An analysis of Serbia’s alignment with the European Union’s foreign policy declarations and measures: Annual report for 2022

From January 1st, 2022, to December 31st, 2022, the EU issued 136 declarations for which it called candidates, potential candidates, and partner countries to align. Serbia aligned with 65 declarations and consequent measures and failed to align with 70. This means that in 2022, Serbia’s alignment rate with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is just 48 percent.

All the progress that Serbia made vis-à-vis the alignment with the EU foreign policy declarations and measures in 2021 (with the 62 percent alignment rate) 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. The War in Ukraine continued throughout 2022, and Serbia maintained a stance that it will not align with the restrictive measures against Russia, which the EU has significantly increased with the additional nine packages of sanctions.

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 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. 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.

Declarations which Serbia failed to align with could be grouped around this topics: 47 declarations refer to Ukraine before and after February 24th, 2022, and the Russian invasion; 1 declaration refers to the situation in Russia itself; 7 to Belarus (all in connection with its role in the Ukraine conflict); 2 with; 4 to Iran, 3 to Chemical Weapons Convention breaches, two each to the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, Libya and commemoration of important dates, one each to cyber-attacks and China.

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 the 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 12 years 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 the 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 two so-called Donbas republics 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 is the date of the first EU sanctions connected with Russia that Serbia aligned with. Interestingly enough, the EU decision 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.

After that, Serbia aligned with the declaration published on May 10th condemning the 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 Luhansk and Donetsk, 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 Russian cyber operations for the first time (as noted above, it later failed to align with another declaration issued on July 19th that dealt with almost entirely the same topic – the cyber-attack on Ukraine in January and attack against KE-SAT satellite). More importantly, Serbia tried to prove that it supported Ukraine concerning its territorial integrity and sovereignty and was aligned with “political” declarations protesting against Russian attempts to cede parts of Ukrainian territory. Finally, Serbia aligned with the EU declaration from September 28th, 2022, condemning sham “referenda” organized in parts of the four Ukrainian regions: Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia.

Finally, Serbia did not align with the three “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. Finally, Serbia did not align with the declaration on Human Rights Day, December 10th, 2022, most probably because it targets human rights violations in Russia and Ukraine.

Apart from Russia, the most important topic of the EU declarations with which Serbia mostly 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 (now extended through the three sanction packages), 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 of 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 the year’s second half, Serbia did not align with the political declaration commemorating the second anniversary of the “fraudulent presidential elections” in Belarus, as the EU called it in the document. This is also an interesting case, as Serbia did align with original political declarations issued in protest of electoral process implementation in Belarus and the prosecution of the opposition in 2020. Also, in 2021 Serbia aligned with the declaration issued on the first anniversary of the elections, condemning “fraudulent” elections.

Serbia also did not align with four renewals and additions to sanctions against Iran.

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.

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: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Mali, Russia (in connection with the War in Ukraine and alone), Myanmar/Burma, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Afghanistan, Cuba, Sri Lanka, the commemoration of critical international dates, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Venezuela, and DR Congo. Serbia is also aligned with restrictive measures implemented concerning the following countries/topics: Syria, Guinea, Mali, Russia/Ukraine, Myanmar/Burma, Nicaragua, terrorist activities, ISIL/Al-Qaeda, North Korea, South Sudan, and Lebanon.

Alignment with EU foreign policy declarations by other countries

In the 2022, unlike the previous year, Serbia had the lowest level of alignment among candidates and potential candidates from the Western Balkans. Strangely enough, considering the complex way of decision-making in Bosnia and Hercegovina, this country scored 82 percent, above double the last year’s 35 percent. Due to the complex internal situation, Bosnia and Hercegovina’s approach toward the situation in Ukraine has been ambiguous for years, but in 2022 it started to align with the EU’s restrictive measures against Russia.

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 10 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 90%. Also, two new candidates belonging to the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative had higher alignment rates, Ukraine with 93 and Moldova with 57. Georgia, which became a potential candidate, had an alignment rate of 42 percent. Armenia, which is in many ways dependent on Russia, having in mind the most recent Nagorno-Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, scored just 7 percent. Azerbaijan did not align with any of the EU declarations.

You can find the complete publication with a tabular view of the alignment here – Alignment Analysis 2022.