Serbia’s EU Candidacy: A Friend or A Foe?
Opinion piece by Lana Pedisic, Research Fellow
Picture credit: European Western Balkans

Recent news headlines about Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic’s statement of recognising Crimea and Donbas as part of Ukraine is an apparent move to please the EU and the US and continuing a disingenuous pattern of Vucic’s behaviour. Serbia is often presumed to leverage relations between the East and the West. However, I argue in that Serbia has already positioned itself East against liberalism and democracy. 

An EU candidate state since 2012, Serbia has been the largest recipient of EU funds out of all prospective EU candidate states and has benefited from visa liberalisation. However, the EU’s benevolence is not reciprocated. On the contrary, Serbia has been cosying up with Russia over the years, particularly since Russia’s war in Ukraine, weaponising migration, dealigning with the EU’s foreign policy, deteriorating democratically, lacking public support for the EU, and disseminating anti-EU and Western rhetoric. 

Moreover, late last year, Vucic appointed a pro-Russia lobbyist and a hardline nationalist, Aleksandar Vulin, as the Director of Serbia’s Security and Intelligence Agency (BIA). His appointment unveils Serbia’s true orientation toward Russia and the East. Meanwhile, Serbian volunteers have intensified their war efforts in Ukraine on the side of Russia, and the Wagner group has also been reported to be active in the country. 

The EU has remained indifferent. EU Officials still need to accept and act accordingly to Serbia’s Eastern positioning. The EU has also failed itself because it has not defended its liberal values and democracy and undermined its credibility by not taking action. The EU should freeze Serbia’s EU candidacy, suspend visa liberalisation, and significantly decrease financial support. The EU is strong when it encompasses like-minded states and acts cohesively. This is a task that is tough in itself. Adding and funding disinterested and uncommitted states is not an answer to changing their ideology and geopolitical positioning. EU candidate states that are committed both in words and actions should be those that are encouraged and supported to join the EU. 

On a positive note, the European Parliament recently suggested investigating the Hungarian Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi. Varhelyi is accused of undermining democratic and rule-of-law reforms in EU accession countries. This move indicates that the EU is heading in the right direction in dealing with Serbia and the region.