ISAC, with the support of the Open Society Foundation and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, organized its 5th annual international conference “CFSP and Europe Votes 2019” held at the Hotel Metropol Palace in Belgrade, on April 11, 2019.
Traditionally, the topics of the conference are active issues related to Chapter 31 – Common Foreign, Security and Defence policy, and the process of Serbia’s alignment with the EU’s Foreign Policy declarations. The main focus of this year’s conference was also on the European Parliamentary elections that will take place at the end of May, as well as their potential implications on Serbia, as an EU candidate state. Additionally, EU-Russia relations were discussed through the perspective of the EU Member States and its influence on Serbia’s position in the context of Serbia’s accession process.
Within the first panel “CFSP Prospects after EU Elections and Impact on South East Europe”, the participants were: Elsa Fenet,Head of EEAS’s Division “Western Balkans”,
Axel Küchle, Germany’s permanent COELA Delegate, Oana-Cristina Popa, Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Serbia and Vladimir Ateljević, Senior Advisor to the Minister at the Ministry for European Integration of the Republic of Serbia.
The dialogue was moderated by Tanja Miščević, Head of Serbia’s Negotiating Team for Accession into the European Union.
The panel offered insight from multiple perspectives on the matter, however common themes were exemplified in discussion. Although Serbia has worked to take part in more EU sponsored activities, such as European Union peace missions, it has shown negative trends in its alignment with EU foreign policy declarations. The panel illustrated that Serbia has only affiliated itself with 28 of the 54 EU declarations necessary in the EU Foreign and Security policy, a number significantly lower than all other Candidate States.
While the panel was critical of Serbia’s growth in EU Foreign and Security policy alignment, they still remain hopeful that Serbia will eventually join the European Union. During the discussion, multiple panellists spoke on the strategic importance of the Western Balkans for European security. Ambassador Popa, speaking also on behalf of Romania as the country holding the current EU presidency, pointed out that “We (The European Union) think this area in the Western Balkans is critical”. At the same time, all speakers agreed that the European Union does not have the ability to wait for Serbia and other candidate countries, as the world is changing at rapid rates and the European Union needs to be a world leader.
Later the conversation turned to the upcoming European Union elections. While the elections can have a dramatic influence on EU policy, panellists such as Elsa Fenet wished to remind everyone that regardless of the outcome, the European Union will still maintain the same foundational principles. The discussion concluded with panellists noting that Serbia is aware of what must be done in order to continue advancement towards EU integration. Regardless of changes in the world, Serbia must take care of the challenges it faces internally.
The second panel, “EU-Russia Relations-Perspectives from the Member States”, included participants: Marc Franco, Senior Research Fellow at the Egmont Institute, Dirk Schuebel, Head of EEAS’s Division “Russia”, Karsten Voigt, Member of the Steering Committee of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Iulia-Sabina Joja, Senior Researcher at the Global Focus in Romania and Ruslan Stefanov, Program Director at the Center for Studies of Democracy in Bulgaria.
The panel was moderated by Igor Novaković, Research Director at ISAC.
The discussion was opened with each panellist offering initial thoughts on EU – Russia relations and how Serbia plays into this conversation. Multiple panellists spoke on the change in EU – Russia relations in 2014 when Russia gave support to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine, in addition to proceeding with the annexation of Crimea. For some states, such as The Netherlands, relations with Russia were stable until pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. This series of events has drastically changed the way the European Union and Russia have interacted with each other in recent years.
Since this change, the European Union is committed to maintaining five key principles when dealing with EU – Russia relations:
- Respecting the Minsk Agreement
- The acceleration of the cooperation with other Eastern Partnership countries, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan
- Strengthening the EU’s capacity to defend itself against hybrid threats in the communication field
- The EU seeks to continue co-operating with Russia on key, strategic issues, such as the conflict in Syria
- The EU wants to develop cooperation and strengthen friendly relations between young people in the EU and Russia
Although the European Union shares these principles on how to handle relations with Russia, panellists noted that some EU states have better relations with Russia than others. In discussion, members of the panel wanted to exemplify that Russia’s economic presence should not be ignored. It was reminded that Russia maintains a greater foothold on the European Union economy than any other world power.
That said, some participants disagreed and did not want to make Russia seem greater than it is. For example, Karsten Voigt exemplified this by looking into the economic statistics in Germany. He observed that Germany is the third highest economic partner for Russia, while Russia is merely ranked 16th for Germany.
Panellists warned that many in Serbia do not understand the extreme changes in geostrategic conditions, and significantly underestimate the policies of the European Union and NATO. While the panel concluded that EU – Russia relations are in a very poor state, it was agreed that Russia should not be undervalued as a neighbour.
It was our great pleasure to welcome experts, researches and influential personalities from the European Union and Serbia and to contribute to the exchange of opinions, messages and advice in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, upcoming European elections and EU – Russia relations. In the end, we would like to thank all the speakers, participants and volunteers for their engagement and contribution to the successful implementation of the conference. A more in depth conference report, as well as all of the key conclusions from the discussions, will be available soon on ISAC’s website and Facebook page.