An analysis of Serbia’s alignment with the European Union’s foreign policy declarations and measures: Semi-annual review for 2023

Serbia had continued the same alignment patterns with the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), like in 2022, when Serbia had a 48 percent alignment rate, the worst score of the EU candidate countries from the Western Balkans. However, the “less intensive” introduction of the new restrictive measures packages against Russia by the EU has helped Serbia to increase its alignment rate to 52 percent (a slight improvement from 44 percent in the same period last year). It is worth mentioning that although the EU adopted its 11th package of sanctions against Russia in June, the alignment process has not been completed by June 30, and these data are not considered in this analysis.

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 commemorating critical international dates. Of course, the most important are those related to security issues of direct concern for 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 and partner countries is reviewed.

As before, Serbia has avoided aligning with those declarations and measures directed against the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, their nationals, entities, or interests. One of the main reasons for this position is the issue of Kosovo, and Serbia still seeks the support of both Russia and China in various international forums.

From January 1, 2023, to June 30, 2023, the EU issued 65 declarations for which it called candidates, potential candidates, and partner countries to align. Serbia aligned with 34 declarations and consequent measures and failed to align with 31. Serbia failed to align with all the declarations related to restrictive measures concerning different countries, entities, and individuals.

Grouped around the topic of declarations Serbia did not align with, 13 declarations refer to the war in Ukraine, 7 to Iran, 4 to EU’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, and one each concerning the following countries/topics: Mali, Belarus, Syria, Moldova, and terrorism. However, almost all restrictive measures that the EU introduced that are formally related to the other topics (apart from Iran) are connected either with Kremlin or with the entities and individuals from Russia (one of them with China too).

Regarding the war in Ukraine, the EU introduced 11 sanctions packages from February 23, 2022, to June 30, 2023. Although these are officially dubbed “targeted” sanctions, their scope is so enormous that they are “no longer ‘smart’ and selective, but systemic and punitive.” Now, after 11 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. Also, sanctions were introduced for Russian selling oil, gold, and many other goods and products. Finally, the measures also encompassed Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine. 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), as well as decision no.266 from 2022, which introduced specific sanctions to Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine (at first Donetsk and Luhansk, and later Kherson and Zaporizhzhia). As mentioned above, the 11th package of sanctions introduced on June 23, 2023, is not included in this report, as the alignment process has not been completed by June 30.

Regarding 13 declarations related to the War in Ukraine and the EU’s sanctions against Russia, eight related to updates of the 2014 EU Council decision no. 145, four to decision no. 512, and one to decision no. 266. However, Serbia has again aligned with the renewal of sanctions issued with the EU Council’s 2014 decision no.119 against the ex-president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and the members of his elite. These remain the only sanctions related to Russia that Serbia has aligned with to date.

Related to Russia and China are the sanctions introduced through the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime on four occasions in this period. The first was published on January 16, 2023 (the EU Council adopted the Decision on December 5, 2022). It encompasses (among others) sanctions for serious violations and human rights abuses against individuals and entities from Russia (because of the treatment of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and because of atrocities committed by Wagner Group in Syria), China (to events related to the situation in Xinjiang region of China) and Wagner Group as an entity (human severe rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Mali, and Mozambique). The second declaration, issued on March 8, 2023, introduced sanctions towards seven individuals (Russian citizens) and seven entities (registered in different African countries), all directly connected or associated with the Wagner Group or with their operations in CAR and Sudan, that include propaganda machinery and diamonds and gold mining and trade. The third declaration on this topic, issued on March 21, 2023, also lists 4 Russian citizens (two military officers and two police officers). Finally, the fourth declaration, issued on June 23, deals with Russian officials suspected to be responsible for cracking NGOs and opposition activists in Russia, particularly with the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza. This is also important for Serbia due to allegations that Serbian intelligence dispatched information about the Russian opposition meeting in Belgrade in 2021 to the Kremlin, which resulted in the arrests of the opposition activists in Russia.

The only EU declaration on restrictive Moldova measures was issued on June 29, 2023. The declaration deals with the politicians and other individuals suspected of actions aimed at destabilizing Moldova and acting against the pro-European government.

Connected with Russia are two declarations on aligning the EU’s partner countries with specific restrictive measures against Syria and Mali. Interestingly enough, Serbia has aligned with the restrictive measures during the observation period (Mali and Syria 1 each). However, a declaration from March 8, 2023, related to restrictive measures of one Russian citizen who participated in the conflict in Mali on behalf of the Wagner Group. Regarding the declaration regarding the restrictive measures on Syria from May 5, 2023, among several individuals and entities, there is also one Russian entity, a Russian company that controls phosphate mines in Syria.

Regarding Iran, this year, Serbia avoided aligning with any declarations related to restrictive measures (seven in total), while it has aligned with all of the political declarations (four in total). This is “consistent” with the earlier Serbian approach to Iran when Serbia was sometimes aligning and sometimes not, depending most probably on concrete issues and Belgrade’s (often not publicly elaborated) interests.

In conclusion, Serbia again failed to align with the renewal of sanctions against Belarus, continuing the practice from the previous year. Also, it didn’t align with the amendment (from the declaration issued on March 15, 2023) to restrictive measures related to applying specific measures to combat terrorism from the previous year. However, there is no obvious explanation for the non-alignment with these measures, as no Russian or Chinese citizens or entities are on the list. The only plausible explanation could be that several Iranian citizens are on the list.

However, it is worthwhile to outline the topics of declarations and measures with which Serbia did align. Serbia aligned with political declarations which had for its topics following countries/topics: Brazil, Guinea, Iran, DR Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Kosovo*, Israel/Palestine, Sudan, the commemoration of critical international dates (3 times), and provisions on a humanitarian exemption from restrictive measures (total of 19 declarations). Serbia is also aligned with restrictive measures implemented concerning the following countries/topics: Turkey, Mali, DR Congo, Myanmar, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Syria, Russia/Ukraine, and ISIL/Al-Qaeda (15 declarations).

Alignment with EU foreign policy declarations by other countries

In the first half of 2023, Serbia’s alignment was the weakest of all the candidate countries, with 52 percent (if we disregard Turkey). The only worse was a potential candidate Georgia with 28 percent. North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania, like in 2022, have scored 100 percent of alignment, while Bosnia and Hercegovina have significantly improved it with 97 percent. Two new candidate countries, Ukraine and Moldova, have reached 88 and 69 percent, respectively.

As usual, Turkey’s alignment is much worse, stuck at 8 percent, but Turkey is a specific case as its accession process is treated differently (being effectively frozen), 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 85%.

Also, two countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative had worse results. Armenia, which is in many ways dependent on Russia, having in mind the most recent Nagorno-Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, scored just 17 percent. Azerbaijan did not align with any of the declarations.

You can find the complete publication with a tabular presentation of the alignment here – ISAC CFSP Analysis 2023.