The upper house of the British Parliament has warned about the instability of democracy and of the rule of law in the Western Balkans.
This is contained in the “UK and the future of the Western Balkans” report published by the Select Committee on International Relations.
“In Serbia, we were told that reforms required by the EU were made on paper only – their implementation changed nothing. For example, state media companies had been privatized to meet EU requirements but the newly privatized companies had been bought by those close to the ruling party, leaving them effectively functioning as state media,” the report says.
The document also states that it is “concerning that support for EU membership in the Western Balkans has weakened,” and adds:
“Statements by senior figures in the EU such as the president of the Commission postponing accession to some distant date in the future are not helpful. This is not in the UK’s interests as EU membership is the most reliable path for Western Balkan countries to achieve security, stability and prosperity. Post-Brexit the UK must continue wholeheartedly to support the accession ambitions of Western Balkan countries.”
“The UK remains well-placed to promote the values and institutional standards EU membership requires. This must done in concert with the EU and bilaterally. The government must not allow our leaving the EU to be presented as a rejection of those values and standards. It is important that the UK and EU do not allow themselves to be played off against one another by local actors with different agendas to our own,” the report continued.
It mentions Serbian PM Ana Brnabic’s statement that “although membership was the goal, the reforms required by the EU were desirable in themselves – the journey was as important as the destination.”
“Even if the EU ruled out further enlargement for the next 10 years, Serbia would continue to pursue accession in order to tackle corruption, strengthen its public institutions and open its markets,” she is quoted as saying.
The report also mentions Serbia in the context of the country’s relationship with NATO to say that it “currently” has no desire to join the military alliance.
It quotes Jaroslaw Wisniewski from the London School of Economics as saying, “NATO is still perceived to be the villain among the ethnic Serb population, despite over 18 years since the bombing of Yugoslavia.”
“It is perfectly plausible that Serbia will not for a long time, or may never, see NATO as its future,” Angus Lapsley, from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, told the committee.
The document also quoted Lapsley as saying that he “thought that full membership was not the only level of cooperation Serbia might have with NATO.”
It noted that President Aleksandar Vucic addressed the North Atlantic Council and that Serbia held 22 military exercises with NATO in the previous year (2016).
In the conclusion, the report states that “although the journey towards membership may be important in its own right, genuine progress to combat corruption, embed the rule of law, ensure freedom of expression and of the press, and achieve other reforms necessary for EU membership must be made.”