Tag: SAA

Karadžić arrested, ambassadors back – What next for Serbia?

Serbia’s new government really seems determined about its pro-EU ambitions.

The arrest of war criminal Radovan Karadžić is clearly a political breakthrough, not only for Serbia but also for the entire region as well as a promising sign for EU-Serbia relations.  Actually it can be interpreted as a success for the EU foreign policy approach towards Serbia in the last couple of months which consisted of openly supporting pro-EU forces coupled with some small concessions.

So what is behind this bold move of Serbia? Obviously symbols are very important in diplomacy (referring to the discussions about the “pro-EU” government) but I do not think this is purely a short term bit of PR. It is poltics, in a very realist sense of the word. The arrest of a war criminal like Karadžić is a politically risky business. And more importantly, the improvement of relations with the EU and the prospect of getting better contractual relations with the EU seems to be a political priority for the Serbian Government. So  it is rather easy: In order to receive any benefits out of the SAA (just consider the economic problems!) they needed to show their willingness to cooperate with the ICTY. If they are serious about their policy priorities they have to deliver. (BTW: The SAA, which was not that easy to get for the Serbian government in the first place, is signed but not implemented, implementation depends on full ICTY compliance.)

What next for Serbia?  – Here is the “to do”- list for the Serbian government:

1.) Serbia needs to get the SAA implemented which is in its own interest. However, the arrest of Karadžić might be enough for the time being to prove “full compliance with ICTY” which is a precondition for the SAA implementation. A bit of diplomatic wrangling (especially with Netherlands and Belgium) will be needed but it is possible to get the “full compliance” despite the other missing war criminals.

2.) Arrest Ratko Mladic & Goran Hadzic – Could happen quite soon. Apparently Karadžić was found during a operation that was aimed at Mladic. Of course the success now gives them a bit of extra time to arrest the next one. (I would look for someone with a long beard … just a thought after the arrests of Saddam Hussein and now Karadžić)

3.) Push the Kosovo issue in the background for the time being. Finding a diplomatic formula over the Kosovo issue is obviously the most difficult thing for Serbia, so tactically it is better to get it out of the way. I don’t think a quick solution is likely here. My guess is that this will be one of the political chapters in the EU accession negotiations, so it will be on the agenda in 5 years or so…. Although a final solution can be posponed until the very last moment of the negotiations (maybe with one of those very tense EU summits…), but eventually a Serbian recognition will happen. Plus, the EU will not repeat the Cyprus mistake.

4.) Status of an official EU candidate: Depends a bit on the complex “Lisbon Treaty and Ireland” issue. But I think once the SAA is implemented, the logical next step would be to get the offical status of a EU candidate, maybe next year. We are not talking about EU accession here, not even about opening EU accession negotiations, that is clearly a long term project.

Another interesting (and somewhat overlooked) story is that Serbia’s foreign minister Vuk Jeremic announced plans to reinstate the country’s ambassadors to twenty (!) EU countries that recognized Kosovo’s independence.  Belgrade withdrew its ambassadors for “consultations” on Feb 17 following the recognition of Kosovo by the majority of EU countries. So far these plans do not include ambassadors to the US and Japan.

However, another sign that Belgrade has priorities. And the priority, at the moment, is to have better links with the EU. I know it is strange to write and read about “policy coherence” in a Serbian context and that some “election promises”  were actually not forgotten and official priorities are treated like priorities… but c’mon why not give them some credit for a remarkable political move !?

After Karadžić, Mladić?

Recent developments in Serbia give the impression that the newly established government tries to act in a  “European way” and fulfill the criteria of the SAA as quickly as possible. Probably everyone who follows the developments in the region and who knows something about the Yugoslav conflicts is relieved after this capture.

However, there are also some questions which made me think about the whole story and transnational justice in particular: a hardly recognizable grey-haired man lived in the Serbian capital and no one knew anything about him for years? Of course it is more than obvious that there was not enough political will or maybe some influence from the outside.

The story of ICTY is also a difficult one. On the one hand it is a modern response to secure justice on a transnational level and it gives hope that even if justice is blind inside the national framework there is a chance on the international level. However, it is well-known that the institution had to go through different stages, and a huge lack of financial resources because of the political indifference. And in this sense it displays an example of sharp division between morality (as presented in the religious world) and politics as such. But as we see from the recent development sometimes the two can meet… but can they meet also in the case of Mladić?

