“Serbia Is Going to Seize its Opportunity”

Suzana Grubješić, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, discusses the process of moving closer to the EU

12/06/2013 | 08:30 - 10:00 | DGAP | Invitation only


Category: Serbia, European Union

“EU accession talks could start tomorrow,” stated Grubješić, who in addition to being deputy prime minister is her government’s minister for European integration. Major progress has been made on the required reforms. The plan is for entry negotiations to begin this fall – provided that the European Council gives its green light at the end of June. Now, everything hinges on the Kosovo question, as she said in her conversation with DGAP guests and its general secretary, Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn.

© DGAP/Dirk Enters

Suzana Grubješić, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration of the Republic of Serbia

On April 19, after extensive negotiations, Serbia and Kosovo signed an accord – and took a major step toward repairing relations between the two countries. Now, however, Grubješić says, comes more hard work: achieving consensus about the agreement’s implementation.

The deputy prime minister underlined Belgrade’s readiness at the EU’s urging to normalize its relations with Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. In doing so, the discussions between Brussels and Belgrade will continue to involve the Serbian minority living in the north of Kosovo. Meanwhile, the Serbian government continues to pitch the agreement to the region’s ethnic Serbs. “Again and again we tell the people there that this agreement was the best that we could achieve.” One must be cautious, however, not to overestimate Belgrade’s influence over the Serbian minority.

When asked about the few days that remain for the European Council to address issues, the minister expressed confidence. “I know all the deadlines,” she assured, holding up the implementation plan of the Serbian-Kosovo agreement.

On the Path toward Reform

Serbia has in recent months made decisive progress in moving closer to the European Union. It was officially designated a candidate country in May 2012, and this April the EU Commission recommended entering into accession negotiations with Belgrade.

While Grubješić foresees long and difficult negotiations, she also emphasized that her country is already in the midst of an extensive reform process, with goals of improving investment conditions and reducing corruption. The administration has already adopted one third of the EU’s regulations. In other words, the process is hardly starting from scratch but rather consists of continuing projects that are already underway.

Among Serbs, approval of the EU is not going to be damaged by a lengthy and complex negotiation process. After all, it took nine years to agree to visa-free travel and twelve years to achieve EU candidate status. Her country continues to give full backing to EU integration, Grubješić stated. “This is the best decision Serbia can make. It is going to seize its opportunity.”

The Croatian Example

In the meantime, there is much to be learned from Croatia. On July 1, Croatia will become the second country from the former Yugoslavia to join the EU, and this sends a positive signal to Serbia. It shows that Brussels is serious and that it will stand by its commitment to offer EU prospects to the countries of the Western Balkans. Grubješić fully expects the EU to continue its involvement. As the largest source of funding in the region, however, Brussels has a responsibility to improve communication about its own projects. “The EU is not visible enough in Serbia.”

For its part, Serbia intends to share its experience with other countries that have not yet come so far. Grubješić emphasized her government’s willingness to cooperate within the region and pointed out that there is once again a greater sense of belonging together within the Balkan states. It has been acknowledged that only a common economic sphere can assure a viable future for the region.

Grubješić does not think that the new EU external border separating Serbia from Croatia will have a substantially negative effect on the domestic economy. Serbia is already strongly intertwined with the EU through the association agreement, and for the past few years its citizens have moreover been able to enjoy visa-free travel within the EU.

Suzana Grubješić is the Republic of Serbia’s deputy prime minister and minister for European integration. Her lecture on June 12, at the invitation of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), was moderated by Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn, the DGAP’s general secretary.

DGAP Tour: Members of the DGAP toured Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina this May.

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