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EU Enlargement: Serbia

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01.09.2016 - Article

Accession negotiations with Serbia began on 21 January 2014. Prior to this, Catherine Ashton, the then EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, confirmed that Serbia had implemented the essential parts of the normalisation agreement with Kosovo that was reached in April 2013. Progress on the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo will to a large extent determine the speed of accession negotiations. The relevant Chapter 35 and at the same time Chapter 32 (financial control) were opened in December 2015. Following Serbian moves towards reform, Chapters 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom and security), which are also priorities, were opened in July 2016.

Milestones in relations between Serbia and the European Union

Like all countries of the Western Balkans, Serbia was accorded potential candidate country status at the Feira European Council in June 2000. The Council confirmed the European prospects of the Western Balkan countries in its so‑called Thessaloniki Agenda of June 2003, which also emphasised that economic and political reforms were prerequisites for progress on moving closer to the EU.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) signed in April 2008 provides the framework for Serbia’s moves towards the EU and entered into force on 1 September 2013, following ratification by all EU Member States. Many of its important provisions, for example those concerning trade liberalisation, had already been implemented through an interim agreement in February 2010. Furthermore, a visa facilitation agreement entered into force in December 2009, under which citizens of Serbia may enter the Schengen area for tourist purposes without needing a visa.

From application for EU membership to the formal launch of accession negotiations

On 22 December 2009, Serbia officially submitted its application for membership of the European Union. On 12 October 2011, the European Commission recommended in its statement on Serbia’s application for accession that Serbia be granted candidate country status, provided that Serbia’s dialogue with Kosovo continued and all previous agreements with Kosovo were fully implemented.

The European Council granted Serbia candidate country status on 1 March 2012. In December 2012, the General Affairs Council reiterated the conditions for opening accession negotiations with Serbia, including in particular visible and sustained improvement of relations with Kosovo.

In parallel to progress on drawing the country closer to the European Union, Serbia and Kosovo have since October 2012 been engaged in a high‑level political dialogue moderated by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, initially Catherine Ashton and from November 2014 Federica Mogherini. On 19 April 2013, the Prime Ministers of both countries, Ivica Dačić (Serbia) and Hashim Thaçi (Kosovo) reached a First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations. It provides, among other things, for the establishment of an Association/Community of municipalities with a Serb majority in Kosovo. In return, Serbia makes the commitment to integrate Serbian security authorities and judicial structures in northern Kosovo into the state of Kosovo.

Following conclusion of the normalisation agreement, the Commission issued a report on 22 April 2013 which stated that the Council’s key criterion had been met and recommended that accession negotiations be opened.

The European Council followed this recommendation and on 28 June 2013 decided to launch accession negotiations with Serbia. Prior to the first accession conference on 21 January 2014, the General Affairs Council had adopted the negotiating framework in December 2013. During the first accession conference in January 2014, the negotiating framework was accepted by both sides as the basis for negotiations. The negotiating framework for Serbia focuses on the chapter on the normalisation process with Kosovo (Chapter 35), as well as the chapters dealing with the rule of law (Chapters 23 and 24). Progress in these areas will to a large extent determine the speed of accession negotiations.

Prior to adoption of the negotiating framework by the Council, the then EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, confirmed that Serbia had implemented the essential parts of the normalisation agreement with Kosovo, which was concluded in April 2013.

In order to meet the political and economic criteria for accession to the European Union, Serbia must make progress on reforming its domestic policy. The Commission’s progress report of 16 October 2013 lists several priorities, including reform of the judiciary and administrative structures, the fight against corruption and organised crime, as well as the protection of minorities. These priorities are in keeping with the so‑called new approach to negotiating already being used by the European Union in its accession negotiations with Montenegro.

The first negotiating chapters to be opened on 14 December 2015 were those on financial control (Chapter 32) and on normalisation of relations with Kosovo (Chapter 35). This was possible thanks to progress made on normalisation. The rule of law chapters (23 and 24) were opened on 18 July 2016 after the Commission found that the required conditions – elaboration by the Serbian Government of detailed, substantive action plans on both chapters – had been met.

European General Affairs Council Conclusions, 17 December 2013 PDF / 310 KB

European Council Conclusions, 28 June 2013 PDF / 149 KB

European Commission's Progress Report on Serbia, 10 November 2015 (PDF, 528 KB)

EU support for Serbia on the path to accession

Serbia receives financial support from the EU through IPA II (Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance). The country will receive around 1.5 billion euros for the period 2014 to 2020. IPA support is especially focused on strengthening democracy and the rule of law, administration capacity building, institution building, moves towards European standards, the investment climate, the labour market and transport policy (connectivity). It also goes to fund projects related to migration: the Commission puts this support at a total of 54 million euros (since 2007). The measures financed through IPA are described in detail in the Indicative Strategy Paper for Serbia (2014‑2020) dated 10 November 2013.

Serbia likewise benefits from multi‑country actions funded from IPA and other instruments, e.g. humanitarian assistance. At the end of 2015, for example, 17 million euros was made available under an IPA special measure and from humanitarian assistance funds. The special measure is used to support the Western Balkan states most affected to manage the flow of refugees, with seven million euros earmarked for Serbia and three million for Macedonia. Through the IPA, Serbia can likewise benefit from EU‑led administrative partnerships, the so‑called twinning projects. These projects support public administration capacity building in candidate countries by seconding experts from public institutions in EU Member States on a long‑term basis. Serbia also participates in regional and horizontal programmes financed via the IPA. The latter are intended to promote the development of neighbourly relations between the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as to strengthen social, economic and political cooperation in the region and to build up local and regional administrative structures.

Normalisation process between Serbia and Kosovo

In October 2012, the then High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, initiated a high‑level political dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. Her successor, Federica Mogherini, is continuing the dialogue. Since then, the Prime Ministers of the two countries have been meeting regularly to advance the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

The process resulted in April 2013 in the first agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on normalising their relations, a major step towards establishing good-neighbourly relations. The agreement primarily regulates the transformation of the so‑called illegal parallel Serbian structures in the administration, justice system and police into Kosovar institutions. In return, the Kosovo Serbs are being granted self‑administration rights in northern Kosovo, which they can exercise within the context of a federation of majority Kosovo Serbian communities.

Within the framework of this dialogue, the parties have also reached agreements on matters such as implementing integrated border management and assigning liaison officers to each other’s capitals.

Since March 2011, Serbia and Kosovo have been conducting an EU‑facilitated technical dialogue in Brussels with the prime aim of improving the quality of life for ordinary people. Successes have already been achieved with respect to free movement of persons, recognition of higher education qualifications, integrated border management, civil and land registers, the free movement of goods and the representation of Kosovo in regional organisations.

On 25 August 2015, the Prime Ministers of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, and of Kosovo, Isa Mustafa, signed four declarations on energy, telecommunications, the establishment of an association of those communities with a Serbian majority as well as Mitrovica Bridge and freedom of movement. This is intended to help normalise relations between Belgrade and Priština. Moreover, in February 2015 agreements on the judicial system and in June 2015 on vehicle insurance were signed.

The German Government’s position

The German Government supports the EU prospects of Serbia and of all the countries of the Western Balkans. It is important that the criteria for each step in the process of moving closer to the EU be met completely. Only in this way will the process of moving closer to the EU function as an incentive to political reforms and regional cooperation. The German Government expects that the normalisation process between Serbia and Kosovo will move forward as accession negotiations with Serbia proceed. Comprehensive normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo must be achieved before accession negotiations can be successfully concluded. However, this does not mean Serbia has to recognise Kosovo under international law.

More information on the state of negotiations with Serbia can be found on the European Commission’s website.

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