The European Union’s Strategy for the Western Balkans, presented on February 6 in Strasbourg, confirms the Union’s determination to take a leadership position in the region. We are particularly encouraged by the fact that the document indicates 2025 as a time frame within which Serbia and Montenegro could become member states. Although the date has no binding force, the announcement of a specific deadline should be used as an incentive for the faster implementation of necessary reforms and completion of the process that has been under way for almost two decades.
Nineteen years after the European Union first mentioned that the region had a European prospect, 15 years after the Thessaloniki Summit, which sent the message that the EU’s door was open to the countries of the Western Balkans, and nine years after Serbia submitted its formal EU membership application, this is the first time that we’ve received a possible year of accession. Therein lies the importance of the document.
We’ve been waiting for the enlargement strategy for a long time. Despite being the most successful part of the EU’s foreign policy, it has been a neglected topic for a long time. Today, when it is finally on the agenda in Brussels, and neighboring Bulgaria has announced that further integration of the region is going to be a priority in its EU presidency, the work ahead of us should be taken very seriously.
Serbia will have to realize, as soon as possible, the judicial reform, rule of law, freedom of the media, normalization of relations with Kosovo and all the topics that have been emphasized in the Brussels announcements as crucial for further integration. We expect that the reforms will be followed by the accelerated opening of the negotiation chapters, since all of them have to be closed by 2023, followed by the signing of the accession agreement. And that is a very ambitious deadline.
The European Movement in Serbia, which marked its 25th anniversary last year, has been striving to establish a balanced and objective approach to the country’s negotiating process, pointing out its good sides (of which there are many), but persistence and the breaking of some old habits will also be a necessary step.
At the moment, when Serbia has confirmed the European Union as its definitive foreign policy commitment, we can say with pleasure that in the years ahead of us, a series of projects and activities will continue to make the European integration process even more visible and recognizable.