Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has left Monday 15th Dec. 2008 for Paris to submit the country’s formal application for European Union membership to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Same time Holland is still blocking implementation of suspended Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) agreement Serbia regardless of an essentially positive report on Belgrade’s cooperation with ICTY as well almost fulfilled conditions for candidate status.
The government of Montenegro decided on previous Thursday 11th Dec. to officially submit the bid to France, current holder of the EU presidency. “By taking this step, Montenegro commits itself to the accession process and the building of a united Europe which is a strategic goal in which the founders of the European Community invested their vision and commitment,” the government press office said in a statement. (BalkanInsight.com 15.12.2008)
On 5 November 2008 the Commission adopted its annual strategy document explaining its policy on EU enlargement. Same date EU released also the 2008 progress reports, where the Commission services monitor and assess the achievements of each of the candidate and potential candidates over the last year. As earlier Serbia’s administrative capacity can again match EU’s administrative challenges. (More http://arirusila.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/eu-squanders-aid-money-by-wrong-approach-in-western-balkans/, check also “Serbia’s National Programme for Integration of Serbia into EU from my Document library)
Few days ago a EU document “Guaranteeing Security in a Changing World” says Serbia is close to fulfilling all conditions for establishing close relations with the EU. (Beta 12.12.2008)
Same time Holland will not change its position when it comes to Serbia’s EU integration. Holland sees Mladi?’s arrest and extradition as the best proof of cooperation. Serbia and EU signed late April 2008 the temporary trade agreement which is part of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) and suspended immediately, pending Belgrade’s full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. (B92 13.12.2008)
Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told Tanjug news agency in an interview published 14th Nov. 2008 that EU candidate status and liberalization of the visa regime remain Serbia’s absolute foreign policy priority for 2009. He added that the issue of Kosovo and EU integrations are separate processes, but repeated that should the two overlap, Serbia would choose to preserve her territorial integrity. (B92 14.12.2008)
The EU discussion in Serbia has been concentrated to question when Mr.Mladic will be delivered to Hague. This is only one side-path of EU integration. The road to membership is much more complicated both Montenegro and Serbia.
For example when a country wants to gain membership status the European Commission will at that point respond by sending a questionnaire to potential candidate countries, which includes some 4,500 question dealing with all institutions and sectors. Based on the answers, the European Commission will report on the situation in the country which has applied. And then are starting negotiations where some 80.000 pages of EU regulations are applied to candidate country’s legislation.
Conditions, criteria, politics
I have no doubt that both Montenegro and Serbia can and will give satisfactory answers to EC questionnaire and have good ability to fulfill (pre) conditions. Both countries have so good administrative capacity that they can match all criteria needed for membership.
EC can be also freeze the process if there is some unfinished border dispute with candidate country. Montenegro’s way with towards EU seems clear but it is hard to believe that Serbia and EC will soon agree which are the borders of Serbia – are they including Kosovo or not?
After all the refined negotiation process however the climax will be political one – EU can take new members with any criteria and lower standards like it was case with Bulgaria and Romania.
The membership in EU should not be overestimated – non membership does not mean to be outside Europe. Norway, Russia, young Caucasian republics all have achieved pragmatic relationship with EU without membership. The new Eastern Partnership (EaP) program has recently been distributed to European capitals. The new “belt of EU friends” at Russia’s eastern and southern borders would include Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus. The European Neighborhood Policy, which the EU has pursued since 2004, is going to be replaced with the Eastern Partnership (EaP).
Similar arrangements one may wait from EU with Turkey in near future, EU-Mediterranean dimension is on the way, new negotiations with Russia are starting about future programs. EU can be very creative finding out different forms for cooperation when needed.
From my point of view also Serbia should think if joining to EU is worth of time, money and bureaucracy it demands. Visa arrangements, free trade and some EU programs are possible also for non-members. Of course Serbia can develop its administration and legislation according EU standards but not because of fulfilling EU needs. The primus motor should be the needs of the beneficiaries aka Serbs not EU elite in Brussels.
The will and ability
Totally outside of framework described above is the question if EU has the will and ability to absorb new members and if yes which members. Lisbon Treaty is still uncertain; some EU countries want strong federation some are satisfied to loose Union. The big wannabees – Ukraine and Turkey – EU hardly could absorb due the budget limitations and due the power shift the new members could make.
As said earlier Montenegro probably can go the whole way to EU without any bigger problems but Serbia will be fighting long with EU’s – public or hidden – political conditions. So my modest hope is that Serbia rethinks its priorities, makes new SWOT analysis according today’s situation, makes a vision where the country wants be after 5-10-25 years, creates strategy, alliances and action plans to realize the vision – be it outside or inside EU is only secondary question.