President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and President of Austria, Alexander Van Der Bellen were the first discussants of the second day of this year’s Belgrade Security Forum titled “Western Balkans and the European Union”. Van Der Bellen, whose country currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, is on a two-day official visit to Belgrade where he has already met President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.
The second day of the 8th annual Belgrade Security Forum with the general theme “Finding answers together to the new normal” was opened by a welcoming speech of Sonja Licht, the Executive Director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence. Licht explained that the BSF was led by the mission to be the part of the global debate and bring the global debate to Serbia, she also expressed conviction that the region is very close to resolving the burning issues, given the sufficient political will.
Vucic: Do not underestimate people’s disappointment
President Aleksandar Vucic, in his opening remarks, started reading the speech written by “someone else” but decided that although it was a very good speech he had read that morning, he will not stick to it and will make his own speech: “My advisors are killing each other right now”, remarked the President.
Failure of the referendum in Macedonia and the outcome of the elections in Bosnia is how Vucic sees current EU involvement in the region, which according to him is not strong enough.
He criticized the EU for pushing for sound agreements that do not pass domestically, because they are not tailored according to the will of the people.
“This (failure of the referendum in Macedonia) happened because the deal was not as attractive as the people in the EU thought”, President Vucic explained his position on the approach of the EU to resolving bilateral issues in the Western Balkans region.
“We need something tangible, something people will feel in their own pockets and that was missing. Even the support of the people in the EU was not enough. We need to offer something substantive to the people of Western Balkans”, clarified Vucic, adding that people in Serbia do not care if the EU will open another Chapter with Serbia or not, as this has no immediate effect on their everyday lives.
He also stressed the importance of keeping the promises made by the EU and warned that people’s will and people’s disappointment must not be underestimated.
Finally, he outlined the way forward for Serbia:
“Serbia will do its utmost, Serbia will do our best to preserve peace and stability and develop a relationship with its neighbours and stay on its EU path.”
We should not fear new changes made by new realities
Alexander Van Der Bellen called for “courage and vision on all sides: the candidates and member states” when it comes to the future.
He quoted the Polish Nobel prize winner, Czeslaw Milosz, in his opening remark to illustrate the current reluctance of the EU to new approaches towards the Western Balkans region:
“Man and woman in general are inclined to accept the order in which they are living as the natural order”. People crave change, but when the change actually happens men are taken by surprise, scattered with fear, and we are paralyzed by the idea that our natural order may be changed and defeated by the reality, said the president of Austria.
This, in his opinion is what is happening with the EU and the Western Balkans alike, “we shy away from looking for better solutions” criticized Van Der Bellen.
The countries of the WB have seen political and economic changes: wars, depression, demographic changes, continued Van Der Bellen, but the process of reforms has made the EU perspective realistic, in his conviction. However, the countries of the region still need to their homework, both in terms of reform and in terms of outstanding bilateral issues such as Belgrade – Pristina relations, as he put it:
“They (politicians) need vision to look beyond the natural order Serbs and Albanians have been living in for decades…Joining the EU means that her fundamentals need to take root before accession. Bilateral issues and border conflicts should be resolved.”
Van Der Bellen commended several actors for their current efforts in the dialogue:
“It needs courage to suggest peaceful dialogue instead of the hot or frozen conflict and Vucic has shown this courage.”
In addition to Vucic, Van Der Bellen, expressed satisfaction with the role of the High Representative Mogherini in the process of the dialogue as well, stressing that she “is trying to do a good job but under difficult circumstances”.
However, Van Der Bellen has identified that the support from the citizens and society at large is a prerequisite for the dialogue on the joint future.
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