Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

National Convention on the EU in Serbia - Tangible Result of Sharing Transition Experience

Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

National Convention on the EU in Serbia - Tangible Result of Sharing Transition Experience

Article excerpt

V4 countries bilateral cooperation and support was and still is aimed at Serbia's accession to the European Union, and since these four countries were among those that joined the EU in 2004, both sides have considered their particular experience and knowledge to be recent, valuable and instructive for potential candidate and candidate countries in the Western Balkan region.

In the following sections the EU accession process of one Western Balkan country - Serbia - is outlined and the role of civil society in the process is explored. This is then followed by an overview of the support provided byV4 countries to Serbia and an assessment of one of the programs involving the European Movement in Serbia1 which was implemented with SlovakAid support.

Serbia's path to the EU

The modern history of Serbia's EU accession starts with the democratic changes that took place in Serbia in October 2000. But even before that date civil society and the democratic opposition pursued a foreign policy agenda that differed to the goals of the government/Milosevic and started collaborating with European partners, including governments such as the Slovak government to pursue a European future for the country. However, since 2000 Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia and afterwards Serbia and Montenegro, started its EU integration path via the Stabilization and Association process. The Thessaloniki summit in 2003 confirmed that the progress of the Western Balkan countries towards EU membership would be assessed individually. A twin track approach was adopted for Serbia and Montenegro after it became obvious that the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was not functional, and Serbia and Montenegro were positively assessed in a feasibility study as being ready to negotiate a Stabilization and Association Agreement in 2005.

In 2011 the European Commission recommended that candidate status be given to Serbia and that was officially granted by a European Council decision in March 2012.2 The first Intergovernmental Conference was held in Brussels in January 2014 and marked the formal start of the negotiation process. The pace at which the chapters are opened is rather slow - with the first two being opened in December 2014 (32 Financial control and 35 - Other issues, which in Serbia's case concerns the monitoring of the implementation of the agreements reached in the Belgrade - the Pristina dialogue] and the rule of law chapters (23 Judiciary and fundamental rights and 24 Justice, freedom and security] in July 2015. This is partly due to the revised enlargement strategy and an approach that insists on strict but fair conditionality and on achieving the fundamentals first. It implies that the most complex policy fields and issues which "represent the values on which the Union is founded" (chapters 23 and 24] or lead to the "sustainable normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo"3 will be dealt with first so as to secure a credible track record in implementing the obligations stemming from these chapters.4 There is also a need for balanced development across the negotiations overall so that recommendations cannot be made to open/temporarily close other chapters if a setback occurs in relation to these three chapters. In addition, key challenges and fundamentals have been identified in public administration reform and economic governance and competitiveness, and these constitute the two other pillars of the enlargement process.

The new approach, together with the lack of enthusiasm and serious commitment to implementing the reforms in Serbia, and the multifaceted crisis facing the EU, might explain why in almost three years only four of the negotiation chapters have been opened.5

Role of civil society in Serbia's EU integration

In the 1990s the emerging civil society sector and especially non-governmental organizations were the forerunners in promoting European integration at a time when it was highly unpopular and not in line with the official policy of the Milosevic government. …

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