by Alice Taylor
Serbian President Aleksander Vucic said during a speech on Monday evening that there is no progress for Serbia on its EU path if it does not consider what he called a “Franco-German” plan for relations with Kosovo and that compromise may be the only option or EU investments in the country will cease.
However, his comments hold little weight as public opinion of block membership remains at an all-time low, with the majority of Serbs preferring to remain outside of the bloc.
The EU proposal for the normalisation of relations between Serbia and the former province of Kosovo, which Germany, France and the USA support, was presented to Belgrade and Pristina in September and December 2022. While the details of the current draft are not confirmed, it is believed to require Serbia to accept Kosovo’s independence without recognising it and allow Kosovo to join international institutions such as the UN and EU.
He said it has become a de facto plan and negotiating framework but that it is not easy to find something in it that would excite Serbia.
“For people to understand, there is no progress for us in Europe if we do not cooperate on this issue,” he added.
However, support for EU membership is low in Serbia, with a majority of 44% against joining the bloc. According to a recent Ipsos poll, just 35% are in favour, while the rest remain unsure. A further survey by one of the country’s leading pollsters found in August 2022 that only 20% of those surveyed viewed the EU positively.
Vucic also said that EU and US diplomats had warned him that if he did not accept the proposal, EU negotiations and investments from the west would be stopped.
As for whether Serbia will yield to the demands, Vucic said that a conversation must be started within society, and the voice of parliament and the Serbian people must be heard. With EU support at a low and the matter of Kosovo highly important to Serbs, it is unlikely that the deterrent of a pause on EU membership will sway many voters.
Nonetheless, he announced parliamentary consultations and said a debate could be on the table.
“If the choice is to have isolation and sanctions like this or that, and there are no worse sanctions than the withdrawal of investments, which I have been told three times, or shall we say we accept everything and immediately and Kosovo in the United Nations, I am in favour of a path of compromise, as much as possible to fight,” said Vucic. However, he added. In contrast, compromise is necessary, it is not possible with the “regime of Kurti”.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dacic, said that Serbia is determined to continue the dialogue as the only way to resolve all open issues, including the issue of Kosovo.
“I want to emphasise once again that Serbia is determined to continue the dialogue as the only way to resolve all open issues, including the issue of Kosovo. Of course, in all of this, all aspects must be taken into account, taking into account our national and state interests, but also for the future of our country, how to reach a compromise solution with as many benefits as possible and with as little harm as possible”, Dacic told reporters.
Serbia remains the only country in the Western Balkans that has failed to align its foreign policy with the bloc in the case of Russia. It has refused to enforce sanctions and has instead strengthened ties in several areas.
While it has condemned the Russian invasion and said it does not recognise Moscow’s grab of Crimea, Vucic has said he will not give into Western pressure.
Following a recent European Parliament resolution that called on Belgrade to align with the EU aquis on foreign policy, Vucic called it hypocritical and said that pressure on Serb is will not work.
“They support every senseless action of [Kosovo Prime Minister Albin] Kurti. They are happy about the misfortune of their country, they can’t do anything about me. They can remove me by force, but they can’t do anything else. They can’t blackmail me, impose sanctions on me for something, because I have nothing anywhere.”
He added “And let’s say what is expected of Serbia regarding Kosovo and Metohija and the introduction of sanctions against the Russian Federation,” he said, adding that no one wants to hear or see different views but that “they are only interested in sanctions and an independent Kosovo.”
*first published in: Euractiv.com