‘A real friend should encourage Serbia to join EU sanctions, not fragment the region’, experts say

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On the latest episode of ‘Balkans Debrief’, Ilva Tare spoke with Maja Piscevic and Damir Marusic, senior fellows at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center on their views on the current state of affairs in Serbia and its stance against Russia in face of EU pressure.

According to Piscevic, Serbia should align with the EU’s foreign policy and fears that delays would actually harm the country.

“My view is that Serbia should align with the EU foreign policy because that’s what we are supposed to do. And actually, my fear now is that any further postponement of this alignment is working against Serbia. And I’m not sure that that time is our ally anymore”, Piscevic says.

This fear is even more fueled by the current fragile government and with a repeat of the elections on the way, Serbia’s formal stance risks being postponed even further.

“The situation that Serbia is in now is really worrisome because we don’t know when we will have the next government. No one knows that, I don’t think even President Vucic knows this, at this point, we have some repeated elections and if we are waiting for the new government to make this decision, whatever this decision may be, it might take from two weeks to several months from now”, she added.

Asked who could be the real beneficiary of Serbia’s reluctance in imposing sanctions, Marosic asserted that it is Russia and its intent in fragmenting the Western Balkans region to show the EU’s weakness.

“Obviously, I think Russia benefits from it. In fact, it’s just a means of fragmenting the region and showing the powerlessness of the European Union”, said Marosic.

In reference to a statement made by PM Rama on lifting some of the pressure put on Serbia, the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center senior fellow believes the opposite.

“There is no alternative to the broader West and a little bit more additional pressure. And by a little bit, maybe, I mean, more than just a very little bit, nothing symbolic, but in fact, real concerted pressure that is constantly accompanied with carrots and messaging saying that Serbia’s future is in Europe”, he said.

Meanwhile, according to Piscevic, Rama’s statements do not necessarily benefit Serbia.

“Serbia should be encouraged to do the right thing. I think that a real friend would maybe say this in public, but at least when they are alone, it should say: “Listen, help this region, help the Balkans! We all need you as part of our group”, she said.

When asked to choose between the Berlin Process or Open Balkan, Piscevic believes that any initiative that leads to cooperation and brings the region closer to the EU is positive.

“When you look at both initiatives they’re both going toward the same direction and that’s introducing the four freedoms, the European Union within the Balkans, and preparing the Balkans for the entrance one day”.

“I think that we should really be open to all positive moves and then test both initiatives, because the only way we’ll know which one is better is by the results”, Piscevic added.

Marusic also held a positive approach to another idea coming from the bloc, that is the proposal of French President Emmanuel Macron on a ‘European Geopolitical Community’.

“Basically anything that’s on the table should be taken advantage of fully. I think there has been too much energy spent on worrying, as Maja said, about what is the correct and right way. We really need to be looking for ways to make progress and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

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