BY NURAN YILDIRIM
Following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in a crucial referendum, the relationship between the EU and Balkan countries came into discussion. Although the referendum seems like territorial, it has led disastrous impacts across the globe. While Balkan countries affirmed their commitment to European integration, concerns raised over the uncertain future of the EU following Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
Serbia applied for EU membership in December 2009 and Serbia’s progress on the EU path was conditioned on dialogue with Kosovo. In this sense, the EU- facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade made significant progress in order to normalize relations in the process of Serbia’s accession to the European Union. But Serbia does not intend to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Thus, the European Council agreed to grant Serbia the status of candidate country on March 2012 and accession negotiations at a political level between Serbia and the EU started in January 2014. Chapter 35, on “Other Issues”, which in Serbia’s case, refers to Kosovo is deemed crucial for Serbia’s path to EU membership. Nevertheless, it must be noted that Serbia does not necessarily need to recognize Kosovo as an independent country in order to become a member since a number of member countries including Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Romania have not recognized Kosovo as an independent country as well.
Corruption in Serbia is one of the most important issues affecting the accession of Serbia to the European Union. On the night of April 25, for instance, a group of masked 30 men knocked down multiple buildings in the Savamala district’s Hercegovacka Street that stood in the way of Belgrade Waterfront. Since Savamala district overlaps the area under development, the overnight demolition by masked men lead concerns in the mind of citizens. Belgrade Waterfront (Beodrad na vodi) is a project for which is worth more than €3bn and features a gleaming tower surrounded by luxury apartments, hotels and a shopping centre on the banks of the river. Thousands of Serbs joined a fresh protest over the Belgrade Waterfront development, one month after an unexplained incident in which the masked men demolished buildings in the riverside area where the state-backed project is to be built. The word duck which means ‘fraud’ in Serbian, became a powerful symbol of resistance to the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project. At a press conference, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the highest city officials gave the order, but he is sure they did it out of pure motives.
In the 2015 edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide since 1995, Serbia scored under 50 and was ranked 71st of 168 countries. Thus Serbia have stayed under the score received in 2014 and continued its negative position.
In fact, corruption is recognized as a serious crime in the EU, the member states are expected to ensure respect for justice, judiciary and fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the acquis and by the Charter 23 and 24. In this sense, the European Union encourages candidate and potential candidate countries to tackle corruption and to increase transparency early in the accession process. Nevertheless, Serbia have not opened Chapter 23 and 24 in its EU membership talks and has led to the extension of the negotiation process.
Serbia will remain on EU path
While Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that there will not be a referendum call in Serbia, secretary of foreign affairs Ivica Dacic confirmed their commitment to European integration and said that Serbia will continue on its EU path.
According to prime banks, Serbia has less to lose from Brexit than its neighbors now that it has more relationships, especially on economics, with the countries such as Austria and Germany than Britain. Even though, in short terms, Serbia or more generally the European Union will not be effected from Britain’s vote to leave the EU, it is too early to talk about long-term effects of referendum. Moreover, while European integration has a great importance for all the member countries, it is surely a mistake to think Brexit as something positive for Serbia.
Having played an important role in regional integration with its supranational structure, EU unfortunately suffered a significant loss of credibility with Brexit. Following Britain’s referendum decision, possible referendum proposals by other member countries came to the agenda. It can also be said that in case of recognition of any privilege to the United Kingdom, other members can be requested privileges as well. From the economic perspective, 19 billion pounds of payment of Britain to the EU every year is also at risk. Under these circumstances, Britain’s referendum decision cannot be evaluated as a positive development both for candidate and potential candidate countries.
Russia can expand its sphere of influence on Balkans
Located on the EU’s enlargement calendar, the six Balkan states – Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania – are at different stages in the enlargement process and there are concerns over their ongoing negations with the EU following Brexit vote.
Even though the countries affirmed their commitment to European integration and expressed to remain on EU path, we must also take into account the other global players such as Russia. Since Britain voted to leave from the EU, Russia more likely to expand its sphere of influence on Balkans and fill the vacuum. Some of the underlying causes of such influence can be specified as uncertainty in the region after Brexit, Russia’s relations with the Balkan countries, the lack of stability in the region, and the corruption of politicians. Aiming to develop good relations and deepen economic cooperation among the Balkan countries, the EU was playing an important role in the region. When viewed from this aspects, it is possible to talk about the negative effects of Brexit for the Balkan countries.
As a result, Balkan countries voiced their commitment to the European Union following Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Nevertheless, we are at the beginning of the process yet and everything is unknown. Although Balkan countries are not directly affected in the short-term, Britain’s decision to leave the EU is likely to cause difficulties for the Balkan countries in the EU accession process. In the coming years, indeed, the EU will have to devote enormous energy in order to solve its own internal crisis. In the medium to long-term results of Brexit is still difficult to predict because such an exit from the EU had not experienced before and everything is unclear yet. Under these circumstances, the Balkan countries should maintain the current relationship with the EU and continue the negotiating agenda through opening of new chapters. Briefly Brexit should never be an excuse.