Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vučić; Photo: Tanjug / Tanja Valić

BELGRADE – Out of four candidate countries for the EU membership, Serbia has the lowest alignment of foreign policy with the European Union’s foreign policy declarations and measures in the first half of 2019, with 60 per cent.

According to the Analysis of Serbia’s alignment with the European Union’s foreign policy declarations and measures in 2019: Semi-annual Review, published by the International and Security Affairs Centre (ISAC) from Belgrade, in the period from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019, the European Union published a total of 48 foreign policy declarations with which partner countries were requested to comply. Serbia aligned itself with 29 of the 48 declarations.

Compliance with the EU foreign policy, although sometimes symbolical, could be a significant indicator of the country’s geostrategic orientation and the degree of influence of external actors.

Not stepping on Russia’s toe has been the main principle of Serbian foreign policy for years. The reason behind this is clear – not recognizing Kosovo’s independence and Serbia’s energy dependence. Despite being a candidate country for the EU membership, Serbia has one of the lowest levels of alignment with EU foreign policy in the entire region because of this approach.

Although the negotiating chapter on foreign policy has not yet been opened, “sitting on two chairs” can become a big problem for Brussels, that could, in the worst-case scenario, slow down the negotiations or even stop them. The similar tendency could also be perceived in North Macedonia.

Bearing in mind that Serbia’s alignment percentage for all of 2018 was 52 per cent, and only 44 per cent for the first half of 2018, there is a trend of growth in Serbia’s alignment, reports ISAC.

“Of the declarations that Serbia did not align with, seven relate to Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, four are devoted to the dramatic situation in Venezuela, two concern Myanmar, and one declaration each is related to Iran, Belarus, Guatemala, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Syria, and sanctions against persons suspected of using chemical weapons,“ it is stated in the analysis.

However, the growth trend exists essentially only on paper or in percentages, explains Igor Novaković Research Director of ISAC.

“We should have in mind that the total number of declarations with which Serbia did not comply in the first half of this year was 18, only one less than in 2018, and the EU published 16 declarations more. Thematically, Serbia did not comply with declarations that had similar themes to those of previous years – the Ukrainian crisis, the situation in Venezuela, Myanmar and similar,” Novaković stated for the European Western Balkans.

Suzana Grubješić, Secretary-General of the European Movement in Serbia, also believes that the increase of compliance exists only on paper, adding that the only good thing is that the decline has been stopped.

In the vast majority of cases, Serbia did not comply with declarations aimed at the entities and/or citizens of countries that did not recognize Kosovo. Of the seven declarations about the situation in Ukraine, six concerned either the extension or expansion of already existing restrictive measures against entities and individuals from Russia and Ukraine.

Grubješić explains that sanctions have not been imposed on Russia not only because of Russia’s role in the negotiations with Kosovo but also because of Serbia’s considerable degree of energy dependence on Russia.

“Serbia does not comply with the EU declarations relating to Syria or Venezuela because it would offend Russia, as well as declarations against third countries that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence and which Serbia counts on in various international organizations that Kosovo wants to join, which Serbia is opposing,” Grubješić points out.

What kind of influence does Russia have on North Macedonia?

When it comes to the alignment of foreign policy with the European Union’s foreign policy declarations and measures of other EU candidate countries, in the last several years, the situation in Montenegro and Albania remains the same – 100 per cent. However, in North Macedonia alignment is around 83 per cent.

Now that North Macedonia awaits the green light by the EU to start accession negotiations, alignment with its foreign policy could send an important signal to Brussels.

Senior Associate at the Democratization Policy Council and a former adviser to Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and a current Fulbright Scholar at New York University, Ivana Jordanovska believes that harmonization with the foreign policy declarations of the EU is an important signal of a country’s alignment with the views and ideals of the EU, but it remains symbolic for 2 reasons.

“First, most of these countries adopting the conclusions or not are, in most cases, less influential in the given scenario. Second, and I stand behind this: We cannot really talk of “foreign policy of the EU”. There are general directions and positions, but no single foreign policy,” Jordanovska explains.

She believes that foreign policy, in its true sense of the word is still created on the national level, with regional interests often playing a major role.

“As such, the adoption of these declarations is symbolic at best, but important for the countries that wish to score as many points with Brussels as possible,” Jordanovska says.

As it is noted in the analysis, North Macedonia, as well as Serbia, is not complying with the declarations and measures that are directed to Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.

Since Serbia’s main reasons for non-alignment with the EU foreign policy are Russia’s role in the negotiations with Kosovo and energy dependency, the question is – what kind of influence does Russia have on North Macedonia?

Jordanovska explains that Russia and North Macedonia have a peculiar relationship that, for many years since independence, was not brought into the spotlight as it is today, adding that there has always been a steady economic exchange, though significantly underutilized.

“What is different today is the security aspect of the relationship. As many other countries on the periphery of the EU, North Macedonia became part of Russia’s intelligence gathering attempts, some of which were recently published by the Washington Post,” she says.

She, however, warns that North Macedonia has to maintain a careful balance.

“There is no doubt of its commitment to EU values, but a full-on freeze of relations with Russia or deterioration of the security aspect should not be considered on the same weight scale as a foreign policy declaration with mostly symbolic value,” she concludes.

Although the strategic goal of these countries is the EU, both Serbia and North Macedonia should start aligning its foreign policy with Brussel’s, especially now that Serbia negotiations have slowed down, while North Macedonia is patiently waiting for a green light.