Written by Tanchi

Should the EU offer a SAA to Serbia? (and possibly influence the elections?)

“Ministers, over lunch, will discuss the situation in the Western Balkans, notably in the run-up to the Serbian general elections on 11 May.” This is the seemingly unimportant announcement on the GAERC Council Agenda for the April 29th meeting in Luxembourg. But EU Foreign Ministers will have to decide on quite a difficult issue: Should the EU offer Serbia a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) before the Serbian elections? (which might even influence the election outcomes?)

The pessimistic perspective

The International Crisis Group thinks that the EU should not make a deal with Serbia before the upcoming elections. In a recently published research paper “Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?“, the think tank argues that the EU should not offer a SAA unless Serbia cooperates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The EU should also “stop intervening directly in support of one or another political force” in Serbia because it would backfire at the ballot box :

“At best, the EU and U.S. will have limited influence for many months, until a new government is formed, which may not be until September or later. Meanwhile, the public anger over Western support for Kosovo’s independence is such that any attempt to pressure or even induce Belgrade into more cooperation risks strengthening the nationalist vote.”

The think tank sums it up with the statement “appeasement has already failed in the Balkans for over a decade and a half”. One should also not underestimate regional dynamics. In many Western Balkan countries, the EU is seen as having double standards and offering a deal to Serbia now would only support this kind of argumentation, especially because cooperation with the ICTY is a crucial point for the whole region. Ultimately, a SAA with a concession on ICTY cooperation would weaken the negotiation position of the EU in other SAA and accession negotiations in the region.

The optimistic perspective

As part of a “blog-round table” (more about that later!) I had the chance to talk to Milica Delevic, the Serbian Assistant Foreign Minister for European Integration. Obviously she would welcome an early offer from the EU and argues that “EU engagement is always better than isolation”. However, she also admitted that the Serbian government is a bit “schizophrenic” on the issue because the SAA is more and more linked to a recognition of Kosovo (Koštunica:”Signing SAA means signing away Kosovo“). But signing a SAA is not EU membership and it has nothing to do with Kosovo either, it would rather establish contractual relations as well as better trade relations with the EU, and it would give Serbia access to EU funding. (Delevic: “Russia has better contractual relations with the EU than Serbia!”).

The Serbian electorate is quite evenly split between “nationalists” and “moderates” which will make it probably difficult to form a new government after the elections. But a SAA could give the EU some leverage over the next government, be it moderate, nationalist or a coalition. At the same time, EU integration is supported by a comfortable 70% majority of the population, and a clear sign from the EU could motivate voters to vote for more moderate and pro-EU parties.

The EU is likely to find a compromise on the ICTY question (which is of particular interest of the Netherlands and Belgium) that would link parts of the implementation process of the SAA to the full ICTY cooperation and not the SAA offer. Deutsche Welle quotes Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Delhaye on the position of Belgium and the Netherlands on the issue: “The two countries would agree to a proposed Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), but Serbia should not benefit from the advantages of this accord without full cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).”

What future for Serbia?
What future for Serbia?

So what should the EU do? – Here are the official Kosmopolit recommendations:

It is necessary to overcome the pure political argumentation here and to highlight the important process of reforming the country. Symbols still prevail in the Balkans. It is time for focusing on economic and social issues in order to overcome the power of symbolism, which has been present in Balkan politics for too long. By offering a SAA now, the EU can show that it has not given up on Serbia, which can be perceived as quite a powerful statement in Belgrade! Signing the SAA can bring a different perspective and a new hope, especially for the young generation/voters. The agreement would at least restart the pro-European debate and possibly turn the attention away from Kosovo. Although the SAA offer might not directly influence the election outcome, it will certainly increase the pressure on politicians to get serious about reforming the country. The persistence and attraction of radical and nationalistic ideologies can be traced back to the lack of economic and social reforms that are long overdue. The proposed SAA would not directly introduce reforms, it may nevertheless open the door for the long awaited process.

Written by: Tanchi & Kosmo

Update 29/04/08: The EU decided to sign a SAA with Serbia. However, the implementation and the ratification of the agreement will depend on Serbia’s full cooperation with the ICTY:

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