An analysis of Serbia’s alignment with the European Union’s foreign policy declarations and measures: Semi-annual review for 2022

All the progress that Serbia made vis-à-vis the alignment with the EU foreign policy declarations and measures in 2021 (the alignment rate was 62 percent and 2020 was 56 percent) has been scrapped with the Russian recognition of the independence of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics (herewith “DPR” and “LPR”) on February 22nd and with the invasion of Ukraine that has started on February 24th. Due to these events and many declarations that the EU has issued, Serbia’s alignment rate is just 44 percent, which is in stark contrast with the last year’s 62 percent and even 2019’s 56 percent.

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the alignment percentages are merely a descriptive category that indicates the general alignment trend, whereas the topics with which Serbia has failed to align are essentially more critical. Foreign policy declarations and the measures contained therein may include a broad range of issues, and often not all of them are considered equally important to the EU and its member states. These topics include various issues, from imposing, amending, or renewing restrictive measures against certain countries to declarations concerning critical international dates. Of course, the most important are those related to issues of direct concern for the security of the EU and its member states. Therefore, the EU and its member states closely monitor the alignment with crucial issues for the Union’s position worldwide and its proclaimed foreign policy objectives. In this context, the alignment of Serbia and other candidate countries is reviewed.

As was the case before, Serbia has avoided aligning with those declarations and measures directed against the Russian Federation and the Peoples’ Republic of China, their nationals, or interests. However, there have been some steps forward, especially regarding Russia (which will be explained below), but due to the gravity of the situation in Ukraine and the EU, they were not appropriately noticed. Still, the predominant majority of declarations and measures Serbia did not align with were in some way or the other connected with Russia, while the other topics have constituted a fraction of the total number.

From January 1st, 2022, to June 30th, 2022, the EU issued 78 declarations for which it called candidates, potential candidates, and partner countries to align. Serbia aligned with just 34 and failed to align with 44. Grouped around the topic, 29 declarations refer to the situation in Ukraine before and after February 24th, 2022, and Russia’s role in it; 1 declaration refers to the situation in Russia itself; 6 to Belarus (all in connection with its role in the Ukraine conflict); 2 two with the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime; 1 each to Iran, Libya, China, Cyber-attacks, World Press Day and Chemical Weapons Convention.

As widely known, the EU introduced six sanctions packages from February to June 30th, 2022. Although officially, these are still “targeted” sanctions, their scope now is so enormous that they are “no longer ‘smart’ and selective, but systemic and punitive.” Now, after six packages of sanctions, they encompass individual sanctions towards people and entities and restrictive measures against the financial and business sector, energy and transport sectors, dual-use goods and advanced technology, trade, exclusion of Russia from public contracts, and European funds, visa bans, and disinformation. All these measures were mainly introduced through revisions and amendments to decisions of the EU Council from 2014 no. 145 (sanctions against individuals and entities) and no. 512 (structural sanctions). Apart from this framework, it would be worthwhile to outline those declarations and measures beyond this scope. First, a “standard” annual declaration issued on February 25th speaks against the Russian annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol and related issues. Secondly, the EU published declarations about the sanctions against “DPR” and “LNR” in March and April. Thirdly, Serbia failed to align with the declaration from April 4th that condemns war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, which were discovered after the retreat of the Russian army from this area by the end of March, after a failed attempt to capture Kyiv. Consequently, Serbia also did not align with the restrictive measures against individuals suspected of these atrocities published in June.

For some of the measures, Serbia is in a difficult position as they tackle issues established with the problematic 2008 Serbia Russia Energy Agreement, which allowed Russian penetration into the Serbian oil and gas sector. For example, several entities in joint Serbia-Russia ownership, such as the Oil Industry of Serbia or Sogaz insurance company, fall under the EU sanctions. But as for the others, it seems that there is no apparent reason, apart from the sympathy of the population (geared by the almost 14 years (since the proclamation of independence of Kosovo) of the wide dissemination of pro-Russian information by some of the most critical media) and the fact that Russia has been a supporter of Serbian position vis-à-vis the issue of Kosovo.

At this point, it is important also to stress that for the first time in the past twelve years, Serbia has indeed aligned with some of the declarations and measures directed against Russia. First, before the Russian February 24th invasion of Ukraine, Serbia aligned with three “political” declarations: the first one against Russian cyber-attacks against Ukraine, the second in support of preservice of the EU diplomatic presence in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and finally, just before the invasion, against the Russian military buildup on the borders with Ukraine. And Serbia also aligned with the declaration against Moscow’s recognition of “DPR” and “LPR” on February 22nd. Secondly, on March 12th, the EU outlined that Serbia, among other partner states, has aligned with the revision of sanctions against the ex-president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and the members of his elite that have been established with the EU Council decision no. 119 from 2014. To date, these are the only restrictive measures of the EU connected with the Russian Federation that Serbia has aligned with. Interestingly enough, the EU decision on amending and prolonging these restrictive measures was adopted on March 3rd, and it seems that Serbia aligned with it before the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, came to Serbia on March 11th.

