By Milos Mitrovic – Belgrade
There are obviously two aspects of what Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic might expect from Germany: “First, he needs support on the domestic front in order to mobilize support for indispensable reforms that will be painful for the majority of people in Serbia. And, second, he might expect that Germany supports Serbia by not being too demanding in regard to Serbia’s compliance with EU demands”, Dr. Hansjörg Brey, Executive Director of Munich based Southeast Europe Association (Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft – SOG) said in the interview for IBNA.
Prime Minister Vucic has recently visited Berlin – twice in less than a month. It seems that the intention of the government in Belgrade is to build the strong partnership between Serbia and Germany with Berlin getting a role like protector of Serbian interests, especially in the EU. Do you find this is realistic?
“It is true that PM Vucic paid two visits to Berlin within a very short period. Indeed, only the first visit has been an official one whereas the second one was an unofficial one on the occasion of the launch of a new bilateral Serbian-German Forum. Serbia indeed considers Germany as an important (probably the most important) partner within the EU. If Vucic is expecting Germany to taking a role of protector for Serbian interests, this is only realistic in the narrow frame of the Acquis of the European Union. German officials have constantly made clear that substantial reforms are an indispensable key to Serbia’s advancement on the EU accession track.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that he expects from Belgrade that its officials would not make differences between what they say and do. He has mentioned the implementation of the Brussels agreement between Belgrade and Pristina in that regard. Do you think that the normalization of the Belgrade-Pristina relations is still the priority of Berlin regarding Serbia?
“German Foreign Office officials, Chancellor Merkel and members of the German Bundestag have indeed invested a lot of effort and energy to put the Brussels Agreement on track. They will therefore continuously keep a strong eye on its implementation. But, Serbia is now at an important crossroads regarding the implementation of tough economic and administrative reforms. The necessity of taking up this challenge in a serious and efficient manner is certainly becoming an additional priority in Berlin’s agenda with Belgrade”.
Vucic underlined that Serbia has became “the most important economic partner of Germany in Western Balkans overrunning Croatia for the first time”. In your opinion, does Berlin have its “favorite partners” in the region?
“Mr. Vucic was obviously referring to trade flows and investments where Germany takes a leading role as a partner. Trade and investment, as concerns Germany, are purely a matter of businesses – and not the state. Decision makers in Berlin will be satisfied with any increase in trade and investment throughout the region, be it with Serbia or another country, without having a favorite partner. What certainly matters to the Germans is a stable rule of law to be established in Serbia – an indispensable basis for prospering business relations.”
Can Serbia expect the significant assistance of Germany in conducting the reforms and opening negotiating chapters with the EU, as Vucic has suggested?
“There are obviously two aspects of what Vucic might expect from Germany’s. First, he needs support on the domestic front in order to mobilize support for indispensable reforms that will be painful for the majority of people in Serbia. In this respect, he needs Germany’s strong endorsement for the reform process. And, second, he might expect that Germany supports Serbia by not being too demanding as concerns Serbia’s compliance with EU demands, as an example, in improving the freedom of the media and in putting state finances on a sound basis. Foreign Minister Steinmeier in his recent speech during Vucic’s visit has made it clear that Serbia has to proceed with its reforms for its own sake – not in order to please the EU. In sum, Germany is certainly committed to keep Serbia’s accession perspective open – as it is committed to the EU perspective for the whole western Balkans as given in Thessaloníki in 2003. But, Berlin is not likely to offer Belgrade any shortcuts or discounts on its way to the EU.”
What will be the impact of both yesterday’s visit by Mr Vucic to Moscow where he met Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev and signing the contract on “South Stream” constructing in Serbia?
“I do not really know the agenda of Vucic’s visit to Moscow. However, Moscow has strong – mostly economic – levers to force Belgrade to act as one might expect from an ally. Thus, for example, Belgrade is under strong pressure from Moscow in circumventing the recent EU sanctions against the Russian Federation and has been breaching these sanctions several times. It is understandable that Serbia wants to maintain good relations with both the EU and Russia. But, by conceding too much to Moscow’s pressure, Belgrade definitely will run into trouble with the EU. At some point, the EU will ask Serbia to declare what its really policy is. With signing the contract on the South Stream pipeline, Belgrade will certainly pass a red line endangering its relationship with the EU.”