Belgrade hopes to progress EU membership talks but experts warn continued focus on Kosovo’s status means Serbia’s reform agenda has stagnated, or is even going backwards.
A coalition of NGOs, prEUgovor, warned that the reform process has not only stagnated in areas like the rule of law, it is actually going backwards.
Austria, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, is hosting the 9th EU-Serbia intergovernmental conference on December 10.
Despite slow progress on joining the EU so far, particularly as Serbia has been widely regarded as a frontrunner for membership, Belgrade is hoping new chapters in accession negotiations could be opened.
The Serbian Minister for European Integration, Jadranka Joksimovic, said the conference could lead to the opening of chapters 9, 17 and 18 specifically, which relate to financial services, economic and monetary policy, and statistics.
“We believe that on the basis of concrete and visible steps…when it comes to action plans and reforms in the field of the rule of law, there will be plenty of quality materials, that an important package of the chapters will be opened by the end of December,” she told the Parliamentary Board for EU integration on October 29, FoNet news agency reported.
Opening new chapters would indeed feel like progress given Serbia has so far opened 14 of 35 chapters and provisionally closed just two, which refer to science, research, education and culture, since applying for membership in December 2009.
By comparison, neighbouring Montenegro has opened 31 of 33 chapters and closed three. It applied for membership just a year earlier, in December 2008.
The key sticking point is normalising relations between Serbia and its former province Kosovo. Pristina declared independence in 2008, something Belgrade has refused to recognise. The EU launched the dialogue on Kosovo and Serbia in March 2011, aiming for full normalisation defined in a legally binding agreement.
However, the ongoing dispute has held up both countries membership negotiations for years.