By Bojana Milovanovic
Serbia is expecting a final answer on its EU membership candidacy on December 9th. In October, the European Commission (EC) recommended that Serbia be given candidate status, but the decision on setting a date for the start of membership talks depends on negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic views this outcome as a great success and claims the EC’s recommendation is “The graduation exam this government has passed.”
The EC said that Serbia had earned candidate status by arresting all individuals wanted by The Hague tribunal, and by making progress in reforms. However, it also pointed out that Serbia should continue implementing systemic reforms and fight corruption.
The head of the government’s EU Integration Office, Milica Delevic, pointed out that Serbia should not relax despite the EC’s positive assessment.
“The Commission holds the position that what has been done is enough to move forward. That does not mean the situation is ideal, or that it is time to rest. Though there are no explicit conditions, the continuation of reforms, completion of the judicial reform, fight against corruption, monitoring the adoption of new laws — all will be the EC and member countries’ focus until December 9th,” Delevic told the Vecernje Novosti daily.
Serbian President Boris Tadic said the candidate status opened numerous possibilities as it sends important economic signals to investors and confirmed to the Serbian public that the country is on the right path. “One should be optimistic, but not euphoric,” Tadic cautioned.
Analysts and opposition representatives believe that Serbia will not benefit much from its potential candidate status, especially not now, when Europe is shaken by an economic crisis.
Representative of the Belgrade Institute for European Studies Miroslav Prokopijevic told SETimes that, apart from slightly higher investment, Serbia would not see much benefit from candidate status.
“All that investing is not enough; it will be difficult if reforms do not continue,” Prokopijevic said.
“In practice, the time from becoming a membership candidate to full membership is between eight and 12 years. Among the regional countries, it took Slovenia the least, while Bulgaria the most time,” Prokopijevic said.
Economic analyst Miroslav Zdravkovic told SETimes that Serbia will not benefit from the candidacy at all, unless it organises and enhances its own economy and, above all, increases exports.
“It is a political fairytale that golden fruit will start sprouting from the trees once we become an EU membership candidate,” Zdravkovic underscored.
He pointed out that Serbia should create a better business environment and attract investors, which is not easy at a time when Europe is in a crisis and cutting down on investment.
“We should develop our own resources and carry out reforms for our own sake, because these are the EU conditions,” Zdravkovic said.
The opposition does not share the ruling majority’s optimism regarding the anticipated candidate status. “The candidacy is just a waiting room for EU membership, which Serbia is paying for with a portion of its territory, Kosovo,” Democratic Party of Serbia spokesman Petar Petkovic told SETimes.
He says the policy of the current government, which claims there is no alternative to Europe, is detrimental to Serbia’s national and state interests.
“Serbia is being given shameful conditions, which did not apply to any other country that is now a member,” Petkovic said.