EU-Serbia: Remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the Stabilisation and Association Council
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Good afternoon, dear Prime Minister [of Serbia, Ana Brnabić],
Today we had a very comprehensive exchange on our relations, on EU-Serbia relations. We have reviewed Serbia’s progress in the accession negotiations and the tasks ahead on the European path.
This is a good momentum. This is a good momentum because, in December, we opened a cluster of four negotiations chapters, because this month the majority of voters in the referendum approved the implementation of the constitutional reform that should further strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
It is important to maintain this momentum for Serbia to implement the necessary reforms, including the pending ones on the rule of law and media freedom.
Let me stress and repeat that these reforms are necessary not to please us in Brussels, but to advance on the improvement of the political, democratic quality of life in Serbia.
They are important for citizens in Serbia: to have more and better guarantees for their rights, to have a stronger democracy, more efficient and independent judiciary, to fight against organised crime, corruption and overall to ensure better living standards.
Allow me to concentrate on this part of the accession process, which is the foreign and security policy. I would like to appreciate our very good cooperation on security, and I am very grateful for Serbia’s high-quality contribution to the European Union’s missions and operations.
Recently, we have seen that the alignment of Serbia with our foreign policy decisions and positions has increased. We really hope that this finally marks a sustainable and tangible trend and that it is also backed by concrete actions.
We also talked about the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. We welcome Serbia’s statements on its readiness to engage. Certainly, I have to welcome your readiness to engage.
There needs to be rapid progress in the normalisation process: in terms of implementation of past agreements and moving ahead with the legally binding comprehensive agreement.
We expect Kosovo and Serbia to make progress on their pending Dialogue obligations. Both have unimplemented items from past Agreements that they need to deliver on.
It is also important to create the right conditions for the Dialogue and refrain from any unilateral or uncoordinated action or [inflammatory] rhetoric.
Overall, the progress on the rule of law and fundamental rights and on the normalisation with Kosovo will determine the pace of accession negotiations.
Talking about normalisation of relations and good neighbourly cooperation more broadly, let me be point the following: there is no place in Europe for genocide denial, there is no place for glorification of war crimes and war criminals. And also: tolerating or even publicly supporting those who deny genocide, celebrate war crimes, or those who undermine territorial integrity and unity of their country, not only threatens regional stability and regional reconciliation, but it is also not compatible with European values and aspirations.
We shared these principles with the Prime Minister of Serbia, and we are sure that we will continue advancing the European path of Serbia.
Q. [In Serbian] Given the protests regarding Rio Tinto, is there some pressure to continue on this path given that, as we know, Germany is also interested in extracting lithium? Also, when it comes to the environment, it can create potential damage if the project of cooperation with Rio Tinto continues. How much in line is it with the green agenda of Serbia?
Your question is related to some gossip that the European Union is indirectly pushing the Serbian government to move forward with the Rio Tinto project in Serbia. I use this opportunity to clarify that it is for the national governments to make decisions on industrial projects and economic opportunities. And we all expect from candidate countries that such decisions are based on practices aligned with the European Union environmental rules, also in relation with waste and water management. I have nothing more to say about it.
Q2. Regarding the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Does the European Union have any instrument to bring back Pristina on the table of the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and will there be any talks about elections that should be held in Serbia, but also for the Serbs in Kosovo to be able to vote?
You ask about the Dialogue. Well, look, first of all, I have to welcome Serbia’s readiness to engage on the Dialogue. And I want to make clear, and we will make clear again to Kosovo, that the Dialogue is not for the sake of Dialogue, [it] is because it is crucial for the advancement on the European path. Together with the [EU] Special Representative [Miroslav] Lajčák, we will continue to prepare a new Dialogue meeting in Brussels. But this will only happen if both parties are ready to agree on positive results and concrete deliverables. For that, Mr. Lajčák and I will continue the engagement with both parties, and especially with Kosovo which, at this moment, shows more reluctance to sit at the table. And [Mr.] Lajčák will travel to Kosovo and Serbia, to Kosovo first, next week together with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State [Gabriel] Escobar to meet with the political leaders and to push for the Dialogue to restart again.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-217184 (Opening remarks); https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-217422 (Q&A)