Brussels: Serbia must Support EU Sanctions and Foreign Policy

World » EU | October 13, 2022, Thursday // 10:49
Bulgaria: Brussels: Serbia must Support EU Sanctions and Foreign Policy @europeanwesternbalkans.com

Serbia, the largest EU candidate country from the Western Balkans, has backed away from aligning its foreign policy with that of the bloc and must strengthen its commitment to EU strategy and reforms, according to the enlargement report published by the European Commission.

Assessing the events and progress of the past year, the report was adamant that Serbia needs to do more to align itself with the bloc - most notably by joining EU-imposed sanctions on Russia - and press ahead with serious reforms backed by political will.

"Serbia's compliance with the EU's foreign policy has significantly decreased - from 64% in 2020 to 45% today," said the report on the country in connection with its refusal to join Western sanctions against Moscow.

This was echoed by EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who told reporters it was "clear that Serbia needs to step up its efforts to align its foreign policy positions, including with declarations and sanctions in line with the negotiating framework".

In 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution stating that Belgrade's position was harming its progress in joining the EU, but since then the matter has continued to deteriorate.

"Serbia is expected to fulfill its commitment as a matter of priority and gradually align itself with the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, including EU restrictive measures, in line with the EU-Serbia negotiation framework," the report said.

But Belgrade has traditionally held a position of neutrality towards NATO and Russia and is now increasingly forced to choose a side amid growing pressure from Brussels and Moscow.

Serbia has long-standing good relations with Russia, including cultural and historical ties, and is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas.

However, Varhelyi called on the country to show unity with the bloc in the context of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. "We need Serbia to help us, we need all the help, from all the allies we have," he stressed.

Progress at a standstill

The country has officially been a candidate since 2012. Although it was initially expected to complete negotiations by 2024 and join in 2025, this is now highly unlikely.

Along with Russia's sanctions, the other major obstacle to Serbia's EU accession is its refusal to recognize Kosovo's independence. Belgrade has repeatedly said its path to membership should not be tied to the issue of its former province, which declared independence in 2008.

Other major issues in Serbia include the media, which is almost entirely under the control of the ruling party, freedom of assembly, dealing with war crimes, and respecting human rights for minorities.

While different polls give different results, the general trend is that around half of the population does not support joining the EU. The number increases significantly if recognition of Kosovo is specified as a precondition.

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