The President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, continues today her tour in the Western Balkans with an official visit to Belgrade, a day after she visited Pristina.
She is coming to Belgrade only two days after Serbia formed a new government, and even though it has been announced that the focus of her visit will be on the topic of energy, it is likely that two more key issues will be on the table – sanctions against Russia and dialogue with Pristina.
Von der Leyen announced her visit during the summit of the European Political Community in Prague earlier this month when she said that the Western Balkans region is “an integral part of the European family”. In an attempt to give a dose of optimism in the moments of stagnation in the enlargement process, the European official will, in addition to Belgrade and Pristina, also visit Skopje, Tirana, Sarajevo and Podgorica.
According to the official itinerary, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić will meet with the President of the European Commission in the afternoon. The official reception will take place at Constantine the Great Airport in Niš, after which von der Leyen will visit the construction works on the Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnector, followed by the two officials holding a press conference.
Although analysts point out that Von der Leyen will not allow any other topic to overshadow the issue of energy, the fact that her tour takes place two weeks after the European Commission published reports on the progress of all the countries in the region suggests that the talks with the Balkan officials will also focus on the implementation necessary reforms. This year’s report on Serbia was somewhat harsher than last year’s, so it is certain that the President of the European Commission will also mention the issue of Serbia’s harmonization with the EU’s foreign and security policy.
Before von der Leyen’s visit, Brussels said that the EU intended to include the Western Balkans in the joint purchase of gas and the message that Von der Leyen brings to the region is one of solidarity. As she announced after the meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski, the European Union has prepared a support package for the entire region to help it deal with the energy crisis.
The fact that Von der Leyen is coming to Serbia right after the government was formed is not a coincidence, says Strahinja Subotic from the Centre for European Policies. He adds that she will once again send a clear message that it is the right time for Serbia to begin aligning with the EU’s foreign policy.
This very issue is one of the most pressing challenges facing the new government. Serbia, along with Belarus, is the only country in Europe that did not join the group of countries that imposed sanctions against Russia, which led to the European Commission’s latest report on Serbia’s progress being harsher than the previous one, as it has assessed that Belgrade’s compliance with foreign policy Brussels in decline.
This post is also available in: Italiano