serbia faced enemies which were directly supported and funded by the West, and when the country found itself at war directly with NATO on two occasions (once against the Serbs in Bosnia in 1995, and the other during the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999), Serbia had to be make pay for defying the West. In the post Milosevic era, at the start, the main condition for joining EU was privatisation and economic reform. Moreover, Serbia encountered pressure to extradite pretty much everyone from the 90’s military and political establishment. Extraditing more than 90 people was not enough. With only Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic left, who were accused of worst war crimes in Bosnia, Serbia was told that the failure to deliver these two accused to the Hague tribunal was the sole reason blocking Serbia’s membership in EU. But it was just another example stick and carrot politics. Then, after all the accused had been extradited to Hague, and one more thing happened: in 2008 the Albanians living in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo and Metohia, unilateraly proclaimed the region’s independece. With the vast majority of western countries recognizing the independence of Kosovo (only five EU members didn’t recognized it), Serbia was imposed a new “last and only” condition to join EU – to “normalize” relations with Albanians in Kosovo. Normalising relations is a euphemism, for it means, in EU speak, recognising Kosovo’s independence, as it was said quite clearly a few times by high German officials. Even if Serbia recognized Kosovo’s independence, which no goverment is likely to ever do in prospective future, probably some other new condition will be demanded.

After all the hopes at the start, with the public having idealised images of life in the EU, the Serbian people seem to have fallen out of love with the EU. For instance, no one can convince Serbs, that Romania and Bulgaria better met the conditions for joining EU than Serbia does. People have started to joke that Serbia will enter the EU together with Turkey or that it will enter the EU and then the EU itself will collapse. With Brexit, rising Euroscepticism throughout europe, and with the experience of what happend to Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria or Croatia after their joining the EU – support for the EU amongst the Serbs is as low as ever. The elites are still very pro-EU, but the people are dissapointed and the absolute majority is clearly against Serbia joining the EU.

A recent OSCE survey amongst young people in Serbia showed that only 9% think Serbia is going in the right direction, and 87% are not satisfied with development of democracy in Serbia; only 36% are supporting Serbias membership in EU, and one more important data is that only 7% would like to see Serbia as a member of NATO. As the EU enlargement towards Eastern Europe showed, one of conditions of entering the EU was NATO membership first, which can explain why some countries and economies similiar to Serbia entered the EU while Serbia did not. NATO is considered an extremely hostile organization in Serbia after the wars of the 1990s, so its hard to see that any goverment could bring Serbia into NATO without riots or at least a referendum.

The last paradox of Serbia’s journey to the EU is that chief of Europen Union delegation in Serbia is Mr. Michael Davenport, a Brit. So after Brexit, a Brit is supposedly in charge of helping Serbia join the EU. New predictions say that Serbia will enter the EU in 2020 or 2022 but having been given false predictions for the past 15 years, people have stopped paying attention to the empty promises coming from their elites and from Brussels.

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