EU pledges to assist Serbia's accession process

16/05/2014

The government will tackle three fundamental accession tasks: reforms, economic measures and normalising relations with Pristina.

By Ivana Jovanovic and Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 16/05/14

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EU High Representative Catherine Ashton (left) meets Serbia Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade. [AFP]

The new Serbian government is receiving full EU support as it doubles its efforts to fulfil the country's EU accession agenda, officials said. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the three fundamental tasks are to conduct systematic reforms in line with EU standards, undertake measures to strengthen the economy and normalise relations with Pristina.

Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, visited Belgrade late last month to encourage and support the new government's accession efforts.

"It is the start of a new chapter in our relationship. A chapter that we will write together," Ashton said.

Ashton said she is confident Serbia will join the EU, but the country will need to overcome many obstacles on the path to membership. Improving rule of law is at the heart of the accession process, according to Ashton.

"Progress here determines the speed of the accession process as a whole," she said.

Ashton also said the EU will assist Serbia in meeting EU economic accession criteria that will at the same time create much-needed jobs.

"The EU is determined to help and support Serbia in its efforts to ensure a strong economic path," she said.

Serbian officials said they will launch accession talks with Chapters 23 and 24 that cover the rule of law, adding that the reforms associated with those chapters will serve to attract significant investments.

"We want to put our country in order. ... We want our people to know that justice can be done and that our legal system is really functional," Vucic said. "We expect assistance on this issue and in the training of our people, and Ashton said that we would get the [necessary] support." Major judicial reforms await Serbia, but the government should also make increasing employment a priority in order to avoid a potential economic collapse, said Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic.

"Serbia needs a network of courts that suits the citizens and their needs, and that it is a significant task for the new government," Ljajic told SETimes.

The EU messages are encouraging and the Union will follow with interest Serbia's economic reforms, said Dragan Djukanovic, a research fellow at the Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade.

"Also, certain economic actors from EU countries will indirectly play a significant role in the privatisation of the public enterprises in our country," Djukanovic told SETimes.

In addition to meeting the three basic tasks, Djukanovic said there is a fourth challenge in how Serbia will position itself regarding the escalating tensions in Ukraine.

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"Additional encouragements for Serbia to accelerate its European integration are very important, even crucial in the context of the further stabilisation of the situation in the Western Balkans," he said.

Ashton said Serbia's contributions to improving co-operation and relations with its neighbours are pivotal to the stability of the region.

"Now you are our partner in the accession process," she said. "I want to look forward to you playing an even greater role in fostering inclusive and effective regional ties. I believe you can help make an important contribution in helping Bosnia and Herzegovina break out of the current political stalemate."

What steps should the Serbian government take to maximise the efficiency of the EU accession process? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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