On Friday, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) submitted a proposal to the EU Council to modify and supplement the framework for negotiations with Serbia regarding its accession to the bloc.
Changes in Chapter 35 involve making the implementation of agreements reached with Kosova in the European-brokered dialogue a mandatory condition for Serbia. Sources within the EU have confirmed this to Radio Free Europe.
This proposal was submitted two days later than the deadline set by the member states at the December 12th meeting last year, where they requested that the Commission and EEAS deliver the proposal by the end of January this year.
The request for the formal amendment of conditions in Chapter 35 for Serbia comes after the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, stated in December that her country would not implement all the agreements it had agreed upon with Kosova.
After the agreement reached in Brussels in February of the previous year and its annex for implementation in Ohrid in March, the European Union insisted that these agreements are legally binding for the parties, even if they are not signed.
In the case of Serbia, according to EU officials, the implementation will be made formally obligatory, including it as a specific condition in its accession negotiations framework.
However, for more than ten months, the EU had not changed this framework. Therefore, in the conclusions drawn from the General Affairs Council meeting, the ministers of the member states had requested that this happen as soon as possible, and the Commission and EEAS make their proposal.
“The Council calls on the Commission and the High Representative to urgently propose and complete the conditions of Chapter 35 of the accession negotiations for Serbia before the end of January 2024,” the conclusions stated. They were later endorsed by the heads of state at the EU summit in Brussels.
Chapter 35 of the accession negotiations, called “Other Issues” in the case of Serbia, also includes the normalization of relations with Kosova. This chapter was opened among the first in December 2015 to guide progress towards the normalization of relations between the two countries.
The European Union has always conveyed to Belgrade and Pristina that their path to accession to the bloc goes through progress in normalizing their relations.
The EU Council must now vote on the Commission and EEAS proposal for the amendment and completion of Chapter 35 for Serbia.
Some diplomatic sources within the EU have said that delays in submitting the proposal were due to objections raised by Oliver Varhelyi, the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement of the EU. EEAS was more interested in making this happen as quickly as possible.
When the agreement on the annex for the implementation of the Basic Agreement was reached in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on March 18, it was stated, among other things, that immediately after this agreement, work would begin to amend the conditions in Chapter 35 for negotiations with Serbia. This would also include the obligation for Serbia to implement the Agreement and its annex.
The insistence of the member states that this happen as soon as possible was to expedite the process, as some diplomats believed that Varhelyi was dragging his feet in this direction.
“Despite clear conclusions from two documents from the highest level of the EU, Varhelyi opposed and until the last moment blocked this proposal,” said an EU official to Radio Free Europe.
According to the same sources, pressure was exerted on Varhelyi by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, and some other member states. In some cases, EU diplomats have said that Varhelyi is following the stance of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had also proposed him as a commissioner from his country in the executive of the European Union.
Criticism had also been expressed against Varhelyi by the European Parliament. In a resolution from January of 2023, an independent investigation into how Varhelyi exercised his position was called for because European parliamentarians suspected that he was violating the ethical rules of the European Commission.
The decision to change Chapter 35 for Serbia, like any decision in the EU enlargement process, is approved with the consent of all member states.
Meanwhile, in the case of Kosova, obligations for the implementation of agreements with Serbia will be included in the agenda of the special normalization group, as Kosova does not yet have the status of a candidate country for EU membership.
The EU insists that the statement by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, on the agreement has the power of a legally binding agreement, even though it has not been signed.
The EU continues to express disappointment that neither party has made proper progress in fulfilling their obligations.