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European Western Balkans
European Integration

Harmonisation of foreign policy of Serbia with the policy of the European Union: The gap between expectations and reality

It has been over 20 years since Christopher Hill wrote an influential article in which he analyzed the role of the European Union, then still the European Community, at the international level and when he identified the main problem in the so-called gap between its capabilities and expectations (capability-expectations gap). In other words, the EU has big aspirations in the international arena and there are many things it wants to achieve, but its capabilities and the instruments of foreign policy it has at disposal are very limited and unable to meet these aspirations. While this gap has been declining with the numerous amendments of the Treaties and the introduction of new institutions and procedures, there is still a significant difference between what the EU wants and what it actually can achieve.

With the latest revision, the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, an additional step was made to strengthen the European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the EU’s presence on the international scene. One of the amendments, under Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty, includes the obligation for all member states to gradually achieve an ever increasing level of compliance of their respective foreign policies. This obligation applies also to the candidate countries for EU membership, and during the accession negotiations foreign and security policy is negotiated under Chapter 31.

So when it comes to the Western Balkans, where all countries are at different stages of accession and at least in principle committed to the membership in the EU, there is an obligation to progressively achieve the harmonization of foreign policies of individual states with the European course. This refers primarily to the support of the decisions and declarations of the Council of Ministers, whereas the level of harmonization varies from country to country. Thus, for instance, in 2014 Albania and Montenegro achieved complete harmonization by supporting all of 45 acts adopted by the Council. On the other hand, Serbia has aligned its foreign policy  at the level of 62%, primarily due to the lack of support for EU policy towards the crisis in Ukraine and refusal to impose sanctions on Russia. Although at this stage of the accession this attitude of Serbia is still acceptable to a certain extent, despite being faced with criticism from Brussels, Serbia will have to clearly define its position in the international arena in the long run. For this purpose, Serbia will have to reconsider its policy of balancing, and as soon as possible determine a course for its foreign policy in line with its strategic objectives and long-term interests. However, given that Serbia still has not adopted a Foreign Policy Strategy, it is difficult to identify priorities of Serbian foreign policy, since theseare being changed in accordance with the daily political needs of the government. A particularly gruesome problem for Serbia will be a commitment to align its visa regime with that of the EU, which implies the same visa policies towards third countries in the foreseeable future. This means that visas will have to be introduced to all countries from which the EU Member States require visas, including Russia.

When it comes to the Common Security and Defense Policy of the EU (CSDP), which is focused on the development of civilian and military capabilities in order to prevent conflict and managing the crises, candidate countries are expected to gradually take over responsibilities and contribute to peacekeeping through participation in EU missions. In the case of Serbia, in addition of having its forces present in UN peacekeeping missions, the Serbian Armed Forces take part in EU missions, primarily in Africa. The engagement of Serbia is relatively modest, corresponding to the limited resources available, and is positively evaluated by the European Commission. However, when it comes to the civilian component for participation in missions, there are many obstacles in the domestic legal and institutional frameworks so that, apart from the members of the military and police, Serbia has not sent any civilians in peacekeeping missions until today[1].

The Serbian Government is surely to be blamed for the low level of alignment of its foreign policy to that of the EU. However, it should also be acknowledged that the EU enlargement policy, especially after the formation of the new European Commission, does not provide enough incentive for the candidate countries to put additional efforts in this direction. The new EC’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has announced that in the next five years the EU will not be accepting new members. Whereas the costs of harmonization of Serbian foreign policy at this moment would be high, especially if one takes the economic aspect of relations with Russia in consideration,  the potential benefits of membership are still a long way from becoming tangible. Therefore, a simple cost-benefit analysis would lead to the conclusion that the only rational option at this moment is trying to balance as long as possible. In addition, the new composition of the European Commission has abolished the Directorate-General (DG) for enlargement and instead established a DG for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. Although the difference may be at the level of semantics, the message that is being sent to the candidate countries is that the focus of this composition of the European Commission is on the negotiation process, and that the European future of the Western Balkans is not so close afterall.

Author: Bojan Elek, BCSP Researcher

Bojan Elek graduated journalism at the Faculty of Political Science and completed his Master degree in International Relations and European Studies at the Central European University in Budapest. He is a member of the BCSP team since October 2013. and he is engaged in the activities of the coalition “prEUgovor” (monitoring the implementation of policies related to chapters 23 and 24), as well as in projects in the field of regional security cooperation. Before joining the BCSP Elek volunteered in civil society organizations. He participated in the European Commission project in which he was engaged in making a documentary on European perspective of Kosovo*. During his studies, he spent a year in professional training at George Mason University in the USA, as a scholar of the Open Society Institute. He has a background in journalism, and also was a member of the PR team of Faculty of Political Science. He is especially interested in research in the fields of EU enlargement, ethnic conflict, peace building and post-conflict societies.

[1] For more information about civilian capacities of Serbia for peacekeeping missions: http://www.bezbednost.org/upload/document/civilni_kapaciteti_srbije_za_mirovne_operacije.pdf

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