One week after Angela Merkel’s visit to Belgrade, Serbia is calling on the European Union to remain neutral in its dealings with the breakaway province of Kosovo. Bozidar Djelic, the country’s deputy prime minister for European integration, spoke to EurActiv Serbia in an exclusive interview.
Serbia hoped to win EU candidate status soon after having arrested war crime fugitives Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic and handing them over for trial by the Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The country’s objective is to “obtain EU candidate status and define a date for the beginning of membership talks,” Djelic told EurActiv Serbia in an interview.
“There is no doubt that Serbia will earn candidate status,” Djelic said. “We will see, however, what will happen at the summit in December,” he said, referring to a planned meeting of EU heads of state and government which is expected to grant the country official candidate status.
But during a recent visit to Belgrade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Serbia to bring concrete results in its EU-mediated dialogue with Kosovo before official EU talks can open.
EULEX should remain ‘status neutral’
The German chancellor urged Belgrade to accept the presence of EULEX, the EU’s justice and police mission, throughout Kosovo’s entire territory, and abolish its parallel administrative structures for northern Kosovo.
Belgrade opposes EULEX, saying the United Nations should administer Kosovo until the final resolution of its status.
Djelic argues that Serbia accepted EULEX’s presence as part of a six-point UN plan for the region. The agency’s mission to strengthen the rule of law “is something that is in the interest of the Republic of Serbia, the region and Europe, and we support that,” he told EurActiv Serbia.
However, he said that EULEX should at the same time carry out its mission “in a status-neutral manner” that respects both sides, suggesting that this was not currently the case.
“We have been calling for dialogue to be resumed. We initiated that dialogue, hence it is important not to turn the dialogue into grounds for blackmailing Serbia.”
“If it is set up in an asymmetrical way, where Belgrade has to accept everything Pristina demands, then it is no longer a dialogue, it is blackmail.”
Abolishing parallel institutions would be ‘undemocratic’
Djelic also rejected accusations that Belgrade was setting up parallel administrative authorities in Kosovo to maintain a foothold in the breakaway province.
“As far as these so-called parallel institutions are concerned, we made it clear to the German chancellor that the institutions in question were elected by the citizens and have democratic legitimacy. It is no secret that a number of mayors do not always have identical views to those of the Serbian government, but there is legitimacy and it must be acknowledged.”
“Hence the idea of abolishing such institutions is an anti-democratic aim. It is very important to admit that, if we want to build democracy in the Balkans: institutions supported by the citizens must be respected.”
EU talks to focus on customs dispute
EU-mediated talks between the two Balkan states are due to resume on Friday (2 September) and will focus on an ongoing dispute which resulted in Belgrade preventing Kosovo’s exports from passing through Serbian territory.
In July, Kosovo police tried to take control of customs points at two crossings in the Serb-run north, forcing the UN to deploy peacekeeping troops there. One Kosovo police officer was killed during the clashes.
For Djelic, the use of stamps by Kosovo would mark a further step towards international recognition of Kosovo, something which Serbia cannot accept.
“I think Serbia cannot be asked to do the impossible,” Djelic said, calling on European negotiators not to take advantage of Serbia’s EU aspirations to force solutions on Belgrade.
“At this moment it is very important not to take advantage of the expectation of obtaining EU candidate status to potentially put inappropriate pressure on us, to try to pull out something that crosses the red lines of our policy, because that simply will not be possible.”
“It is obvious that Pristina and some circles in Europe are playing the card of Serbia caving in to immense pressure and the desire to become a membership candidate.”
“That is a non-European and harmful policy.”