"Kosovo, EU integration separate processes"

"The conclusions of the recent European Council did not establish any link between the Kosovo process and the European accession process, which are two separate processes, as we see it from the European Commission."

Guest: Josep Lloveras, Journalist: Ljubica Gojgić

B92: Mr. Lloveras, there is a question that in a way marks the end of this year, and the question being whether the acceptance of Kosovo independence became the pre-condition for Serbia’s Euro integration?

Lloveras: I think this is written nowhere and is in nobody’s mind in the European Union. The conclusions of the very recent European Council in Brussels on December 14 do not make that linkage. What they say is that Serbia has the capacity to speed up its process of European integration, which is something the European Commission has been saying consistently, and they expressed the hope that provided that the political conditions are met, the SAA can be signed, and then the process of approximation with Europe can accelerate, including obtaining candidate status. This is very positive language which we have not seen before.

B92: But then in one of the last paragraphs in that document with the conclusions from the summit, the wording was, I think, “Serbia, when it meets the criteria can progress towards EU membership.” Since those criteria are not defined - at least, not in that document - and since we’ve heard Mr. Sarkozy say “Accept Kosovo independence, and you will move faster towards the EU membership,” how are we supposed to understand that?

Lloveras: I can only speak about what is written in the conclusions of the recent Council, which did not establish any link between Kosovo, the Kosovo process on the one hand, and the European accession process, which are two separate processes, as we see it from the European Commission. And, concerning the conditions for the SAA, they are very clear: the condition is full cooperation with the criminal court in The Hague. And that condition remains, it has been there, and it continues to be there.

B92: What does it mean that word that Serbia’s progress towards EU membership could be “accelerated”. How do you read that particular word?

Lloveras: I think one should not read it in the wrong sense, meaning that there’s no short-cut. The process is very well known, it has been followed by so many countries which have already accessed the European Union. What it means is that our member-states believe, as the Commission does, that there is a capacity in Serbia, once the SAA is signed, to move fast towards EU integration, because there are other capacities. And also, to move towards getting candidate status - in other words, towards implementing the SAA, according to the rules, showing the track record, and passing to the next stage. We do believe this in the European Commission, we have always said it, and our member-states have confirmed that belief.

B92: So, getting candidate status would not be a consolation for Serbia for the loss of Kosovo?

Lloveras: I repeat that these processes have to be seen as separate processes. I mean, let’s be clear: we would have wanted Serbia to have candidate status years ago. If there has been this coincidence in time between the Kosovo process and the SAA signing, or expectation to sign, it is because the conditions were not fulfilled before. It was not the EU’s making. It’s just a coincidence of time of two processes.

B92: How realistic are those claims by Serbian officials that on January 28, Serbia will sign the SAA with Brussels?

Lloveras: It will depend on the fulfilling of conditions. The conditions are known. Serbia has to fulfill them, and then our member-states have unanimously to agree on the signing of the SAA. So, we hope that it is possible, but it still has to happen. And, we still have some time left, but not much, and we hope that Serbia can continue working in fulfilling full cooperation with the criminal court in the Hague, which is the permanent and constant condition.

B92: And when you mention that, how many EU officials share the view of the Dutch foreign minister who said "I won’t put my signature on the SAA, before I see Ratko Mladić on the plane"?

Lloveras: I’m not in the minds of our 27 member states. They will have to decide unanimously on that signature of the SAA, but I cannot speculate on what are the different possible feelings in that respect within the member states.

B92: OK, but full cooperation - is it translated Ratko Mladić, or signs of full cooperation?

Lloveras: You have read the conclusions I’m sure, as well as I have, and they’re very explicit, and once the conditions are met, the SAA can be signed, and the EU has repeated those conditions for quite a long time.

B92: Do you see when you meet with Serbian officials, are you convinced that there is good will and consensus among the politicians to continue Euro integration?

