Serbia, according to Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, does not belong in the EU, whose members ‘do not want’ to admit Serbia.
Serbia has been a candidate country for the EU for over a decade, since March 2012, and began accession talks in 2014. President Aleksandar Vucic has stated that the country’s top foreign policy priority is membership in the EU. However, as the process has dragged on for years with no prospect of joining in the near future, enthusiasm for reforms aimed at accession has waned.
The main sticking point has been Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo, which declared unilateral independence from Belgrade in 2008. If either country is to progress toward EU membership, the EU requires the two countries to normalize their relations.
Furthermore, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Serbia has been heavily chastised by EU officials and politicians from EU member states for its refusal to join sanctions against Russia.
In an interview with Vecerni Novosi published on October 14, Vulin, a key pro-Russian voice within the cabinet, said that Belgrade should accept that the EU does not want to admit Serbia.
‘The question is not whether or not we want to join the EU, but whether or not the EU wants Serbia.’ They don’t want us, judging by the insane blackmail they’re putting us through to recognize Kosovo, abolish Republika Srpska, and impose sanctions on Russia,” he said.
“The sooner we accept that they don’t want us and that we don’t belong there, the better off we will be. The attitude towards the EU is not a matter of emotions but of rational decisions.”
The European Commission urged Serbia in its annual progress report, published on October 12, to remain committed to the EU’s strategic direction and reform path. The Commission noted that Serbia had failed to align with the EU’s restrictive measures against Russia in the aftermath of the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the majority of statements made by the EU’s high representative on the subject.
Vulin was skeptical of the recent proposal by France and Germany for a deal on Kosovo, under which Serbia would get an accelerated path to the EU in exchange for allowing Kosovo to join the UN and other international organizations.
“[W]here did you see the accelerated reception? As far as I know, the final decision is made by each parliament of each EU country. Do you really think that Croats will vote for Serbia’s accession to the EU without any other conditions?” he commented, referring to the often-troubled relationship between Serbia and neighboring Croatia, which as an EU member has the power to veto Serbia’s progress.
Bilateral disputes with neighboring states previously stalled the progress of another candidate country, North Macedonia, which was prevented from beginning accession negotiations by Greece and then Bulgaria.
Vulin also criticized the EU as an institution, stating that “with the loss of political independence, EU members begin to lose economic strength, which was the main reason for the EU’s attractiveness.”
Vulin visited Moscow for two days on August 22-23, meeting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. Vulin stated during his meeting with Lavrov that Serbia is the only country in Europe that has not “become part of the anti-Russian hysteria.”
The trip sparked a feud with his colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic, who accused Lavrov of “abusing” Serbia’s decision not to sanction Russia by falsely claiming Serbia supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Vulin responded by publicly defending Lavrov.
Serbia has a strong pro-Russian sentiment. According to a June Demostat poll, the Serbian people overwhelmingly support Russia and oppose joining Western sanctions. According to the poll, 80% of respondents opposed sanctions against Russia, while only 9% supported them.
The same poll found dwindling support for EU membership, with 51% saying they would vote no in a referendum on joining the bloc. Just 34% of respondents said they would vote for Serbia’s entry into the EU, while 11% would not vote and a further 4% were undecided.