The first chapters within Serbia’s EU accession process have been opened – Chapter 32, Financial Control and Chapter 35, Normalisation of Relations with Kosovo* – at the EU-Serbia intergovernmental conferee in Brussels.
Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, EU Presiding country, Jean Asselborn, said that Serbia made a decisive step by opening the accession negotiators with the EU and committed itself in hard work.
“It is a long and arduous journey, but Europe will stand by you,” said Asselborn and added he was convinced Serbian citizens would soon learn the process could bring them many benefits.
He said the EU would closely monitor Serbia’s work and open chapters dealing with rule of law and justice shortly. Luxembourg Presidency invited Serbian representatives to attend seven Ministerial Meetings in order to keep the country on track with functioning of the EU, Asselborn said.
European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said Serbia became a country with a clear European perspective and that investment in Serbia meant investment in Europe.
The goal set by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, that is, fulfilling EU membership criteria by 2019, was described by Hahn as an ambitious one. He also said Serbian Government needed to deliver on its part and promised “from our part, we will do everything to support the Government in its efforts.“
Hahn said that there was no speed limit on the EU accession path, only was there a defined road which a candidate should navigate through.
“There is no speed or any other limit, only a certain road which a candidate must navigate through. The pace depends on a candidate, and we should not shorten the distance,” Hahn said at the press conference held jointly with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
Hahn commended Serbia for its achievements in recent years, saying: “I congratulate you once more, I welcome you and assure you that we are all fully aware of the major work ahead of us, but we should also cherish this moment. We are aware of everyone’s commitment and both Serbia and Europe’s goals,” said Hahn adding that “these goals cannot be achieved without the commitment from your public administration and citizens. The commitment is important but also to pass on the message of EU membership benefits to Serbian citizens.”
During his recent visit to Serbia, he said that he was impressed with the growing interest of companies to invest in Serbia because it became a country with a clear European perspective.
“This is an important signal which allows people to gain a perspective of a reliable country, with a future that offers opportunities to young people to stay in it,” European Commissioner said.
He thanked the Government, citizens and organisations from Serbia for great work they had done and would do in dealing with migrant flows, adding that was the first evidence of Serbia already being an EU Member.
European Commissioner Johannes Hahn made clear that future Belgrade-Pristina relations would “be taken stock of in a couple of years, being a part of a comprehensive process, and not only membership negotiations” and stressed “it is important that Serbia and Kosovo do not get in each other’s way on their European paths, because mutual understanding is entailed in the Berlin process.”
Hahn thus answered the press’ question of whether his previous statement saying that EU Member States would not accept a membership of a country which had unresolved issues with its neighbours, meant that Serbia would have to recognise Kosovo independence through a binding agreement before it became a Union Member.
European Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner added that the EU-Western Balkans Summit emphasised the importance of cross-border cooperation and that the ides of “countries in the region not getting in each other’s way – which is a rather honest agreement.”
“We should focus on urgent needs and I am convinced there is much work ahead of us, all of which is important for Serbian citizens,” Hahn said.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic congratulated Serbian citizens on the opening of the first negotiating chapters and stressed that was good news for the entire region.
“This is good new for the whole region, because countries in the region must know they have a stable partner with an extended arm to count on,” Vucic said.
Vucic said that citizens should be proud because this was a great day when the pages of history were being written. “We no longer have to dream about the EU, we have only hard work ahead of us, but if we prove to be diligent, we will eventually become a part of the European family,” said Vucic.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.