Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home Breaking news Serbia eager to open historic EU accession talks

Serbia eager to open historic EU accession talks

— filed under: , , ,

(BELGRADE) - Serbia, once considered a pariah state, is eagerly awaiting the historic start of accession talks with the European Union, hoping the move will provide a boost to its struggling economy.

Socialist Prime Minister Ivica Dacic will head Serbia's delegation in Brussels on Tuesday at the first inter-governmental conference, a formal start of the talks on EU membership.

"We have come to the end of a very difficult process... Serbia wants the accession talks to be both fast and of good quality," Dacic said ahead of the meeting.

Serbia's chief negotiator with the EU, Tanja Miscevic, said the talks would begin with the two most difficult and important of the 35 policy chapters which must be successfully negotiated prior to membership; those on the judiciary and basic rights.

Like Dacic, she insisted that Serbia is "ready to take on" even the toughest issues.

"I feel like I'm behind a wheel of a Ferrari with its engine turned on and just about to go," she said.

Serbia won a official EU candidate status in March 2012.

But it took over a year for Brussels to agree to open the membership talks, something that only became possible after Belgrade reached a historic deal with Pristina to normalise relations with Kosovo.

Serbia fiercly refuses to recognise Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, but has agreed to ease tensions and improve relations for the sake of its EU ambitions.

The membership negotiations will include more talks with Pristina, a "daily topic and a nightmare" for Belgrade, Dacic said.

Many in Serbia believe that Kosovo will remain the main stumbling bloc on the path towards EU membership, particularly Euro-sceptics led by former nationalist prime minister Vojislav Kostunica.

They warn that Belgrade will be forced to recognise the independence of the breakaway province before joining the bloc, an unthinkable move for most politicians here.

Ailing economy in need of reform

Belgrade will also need to restructure its ailing economy and reform a giant public sector that has threatened to suffocate its finances.

"It will turn out that neither our administration nor institutional capacities are (ready) enough... and that it will take years and investments to improve it," Maja Bobic of the prominent think-tank the European Movement in Serbia told AFP.

Serbia has failed to reduce its enormous public sector, which employs more than 700,000 of the 1.7 million workforce, or to complete privatisation and put its debt-ridden public companies in order.

Its economy suffered another blow on the eve of the talks as ratings agency Fitch downgraded its status from "BB-" to "B+" highlighting weak political will to introduce the unpopular structural reforms.

With the public deficit increasing for the last four years and public debt that exceeds 60 percent of GDP, Serbia hopes EU accession talks will improve its image and bring in much-needed foreign investment.

"Membership talks could be an encouraging message to foreign investors" that Serbia was on the right track, although the positive effects could be harmed with the rating downgrade, said economic analyst Milan Culibrk.

The unemployment rate has reached 20.1 percent in the Balkan country with a population of 7.1 million and the average monthly salary is estimated at 400 euros ($540).

Beside the economy, Serbia will also need to adjust its agriculture, environment and energy standards to bring them in line with EU regulations.

"These fields need serious adjustments and require a lot of investments," Bobic said.

Ognjen Trifunovic, a 42-year old organic food producer, hopes to see the measures introduced as soon as possible in order to enable him to export his goods to the massive EU market.

"Our products already meet all EU standards, but we can not guarantee delivery as the road and rail networks in Serbia are sometimes as bad as in the 19th century, while bureaucracy is unbearable," Trifunovic told AFP.

Justice and rule of law to meet EU standards

Chief EU negotiator, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, said last week that he would "continue paying particular attention to Serbia delivering... on the rule of law, particularly reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime."

Bobic said the "judicial practice that should guarantee the rule of law" would be "the final proof" that Serbia was ready to implement EU standards.

"Despite attempted reforms so far our judiciary is not at that level at all," Bobic said.

Document Actions