Johannes Hahn, the new European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, made his first visit to Belgrade last week (20 November). The new Commissioner supported the process of Serbia’s accession to the EU, praising mostly the reforms the country has committed to introduce as part of its effort to join the EU. At the same time though, Mr Hahn underlined his understanding for Serbia’s alignment with the EU’s decisions on Russia, which is one of the most sensitive issues in EU-Serbia relations.
Following the meeting with Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic, Commissioner Hahn noted that there was no pressure “at this moment” to “fully harmonize with the European Union’s policy” and impose sanctions on Russia. Nevertheless, he emphasized that the harmonization is a part of the accession process. The process of membership negotiations started on 21 January 2014 and requires that Serbia will harmonize its legislation with the acquis communautaire, the EU law, as well as the EU’s Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP). Serbia’s objective is to fulfil all obligations on its way to the block before the end of 2018, which would enable it to become a member around 2020. “The situation is as it is and the European Union will expect Serbia to gradually harmonize its foreign policy (with the policy of the Union), but this takes time,” Hahn commented.
While speaking to the country’s Prime Minister, Aleksander Vucic, Mr Hahn did not insist on the issue of Serbia’s ties with Russia saying that he understands Serbia’s position. He reminded that the country was not yet a member of the Union at this moment but he cited this issue as “one of the reasons why Serbia should be a member of the EU, because, when you are a member, then you participate in the decision making process,” the Commissioner said. Prime Minister Vucic reiterated that his country “has only one policy” and “caters to nobody”. Although Serbia supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, it does not want to impose sanctions on Moscow because of its special political, economic, and energy ties with Russia.