Lloveras: It is one of the 4 priorities of the current government…

B92: On paper, that’s why I’m asking you what your feeling is.

Lloveras: Well, we have to believe that we have seen progress in the last few months, in spite of the difficulties. Our problems report has highlighted those problems. Maybe it hasn’t been as fast as we had expected, and our progress report recently shows the shortcomings, and we hope now that this consensus will be maintained and continue for the benefit of Serbian citizens. You see, European integration is above all a national priority, as we see it. It is not a matter of foreign policy. It’s a matter of providing a framework, and a mechanism and support for the reforms which this country needs in any case.

B92: The fact that Serbia strongly objects to the EU sending a mission to Kosovo without a Security Council resolution - could that fact contaminate the relationship between Belgrade and Brussels?

Lloveras: I hope not. Brussels has said that it will have to assume its responsibilities in Kosovo, that this is necessary to ensure security, to protect the minorities in the region. So, the Union’s ready to assume its responsibilities, and I hope this will be understood and will be accepted.

B92: And finally, how do you see Serbia in 2008? How do you see the relationship between Belgrade and Brussels in 2008?

Lloveras: I don’t have a crystal ball, so rather than telling you how I see it, I will tell you how I would like to see Serbia in a year’s time, by the end of next year. I would like to see Serbia in peace with itself and with its neighbors, confidently looking towards the future, towards the right future, with better living conditions, both economic and social for its citizens, and also, with the European perspective closer to Serbia, objectively closer, but also being seen by the Serbian citizens as being close.

B92: You don’t have a crystal ball, but do you see that whole process of regional integration with Kosovo in Serbia, or Kosovo as an entity that’s going to take a separate road towards the EU?

Lloveras: Can you repeat the question, sorry?

B92: Where do you see, when you talk about the prospects for the region and the country, where do you see Kosovo then? What do you see as ideal, what would you like it to be?

Lloveras: …The Kosovo issue I will not speculate on, how it will be, how it will not be. I understand it’s a fundamental concern for Serbia right at the moment, and not only for Serbia. It is a European problem, and I hope it will find a European solution.

B92: And, here is the question you would like the most. When you take away politics, and when you take a look at economics, institutional capacity, do you agree with those claims that Serbia is doing very well, and that there is a potential to take the fast track towards the membership?

Lloveras: I absolutely believe that there is the administrative capacity, and the economic capacity, and the intellectual capacity, to steer that process, and to steer it fast. I firmly believe that. At the same time, I think that in the economy in particular, although the economy is relatively strong and solid, that one has to be careful, there are some clouds out there in the international economic scene. So, it’s important to keep prudence, to keep good management of the economy, good management of public expenditure, to speed up privatization and restructuring so as to generate more exports, so as to really address the vulnerabilities which the Serbian economy, in spite of its global strength, still has.

But, overall, I’m confident and I’m positive that this statement about the capacity of Serbia to accelerate this process of European integration is not something we say just to make happy the Serbian public or the Serbian government. It is because we really believe it, and it is what we can really confirm in our dealings with government, with government officials, with people in public administration. We have had, you see, hundreds of hours of meetings with the administration at all levels, and these confirm that there is a capacity in this country to catch up, to really catch up in the process of European integration.

B92: Before I thank you, there is a question that just occurred to me. Could this period of crisis, or controlled crisis, that we’re about to enter, relating to Kosovo, jeopardize the agreement on visa facilitation and the process in which we’re trying - that you’re trying to further elaborate the visa regime for the citizens of Serbia?

Lloveras: For us, the process of visa facilitation is already well advanced. It will come into force on January 1, 2008, and then we expect to move to the next stage, which is to discuss with your government how to move to visa liberalization, how to move to the next stage, where Serbia could be included in the White Schengen List. It’s not automatic: it requires to improve border controls, to still adopt a number of laws, to improve security of documents for instance. But we will start in the next year, and I hope soon in the next year for a dialogue on that process.

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