David and Goliath: What is behind the EU Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia?
Filed Under: Opinion, Politics | Posted: 05/03/2008 at 8:10PM
Comments | Region: Serbia
- Kosovo is once more in Serbian history the alleged determining factor of the future path that the country is going to take.
On the 29th of April, Serbian President Boris TadiÄ‡ put his signature on the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union (EU). The SAA is a major step on quite a long road towards reaching a full EU membership. The decision of the EU ministers, and more notably the Belgian and Dutch ones to offer this agreement to Serbia, was by many hailed as one of the important and long-wanted incentives given to Serbian people to finally “realize” that their future lies in the “family of the European states” and not in the “backwardness of the past.”
As it came right before the May 11th parliamentary elections in Serbia that are largely considered to be the crucial one for Serbia’s future, the news of the Agreement signing caused a lengthy discussion and division among already politically divided people of Serbia. On the one hand are the “pro-European” and “pro-western” political formations grouped around President TadiÄ‡ and his Democratic party (DS) that stand in defense of the SSA claiming it has nothing to do with the Kosovo issue and that it only benefits
The strongest individual political group, the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) under the ideological guidance of Vojislav Šešelj who is presently on trial in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has a somewhat harsher rhetoric against the SAA than Koštunica’s supporters. Signing the SAA for them is the ultimate act of President TadiÄ‡’s hypocrisy and a lack of patriotism as the Agreement legitimizes the decision of 18 EU states to recognize the unilateralism of Kosovo’s Albanians and the
The supporters of President TadiÄ‡’s decision claim that, because of the strict requirements, the SAA opens new possibilities for Serbian development. For them, it is a major step towards liberation of the strict visa regime for travel to EU countries, it ensures higher security and quality of products as well as higher supply of higher variety of goods, it strengthens the political position of Serbia in the Balkans and Europe, and finally, it sends a clear signal to the foreign investors that Serbia is a serious and reliable area for investment.
However, for Dr. Vojislav Koštunica and SRS vice-president Tomislav NikoliÄ‡, signing the SAA resembles the first step towards Serbian recognition of the “new reality in the Balkans” and the independence of Kosovo as a sovereign state. It is due to the Article 135 in the agreement that somewhat ambiguously states that the “present” status of the Kosovo province will not be questioned. The reason for the ambiguity lies in the fact that, on the 17th of November last year, at the time when the draft of the agreement was decided upon, the status of Kosovo was still under negotiation. Hence this “present” status can either mean that the common EU policy towards Kosovo is based on the UN Resolution 1244 that places it under Serbian jurisdiction, or that EU is taking a new course, and recognizing the unilateral move of Kosovo’s Albanians and of some influential international factors. Both Koštunica’s DSS and SRS view the agreement as illegitimate since 18 members of the EU violated the Article 135 and the UN Resolution 1244 by recognizing Kosovo’s independence.
After years of sanctions, wars, unjust privatizations, low standard of living and isolation, the Serbian people thought that the consequences of previous politics and world’s negative view on
Maybe the EU “democrats” should ask themselves these questions. If the high representatives of the EU such as Javier Solana or Oli Rehn continue interfering in the internal matters of a sovereign state suggesting the best possible outcomes of the Serbian elections and rising tensions by warning against “self-isolation” and revival of extreme nationalism, we might witness more instability in the region and Serbia might once again come up on the top of the world’s news reports.
The Serbian electorate is so greatly divided between the “pro-Europeans” and “nationalists” that the likeliness of turmoil is at high odds. What makes Serbians mistrust EU’s intentions with the SAA even more is the fact that same politicians who contributed to the weakening of
The relationship between
The reason why I take the offered version of the SAA that was signed by President TadiÄ‡ with a dose of concern differs in essence from the reasons provided by Dr. Koštunica or the SRS Vice-President Tomislav NikoliÄ‡. I would have to agree with President TadiÄ‡ in his remarks that isolated, economically weak and internationally demonized
Having all that in mind, a “clear” benefit of signing the SAA for the Serbian people is anything but clear. Instead of all the heavenly promises about the increase in the living standards and foreign investments, freedom of movement, and goods and information exchange that comes with signing the SAA, Serbian people are most likely going to have to wait longer for more “reforms” and even more concrete moves by their political leadership towards fulfilling the EU’s growing desires. Many are unaware of the hardships that people in the Balkans are having nowadays because of the leverage exercised by the EU. Instead of punishing the dominant political subjects with the blackmailing policies and conditions, the EU is collectivizing the inability of the government to cooperate with the ICTY in Hague and punishing the Serbian people by making it almost impossible to travel abroad and enjoy the rights that are granted to every other citizen of the vast majority of the European states. The benefit of the SAA is only clear to the political groups on both sides who are collecting the points from ever-more confused Serbian electorate. If nothing, the May elections will definitely be remembered as the most pressurizing ones and the ones where the “choice-between-life-or-death” phrase has been the most excessively used.
The EU needs to work on restoring its damaged reputation among many in the Balkans by finally realizing that the only way to deal with the region’s problems is through engaging in a conversation with the Balkan states on the basis of equality and mutual respect. These are also the pillars of the EU and the bases of the Copenhagen Criteria and the Acquis Communautaire. The only thing that is missing in the EU-Serbia relations is precisely this right on parity and partnership. If the EU is truly a partner of