On the 23rd of January 2009 Serbian Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Bozidar Djelic announced after a meeting with his Czech counterpart Alexandr Vondra that his government wants to apply for EU membership. This crucial statement made by the government representative gives some hope for stabilization in the Balkan region and reflects some interesting changes in Serbia.
Firstly, it is an opportunity to strengthen the democratization processes in Serbia, fasten the building of civil society and strengthen the complex transformation of the state. Secondly, this indicates that Serbia intends to switch its policy focus from Russia to the EU. Nevertheless, Russia's important influence on the Serbian state, society and the support offered during the Kosovo affair in 2008 will not disappear straight away. Thirdly, the step made towards the EU gives an unprecedented chance to solve the regional and local crises based on border, national, territorial and cultural conflicts.
At the same time, it may enable the resolution of the Kosovo question and stabilize the Western Balkans. It goes without saying that we cannot be over-optimistic as Mr Djelic only made an announcement which does not guarantee nor reflect concrete facts. The way ahead is long with several aspects still to be discussed, various problems are yet to be resolved and a lot of membership criteria still to be fulfilled.
We have to stop for a moment and consider the reasons of such declaration. Is it a long term policy goal or rather a short lived declaration? Serbia may temporarily change its policy interests and once again put deeper emphasis on the Serbian - Russian relations. It could also be an opportunistic reaction as a result of the economic crisis in an attempt to secure greater European financial support. Yet, as the development of the integration idea is blossoming and more and more actions in that direction are being taken, changing the "chosen way" wouldn't be profitable for Serbia and would bring about several problems.
Serbia's decision to apply for EU membership confirms that earlier European policy over both Serbia and the Western Balkans has produced results and created new possibilities. One of the most important opportunities is the stabilization of the region, which can be further achieved by inviting Serbia into the European community. Before accession is granted, the Serbian government has to admit that it recognizes and respects all European rules, even if it will mean recognizing the sovereignty of Kosovo. However, one of the problems which may take place as a result, is the Serbian society in the Srpska Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serbian community in the Kosovo territory would also like to benefit from the same profits as Serbs in Serbia.
I think that the main positive aspect of the 23rd January 2009 announcement is that the Serbs are ready to implement all European values of equality, sovereignty, respect of human and civil rights, peaceful existence of diversities and understanding of the utmost necessity of cooperation and unity. From now on the European Union can be more determined to realize the idea of an integrated Europe, enclosing the Western Balkans in the integration process and in this way stabilizing the region. This is highlighted by the latest and immediate reactions of Italy (bordering with the region) from which Foreign Minister Frattini expressed happiness and openness to Serbian participation. I leave the further evolution and predictions for European integration for readers as this process will indisputably be long and demanding for both sides.
Dr Pawel Olszewski is Dean of the faculty of International Relations at the Radom Academy of Economics in Poland. There he also teaches Modern Political Systems and the History of International Affairs.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Jens F. Laurson & George A. Pieler: Europe Has to Get Serious About Energy
- Tobias Wolny: In Defense of the Czech EU Presidency
- Pawel Jan Olszewski: The Balkan Countries Need Regional Integration