Serbia's 2020 EU deadline attainable, experts say

18/11/2013

As Belgrade hopes for EU integration by 2020, the price of reforms could be an obstacle.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 18/11/13

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Serbia hopes to join the EU by 2020. [AFP]

Serbian authorities have set 2020 as the deadline for the country's EU accession, but there may be challenges on the way including reform financing and the Kosovo issue, officials and experts said.

"We do not hide the fact that our goal is for Serbia to become a full member of the EU in 2020, and we will accomplish that task," Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said in late October.

Maja Poznatov, from the web portal EurActiv, which covers European affairs and integration, told SETimes the government has undertaken an ambitious plan.

"The deadline is somewhat realistic. It took Croatia six to seven years to negotiate with the EU, too. However, Serbia is strained by the issue of Kosovo, a major political question that will appear during the talks," Poznatov said.

The EU wants Belgrade and Pristina to continue negotiations on improving their relations. That is the top political condition for both countries on their paths to the EU.

Over the course of talks with the EU, candidate countries negotiate 35 chapters that include areas in need of reform. It is expected that the first chapters opened in Serbia's accession process will be those pertaining to the judiciary and human rights.

The start of negotiations between Serbia and the EU could happen as early as January if Belgrade meets all the terms, including dismantling Serbia's parallel institutions in northern Kosovo and establishing the Serbian municipalities association.

In a recent interview with CNN, Finance Minister Lazar Krstic said joining the EU by 2020 is achievable because the state has made so much progress on reforms during the past year.

"We have to take many steps toward the EU by 2020. The most important one is the fight against corruption and improvement of the relations with the neighbouring countries, as well as strengthening the financial and economic situation in the country," Krstic said.

Poznatov said Serbia has well-trained people for negotiations with the EU, but the legislation to be adopted and applied is extensive.

"Moreover, one should have in mind the events in the EU itself, as its current priority is the economy rather than the admission of new members," she said.

The matter of the price of reforms Brussels requires is also going to be a hurdle, officials said.

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"I expect that the biggest challenge on our way to full membership of the EU will be the budget, i.e. the financial capacity for implementing the reforms of the society, which we are doing for ourselves," Minister for European Integration Branko Ruzic said on October 30th.

Belgrade has no specific estimate of how much money it will need for all reforms, but it is expected to be in the in billions of euros. The money for reforms will be provided by the Serbian budget, loans from international financial institutions, bilateral agreements and EU pre-accession funds.

Ognjen Miric, deputy director of the government's European Integration Office, told SETimes that harmonisation with European standards in the field of environmental protection by 2020 will cost Serbia about 10 billion euros.

What steps can Serbia take to ensure full membership in the EU by 2020? Tell us below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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