After the summer break, the European Parliament is back to work, which also returns the focus to the request that the opposition in Serbia sent to the European Commission in July, on the establishment of expert groups for resolving the political crisis in the country. This request was also supported by the representatives of three groups in the European Parliament, including the Shadow Rapporteur for Serbia of the Greens/EFA group, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel.
With MEP Von Cramon, who is also the Standing Rapporteur for Kosovo, we talked about the opposition’s initiative, the future relationship between the European Parliament with Serbia, as well as the renewed dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.
European Western Balkans: You have recently, together with MEPs from S&D and Renew groups, supported the request of Serbian opposition parties to set up an EU expert group which would produce a report on the state and media capture. Can we expect your further engagement on this issue in the coming months?
Viola von Cramon: Of course, in the European Parliament we follow closely the developments in Serbia. However, the question is not about setting up an expert group; but rather what exactly is going to happen after. I assume that an expert group would be able to analyse thoroughly the media situation, the state capture, and the situation of rule of law in Serbia. This analysis makes only sense if it can provide some concrete steps forward, and hopefully, in a dialogue with the Serbian government, some changes can be implemented. Otherwise, everything else remains interesting words on a piece of paper.
EWB: In the case of North Macedonia, EU mediation which led to the resolution of the political crisis was supported by all the biggest groups in the European Parliament, including the EPP, as well as the European Commission. Is it realistic to expect them to get on board in the case of Serbia anytime soon?
VVC: The situation in Serbia and North Macedonia differs quite much. The overwhelming majority of the European Parliament is convinced that Serbia should follow a European road and go on with the process of European integration, but there is a lot to do from Serbia’s side. Let us be clear: the situation of democracy in Serbia has been deteriorating in the past few years. It is Vučić, who needs to show his commitment. If he wants Serbia to join the European Union on the long run, and on the short run, he aims to have closer cooperation and integration with the EU, than he needs to be ready to prove his willingness. Engaging in mediation and deliver on concrete demands is a way to show his readiness and I am sure that the Parliament and the Commission will be ready to be on board.
EWB: Do you think that it will be harder for the European Parliament groups to reach a consensus on resolutions on Serbia than it was in the past?
VVC: It will not be easy, but I believe that we will be able to bring a majority, and hopefully even a consensus about the situation in Serbia. Unfortunately, the European People’s Party is turning a blind eye on Vučić. Sometimes they do not even acknowledge the seriousness of the situation in Serbia. Mr. Tusk one day criticises Viktor Orbán on Twitter because he is using EU funds to enrich his circle of friends and restricts media freedom; the next day Tusk tweets about Serbia and praises Vučić for his work in the election campaign. We can’t have different standards for different politicians. Now we need to convince the EPP that their behaviour is harming their own and the EU’s credibility too and sooner or later we need to confront Vučić with some tough questions.
EWB: Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) now has 75% of seats in the parliament. What are your expectations of the new government when it comes to the EU integration reforms?
VVC: I am sure any parliament can adopt nice resolutions about the importance of European integration. Vučić is great at praising the EU when he needs that. But if SNS takes EU integration reform seriously, they need to do concrete steps.
EWB: In your view, have the recent election results and the protests that followed changed the attitude towards the situation in Serbia in the EU?
VVC: It is not my job to decide whether some candidates should have or should not have boycotted the elections, but it is clear that the competition was not fair. The media is basically controlled by Vučić, the state officials were actively campaigning for SNS, opposition candidates were intimidated and a number of irregularities were monitored on election day. It is not me saying this from my Brussels office; these are the findings of OSCE ODIHR Mission, election observers and others who were on the ground. The repression of the protests was absolutely unacceptable. I had no false hopes about the state of Serbia’s democracy before the elections, but I think now even those, who were not paying much attention to this will understand what is going on.
EWB: Do you have the impression that, due to the renewed dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the EU is still less critical of the ruling party than it could be? How long can this kind of arrangement last?
VVC: It is tempting to put all issues into one box and pick and choose which one to solve and forget about the rest. But this is not how international relations should work. This is a mistake the EU often makes, we focus on the dialogue and we forget everything else what goes on domestically in Serbia and Kosovo. Since our societies and economies are very much interconnected it does matter how the local economy is functioning, it does matter if the institutions are functioning or because of state capture and corruption the system lets friendly companies and individuals do whatever they want. If we let this bargaining happen, we encourage states, which have disputes or conflicts with neighbours to do whatever they want, because they are untouchable until they resolve their dispute.
EWB: Do you expect the President of Serbia to reach a comprehensive normalisation agreement with Kosovo soon?
VVC: I am optimistic that the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade will have some concrete result soon, but it might happen that first there are only smaller steps. One needs to build up trust first, but ultimately the goal has to be a comprehensive normalisation agreement.