Serbia: new energy, new enthusiasm
Serbia's EU accession talks began on 20 January. Europeinfos interviewed Serbian Chief Negotiator Tanja Miscevic.
Why does Serbia want to join the EU? What does the Serbian population expect from EU membership?
According to the last survey, half of the population in Serbia supports EU membership. But it is not only about membership, it is also about the values, reforms and the EU standards that we want to build into our society. Our main goal is for Serbia to become a developed, democratic and stable country. The support is even higher for that. The same survey shows that 68% of Serbian citizens support reforms. The expectation from the membership is to enjoy the four EU fundamental freedoms of movement of people, capital, goods and services.
The support of the Serbian population for EU membership has dramatically dropped: 50% were in favour in Autumn 2013 compared to 71% back in 2009. How would you explain this change?
Of course, support can vary depending on the economic situation, but also on the stage of the integration process. From the experience of almost all the EU member states, we know that support for the process declines at some point. Whatever the figures tell us at the moment, EU integration is the only process in Serbia which is supported so widely in society. At the end it is the result of the referendum for the membership that counts. The decision to support membership should always be based on reason and interests. What I notice now is a new energy, new enthusiasm and people being more rational and realistic about the EU. Moreover, political consensus within the political parties regarding Serbia’s path towards the EU has never been greater than today.
The EU Commission insisted that Serbia normalise ties with Kosovo. This issue will be dealt by Chapter 35. Could you explain how you see the negotiations on the concept of this delicate Chapter?
Chapter 35 represents a novelty for both Serbia and the EU. Comparing it with other countries that discussed the so called “Other questions” under that Chapter, the case of Serbia Kosovo-related issues will be concentrated there. We agreed that Chapter 35 will be a forum, where we will once more discuss the implementation and the results of the agreements reached in political dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina, but also the forum where Serbia and the EU discuss the issues of common interest as partners. This Chapter is formatted to enhance and support two processes - the normalization on one side and the accession on the other.
In the current economic crisis, what is the situation of the Serbian population? Can Serbia count on some solidarity funds from the EU to face the social crisis?
The economic crisis affects all society and the unemployment rate is very high, especially among the young. At this point Serbia is not entitled to benefit from any solidarity fund, but it is eligible for the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) from which we can withdraw approximately 200 million EUR per year. Absorption capacity is estimated at 94%. This money was invested in the development of many sectors: public administration, civil society, media, infrastructure etc. During the accession negotiations, the EU financial assistance will match our needs in the process of the reforms.
What role do Churches and church organizations play in Serbia? Do you expect church actors to play a role in the reconciliation process in the Balkan region?
As you already know, the Serbian Orthodox Church is legally separated from the state. But it has its role in society and consequently is invited to participate in the process of EU integration though membership in the Serbian Government Council for European Integration. The Serbian Orthodox Church is the guardian of our Serbian values, such as tolerance, solidarity, humanity, safety and mutual respect which are the core of European values too.
Also, experience is showing that in the negotiation process, society and Government in Serbia will have to be aware of possibilities to tackle issues related to the Church since they are part of the corpus of fundamental rights.
The interview was conducted by Johanna Touzel