The war in Ukraine changed the world. These changes are happening so rapidly, affecting Europe and the Western Balkans immensely. “Serbia must find its place in this new geopolitical reality, and the time for making decisions is getting shorter”, said Zvezdana Kovač, general secretary of the European Movement in Serbia, opening the panel “European political community – the borders of Europe”, which was organized by EMinS and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Belgrade office, just one day after the inauguration of the European Political Community in Prague.
Another panel of the series “Talks on the Future of Serbia” brought together experts from Serbia and Europe who answered questions of what was actually founded in Prague. Kovač asked herself whether it is justified to establish such a community when there are already organizations that bring together all the countries of Europe. What is the structure, what kind of budgeting, is it a platform or an organization and what does it mean for Europe and especially for the Western Balkans?
The director of the Belgrade office of FES, Kirsten Schenefeld, assessed that the summit that gathered the presidents and prime ministers of 44 countries in Prague was a great success and said that the next one will be held in half a year in Moldova. Schenefeld said, there are many open questions regarding the structure, not only when it comes to organizational issues, but also about the content, and added that there is also the issue of complementarity with already existing organizations such as the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. During the summit, there were several bilateral meetings – between Turkey and Greece, and the issue of relations between Serbia and Croatia turned out to be important. What is important is the strong commitment to peace. What Chancellor Scholz and the presidents of other EU countries said regarding the EU enlargement process is also important. They emphasized their strong support and that the European political community is not a waiting room for the countries of the Western Balkans, Schenefeld reminded.
The President of the European Movement in Serbia, Jelica Minic, stated that it is about the common destiny of Europe and what is seen as European borders. Jelica Minić asked herself whether the new borders of Europe were created in Prague, how it can help to overcome the great crisis and how a unique response to the war in Ukraine protects and strengthens Europe, and expressed hope that the head of state Aleksandar Vučić is thinking about whether Serbia can afford to be isolated in Europe.
The picture from the summit in Prague gives legitimacy to non-democratic politicians, because they were invited to such a meeting, said Dušan Reljić, head of the Brussels office of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. He stated that the summit showed the isolation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and sent a message that Europe will try to decide the future of the continent without Washington. What will happen will depend on the war in Ukraine and the election of the next American president, Reljic said. He also said that the EU, with its financial support, makes expansion impossible in the next seven years. EU members in the Western Balkans will receive 11 times more money than the countries of the region. This increases the socio-economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU even more, and without reducing these differences, there are no conditions for a change in position, said Reljić.
Steven Blokmans, director of research at the Center for European Political Studies, assessed that the meeting in Prague was an opportunity for European leaders to take pictures and “a clumsy exercise in showing strength and determination”, adding that Putin “knows all that very well”.
The president of the European Movement in Italy, Pier Virgilio Dastoli, assessed that the European Political Community is not a community of values, but a strategic community without values. It should be noted that it is only a forum of political leaders, twice a year, Dastoli said, noting that the EPC should not be an alternative to the expansion of the European Union.
Vice President of the European Movement in Serbia, Dušan Lopandić, stated that it is a kind of blueprint for a new form of European architecture, since Russia has turned its back on Europe. We should not expect too much from such meetings, but it is the first summit of the EU with the rest of Europe, Lopandić said, adding that the problem of expanding the Union remains open. In that process, Serbia slowed itself down, by not joining the EU’s foreign and security policy, by stopping all reforms, by the fact that it has not had a government for a long time, said Lopandić.
“EPC is a platform for discussing the burning topics and problems that Europe is facing at this specific moment. This is the first big meeting of this type after almost 40-50 years, maybe since the 1970s, with the establishment of the OSCE. This is a huge thing, it is a platform where European leaders would talk about burning topics, such as the war in Ukraine, the economic crisis, the food crisis… They leave aside some sensitive topics, such as the rule of law, but the unity of the entire continent is really a great success,” said Nemanja Todorović Štiplija, editor of the European Western Balkans portal.
You can watch the entire panel here.