Serbia opened its EU accession negotiations on 21st January 2014, and since then 16 of a total of 35 negotiation chapters have been opened, with two chapters since provisionally closed. For a country that has been praised by the European Commission as a “frontrunner” in the accession process, this pace of opening two chapters per accession conference can be labelled as slow-motion. Only Turkey has had the same dynamics when it comes to opening chapters.
There are multiple reasons for Serbia’s path to the EU being so bumpy, and not all of them are necessarily in Serbia’s court. The criteria for EU membership are well established and the reform priorities are highlighted: the rule of law, a functioning market economy, and the adoption of definitive binding solutions to all bilateral disputes prior to accession.
Serbia has some difficulties with all of them, but mostly with resolving the Kosovo issue. To say that the specifics of an arrangement are tricky is an understatement, but it appears that constituencies, both in Serbia and in Kosovo, are prepared for some kind of deal facilitated by the European Union.
The enlargement toolbox needs a serious overhaul, and the political engagement of the eu is needed more than ever if it wants to remain competitive against other external actors.
When it comes to the rule of law, the EU needs to reassert its role as a normative and transformative actor, by strengthening its credibility on this core issue and focusing on the process of political transformation and democratic consolidation.
Meanwhile, the European Union itself is facing an internal crisis in the rule of law, with several countries seriously threatening the judiciary, the media and civil sector, bringing into question fundamental European values like freedom and solidarity, and becoming susceptible to authoritarian temptations. This democratic decline reduces the EU’s ability to serve as a model for accession countries.
In addition to all of those as mentioned earlier, the enlargement toolbox needs a serious overhaul, and the political engagement of the EU is needed more than ever if it wants to remain competitive against other external actors. The prospect of a complete renewal of the EU’s leadership following elections to the European Parliament could be both complicated and encouraging.
The newly elected European Parliament and the new European Commission are expected to do enough to shift the dynamics of Serbia’s accession process. If Serbia succeeds, in the very best case, in becoming a member of the European Union in 2025, it will be exactly a quarter of a century after the fall of Slobodan Milošević and the launch of democratic change.
* Text was originally published in CoRD Magazine (February 2019) and online.