European Union’s (EU) will for enlargement is back and Serbia is taking “little steps” in aligning with EU’s foreign policy, European Union Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said in an interview with EURACTIV.
Serbia, an EU candidate since 2009, has kept close ties with the Kremlin during President Aleksandar Vucic’s 10-year rule and has been reluctant to join the sanctions against Russia despite Western pressure, EURACTIV quoted Varhelyi as saying.
Asked whether the EU would be interested in speeding up accession processes with Belgrade, Varhelyi said that “Serbia has always been in a very special relationship with Russia“.
”What we see from Serbia is that they are in a very difficult situation, because of their vulnerability when it comes to energy supply and because of the unsettled nature of their security framework,“ he said, pointing out the country is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, and its main energy companies are under Russian majority ownership, EURACTIV reported.
Varhelyi said that, despite the alignment concerns, there have also been positive signs over the past few months, one of them being Serbia voting with the West in the UN General Assembly on Ukraine.
“We want Serbia to be our ally, we need Serbia to show solidarity with us, and to be on our side, but we also need to understand their position when we ask something from them,” said Varhelyi, who has faced criticism for trying to boost Belgrade’s campaign for EU membership despite the rule of law concerns.
He said Serbia is taking little steps and that Brussels should allow for these steps to take place.
“If we don’t, then we are inflicting the exact opposite of what we want to achieve,“ Varhelyi said, implying that openly pushing Belgrade too hard on certain positions might risk losing the country.
He said many member states want to see more solidarity from Belgrade.
“I’m hopeful that gradually this will come from Belgrade because Belgrade is on the European path; it is a candidate country,“ the European Commissioner said.
Varhelyi said the war in Ukraine has “sobered up” the discussion around EU enlargement and shown the need to speed up the procedures, essentially halted by the previous Commission.
The EU now not only realizes this but is also ready to deliver on that, that Europe is not going to enjoy security, stability and prosperity without the Western Balkans being fully integrated, Varhelyi said.
In recent years, there has been little appetite for enlargement within the EU, and some member states have called for EU reform before admitting any new members.
“Don’t forget, we took over from a European Commission which said ‘no enlargement’ – the damage was done there,” Varhelyi said, adding that towards the second half of their mandate, the Juncker Commission “realized this was a strategic mistake.”
“What I expect now, and what will be a huge responsibility for the European Commission, is that now there is a clear political will, which wasn’t always obvious,” said the EU Commissioner, EURACTIV reported.