Finally, Serbia aligned with the declaration published on May 10th condemning another Russian cyberattack against Ukraine and one from June 3rd that condemned various attempts made by Russia to forcefully integrate parts of Ukrainian territory, not just “LPR” and “DPR” but also Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Besides the first alignment with the EU sanctions, it is worthwhile to notice that Serbia joined EU declarations connected with the Russian cyber operations for the first time. More importantly, Serbia tried to prove that it was supportive of Ukraine concerning its territorial integrity and sovereignty, and it consistently aligned with “political” declarations that were protesting against Russian attempts to cede parts of Ukrainian territory.

Most other declarations, not concerning Belarus and China, were also connected with Russia.

The only declaration that targeted Russia for issues unrelated to Ukraine was the March 2nd declaration on the imprisonment of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, whose sentence in jail has been extended for an additional nine years by the Lefortovo District Court. The EU also expressed a concern “with the state of Russian democracy and the systematic crackdown that is happening on civil society, independent media, and individual journalists and human rights defenders.”

Concerning the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, in January, the EU published two declarations regarding the restrictive measures against certain persons suspected of serious human rights violations and abuses. The first one, from January 13th, extended the existing measures on three persons connected with the “Wagner Group” for actions in the Central African Republic and Syria. The second one extended the measures initially introduced in 2020 to several Russians (including Chechens) and Chinese nationals.

The declaration directed against Libya also had a Russian dimension in it. On January 31st, the EU published a declaration that added one person to restrictive measures introduced in 2015. This person is a member of the Wagner Group suspected of involvement in the conflict in Libya.

Contrary to the “political” declarations related to Russian cyber-attacks, Serbia again failed to align with the restrictive measures related to cyber, which were extended for one year by the declaration from April 29th, including some of the Russian and Chinese nationals. Serbia also did not align with these measures when they were initially introduced.

Finally, Serbia did not align with the two “political” declarations concerning important dates and anniversaries, namely the declaration that marks the 25th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention on April 29th and the one that marks World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd, 2022. Both declarations explicitly mention Russia and its actions, which is the most likely reason Serbia did not align.

Apart from Russia, the only “European” topic of the EU declarations with which Serbia did not align is Belarus. The situation with these is a bit strange. Serbia did not align with the six declarations that were revisions or extensions of restrictive measures introduced initially with the EU Council’s decision no. 624, as with restrictive measures against Russia, went beyond targeted and became punitive. However, Serbia aligned with the first amendment with the sanctions published on January 12th, following the alignment from December the previous year. Then Serbia ignored the four declarations that extended the restrictive measures to align with the declaration published on April 22nd concerning additional sectoral measures targeting the Belarusian financial and road transport sectors. This should mean that Serbia is aligned with all the previous extensions and additions. And after that, it again did not align with the two declarations published on June 10th. It looks like Serbia is trying to “play two fiddles” and send messages to Brussels and Moscow/Minsk that it is measuring its steps.

In conclusion, Serbia did not align with the only EU declaration in this period that targeted China. The declaration was a protest against how the first Hong Kong elections were held after the imposition of the National Security Law. Keeping in mind that Serbia did not align with the declarations that covered similar topics in the previous years and that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, in an open letter, publically supported the policies of China in this regard, the lack of alignment came as no surprise.

Alignment with EU foreign policy declarations by other countries

In the first half of 2022, Serbia’s alignment was the weakest of the candidates, and potential candidates from the Western Balkans scored 44 percent. Strangely enough, considering the complex way of decision-making in Bosnia and Hercegovina, this country scored 77 percent, almost double the last year’s 35 percent.

All other three candidate states have an alignment rate of over 90 percent, with Albania and Montenegro scoring 100 percent of alignment. As usual, Turkey’s alignment is much worse, stuck at 6 percent, but Turkey is a specific case as its accession process is treated differently, and the fact that Ankara announced that they would not introduce sanctions to Russia “as somebody has to carry on the role of negotiator and mediator” with Moscow. The alignment rate of non-EU countries members of the European Economic Area is also significantly higher than Serbia’s – over 90%. Countries that are members of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative and respond to the EU’s invitations (apart from Ukraine) to align differently. Moldova and Georgia, which both have Russian-backed non-recognized states in their territories, acted similarly to Serbia, with percentages around 40 percent. Armenia, which is in many ways dependent on Russia, having in mind the most recent Nagorno-Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, scored just 5 percent.

You can find the complete publication with a  tabular presentation of the harmonization here Alignment Analysis 2022.