Despite the radical demands put forward by a group of MEPs, led by Croatian MEP Tonino Picula, for the EU to completely suspend accession negotiations with Serbia if it does not introduce sanctions against Russia, these demands will not be part of the final version of the draft report on the new EU enlargement strategy.
The draft will, however, contain an amendment which is seen as a compromise whereby Serbia is warned that ‘further accession negotiations will depend on the harmonisation of its foreign policy (with the EU’s)’, and it does carry a sort of penalty if Serbia fails to oblige. MEPs, who are pressuring Serbia to introduce sanctions, are now demanding that all EU financial allocations to Serbia be reviewed, “in particular all projects financed under the Western Balkans Economic and Investment Plan, in order to ensure that all EU expenditure is fully in line with EU strategic objectives and interests”.
This is a direct warning that Brussels will punish Belgrade by turning off the tap on pre-accession and investment funds if it does not impose the sanctions.
Freezing the EU’s financial aid to the Western Balkans over the next seven years could be a result of this pressure. What consequences this could have on the country is shown by the data according to which almost two-thirds of Serbian trade is with EU countries and EU countries make up almost 70% of foreign investors in Serbia.
The EU is the largest donor in Serbia with over 4 billion euros in subsidies, and many important public facilities, schools and hospitals have been built or renovated with the help of European money.
Financial injections are provided through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance to help Serbia prepare for the accession. Over the past seven years, EUR 2.4 billion has been granted through accession funds, while 24,000 companies operating in Serbia and employing some 900,000 people have origin in EU member states. Data from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce show that in 2021, Serbia sold goods and services worth EUR 13.9 billion to the EU.
The debate on the draft enlargement report is scheduled to take place on 13 October in the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee. The final version of the draft will take the form of a European Parliament resolution at the vote scheduled for November.
Lawyer Milan Antonijević explains that the proposal of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament is not binding, but it captures the mood of all EU countries when it comes to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine: “We will see what the discussion will look like. There are also other parliamentary groups that might not have such a tough attitude”.
Strahinja Subotić from the Centre for European Policies sees the proposal as a more explicit expression of the EP’s criticism of the EU’s failure to comply with the common foreign policy, because the sanctions against Russia are an unprecedented topic for the EU, as well as an attempt to, as he says, to bring Serbia over to their side.
(Večernje Novosti, 30.09.2022)
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