CEAS Press Release Regarding the 2020 European Commission Report for Serbia

The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) wishes to highlight several unusual circumstances in this year's European Commission (EC) report for Serbia 2020.

We are of the opinion that the fragmentation of the Serbian opposition, their internal autocratic-leadership structure, especially of those parties, both parliamentary and non- parliamentary, that boycotted the elections, as well as the undemocratic way in which they reached that status (floor crossing) and their inability to reach mutual consensus, has largely, if not crucially, influenced their current absence from the parliament. Considering, on the one hand, that the relevant organizations assessed electoral conditions at the recent elections in Montenegro as bad, and that, on the other hand, the local opposition managed to win the elections regardless, it is clear that the decision to boycott Serbian elections was made due to some other undemocratic reasons, rather than electoral conditions. With this in mind, we believe that the responsibility for the reported situation in the parliament lies also on the boycotting opposition, as well as many small democratic movements and ad hoc initiatives, and that, in that regard, the EC report is not entirely objective. By the nature of its engagement, CEAS pays particular attention to the issues relating to the Chapter 31 and the process of normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina. As the organization that provided the most detailed report on the content and the process of adoption of new security and defense strategies, we welcome the fact that the EC recognized a new quality in them, in its analysis of the situation relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy chapter.

However, CEAS notes that there is a disproportion in the perception of relevant circumstances, which leads us to conclude that the EC is not entirely objective in this chapter, as well.

The trend of strengthening bilateral relations between Serbia and the United States is barely touched upon, and in the same sentence about relations with China and Russia. Bearing in mind that the United States actively supports Serbia's European integration, both politically and financially, which is not the case with China and Russia, we believe that this is a major oversight.

The same is true of the second cycle of the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) between Serbia and NATO, a comprehensive document agreed by the Government of the Republic of Serbia (RS) and NATO, which was given far less attention in this chapter than the visit of a parliamentary deputy speaker to a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the observer status. The consideration should be given to the fact that one of the priorities of IPAP, and certainly of the United States, is to support Serbia's European integration, which is not the case with the CSTO.

The CEAS believes that this chapter of the report is biased in its evaluation of the period during the outbreak of the COVID-19, i.e. the period when the country was at its most vulnerable. The speed with which China reacted, without going further into the reasons, contributed to keeping the situation under control. During that period, the EU introduced a temporary ban on the export of medicines and equipment to the Balkan countries, which, interestingly enough, is not mentioned in the report in that context. This measure was understandable, but also indicative and disappointing, so it is quite normal that Serbia expressed gratitude to China at that particular time. The lack of solidarity between EU member states during the outbreak of the pandemic was also addressed by many of their officials, so we are of the opinion that the EC was biased in their reporting on this issue as well.

Very indicatively, the EC report covers the period when Serbia, in the midst of negotiations on the new status of Kosovo, froze all military activities with partners, in order to de facto withdraw from the military exercise "Slavic Brotherhood" in Belarus, in the attempt to evade the reaction of Russia, who, under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, has influence over the negotiations, whether Belgrade wants it or not.

The EC report was preceded by the occasion when Belgrade and Pristina signed agreements on economic normalization with the United States, in the presence of US President Donald Trump, which is not mentioned anywhere in the report, even in the part dedicated to the state visits to Russia and China. CEAS believes that reference to these agreements, as well as Belgrade's readiness to cooperate with the United States, which is great news not only for Serbia, but for the region and the EU, deserved a place in the report, in the chapter on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. At the very least, the signed agreements should have been mentioned in the broader context in which the EU-assisted dialogue is analyzed, something that Serbia's European integration greatly depends upon, and which United States has now considerably contributed to.

Belgrade, 8 October 2020