EU candidate Serbia is carefully watching this week’s European Parliament election as its result may impact Belgrade’s progress towards EU membership. Though Brussels is not expected to abandon enlargement, the process is almost certain to slow down, at least this year.
The biggest Western Balkan country is "particularly keen to see who will replace EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and whether the EU’s new diplomacy chief could give a new impetus to the stalled normalisation talks with Kosovo" and whether a commissioner will be appointed to take charge of enlargement or if enlargement policy will be merged with some other directorate in the European Commission (EC).
Belgrade is also interested in whether the EU executive will have a Commissioner solely for enlargement or if that policy will be merged with another department – with either option a signal about the future priority status of the process.
According to Sena Maric, a senior Researcher of the European Policy Center – CEP Belgrade, a good result of the extreme and populist options could affect institutional solutions, and lead to the situation where a separate enlargement directorate would not be designated within the new European Commission.
“That outcome would send a political message that enlargement is not an important topic for the next make-up of EU institutions and would thus produce negative consequences for Serbia’s further European integration,” Maric told EURACTIV Serbia.
Although surveys suggest a rise of the far right in the EU, Belgrade officials believe that traditional parties will continue to dominate the European Parliament and will thereby continue to have a crucial impact on the appointment of new Commissioners.
The effect of the EP election on Serbia and the Western Balkans is already visible in the delay of publication of the annual progress report, from April to late May, after the election.
“The EU election has pushed the enlargement policy to the sidelines, it is either not talked about at all or is being put on hold until the EU has reformed itself from within… The dynamic of the accession process of Serbia and the other candidates will be slower this year,” said European Movement in Serbia (EMinS) Secretary General Suzana Grubjesic.
In the long term, the EU is not expected to abandon the enlargement policy.
What is certain is that Serbia will not take part in the next EP election, due in 2024. The EU Strategy for the Western Balkans, adopted just over a year ago, mentions 2025 as a possible year of Serbia and Montenegro’s EU accession, provided that they meet all the membership requisites by that time.
Given the pace of the membership talks so far and the impasse in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, at this time, 2025 does not seem like a very realistic year of accession for Serbia.