Belgrade hopes the agreements will boost the credibility of its security system.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 11/06/11
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with President Boris Tadic in late May. [Reuters]
In the past two weeks, Serbia and the EU have signed two key agreements. One on the exchange of classified information was signed on May 26th, while the document on Serbia's participation in EU crisis management missions was signed on Wednesday (June 8th).
Although those agreements are not part of the agenda Serbia has to fulfill en route to EU membership, Belgrade hopes the documents will help establish a level of trust with Brussels and enhance the international reputation of the Serbian Army and police.
"By signing those agreements, Serbia is presenting itself as a country that is no longer an international problem, rather a partner capable of participating in international peacekeeping missions and thereby, in a way, becoming an 'exporter' of security," Vojkan Kostic, a Belgrade journalist, told SETimes.
The signing of the agreement on the exchange of classified information was signed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic.
After the signing, Ashton called the document "the step that will bring Serbia closer to the Union" and "a clear sign of mutual trust". The EU "wants to see Serbian police officers and soldiers with their European colleagues in joint operations abroad", she added. Dacic said Serbia wants to participate in such missions as it would help "strengthen the credibility" of the Serbian security system.
The more recent agreement, enabling the participation of Serbian police officers and soldiers in EU missions, was signed in Belgrade by Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and EU Delegation to Serbia chief Vincent Degert.
"That is a good sign of mutual trust, because the Serbian Army and police will be invited to European peacekeeping missions. It is also a symbolic and important step," Degert said.
According to previous announcements, Serbian soldiers and policemen are to take part in EU missions to Somalia and Uganda as early as this year. The agreement allows Belgrade to pick and choose among various peacekeeping missions.
However, not everyone lauds the move.
Spokesman of the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia Petar Petkovic told SETimes that Serbia should only participate in UN-led missions. "Participation in EU missions is in fact clandestine participation in NATO missions, and Serbia is a country that has proclaimed military neutrality," he said.
EurActiv Serbia web site editor Smiljana Vukojcic said that one should expect certain benefits for Belgrade.
"That step was welcomed by the EU as a sign of trust and of Serbia's determination to join the European space and will certainly have a good echo in the member countries," she told SETimes.
Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences professor Predrag Simic also believes Serbia's efforts towards joining the EU should be encouraged.
"On one hand you have Croatia, who is on the verge of wrapping up negotiations with the EU and there is speculation already that it may join the EU on July 1st 2013. Stalling Belgrade's European integration, after Zagreb's success, could leave negative consequences for the region and create a certain imbalance, primarily in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Simic told SETimes.