Minister of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn
Serbia did not open a single chapter in the accession negotiations with the EU either in 2020 or 2021. North Macedonia and Albania still have no date for the start of accession talks. Slovenia, as the presiding country, has put EU enlargement in the Western Balkans among its priorities and is organizing an EU - Western Balkans summit in October and proposes that such summits take place regularly. Will that help to keep the EU's focus on the Western Balkans and enlargement and, on the other hand, will it encourage the region to make more of an effort in the European integration process? Does in EU exists, in this moment, real sincere mood for afuture enlargement of EU.
Luxembourg is an unequivocal supporter of the enlargement of the European Union towards the Western Balkan countries based on the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria. We are committed to supporting the Western Balkan countries in their journey towards full alignment with our European values and standards.
Besides reforms being implemented in the different candidate countries, we need to strengthen our mutual dialogue. One of the objectives of the EU – Western Balkans Summit is precisely to strengthen our dialogue and to encourage the leaders of the Western Balkan countries to persevere in the implementing of their reform agendas.
Back in 2003, the leaders of the European Union made a promise in Thessaloniki by stating that the future of the Western Balkans is within the European Union. We have to keep this promise. Let me also recall that the Stabilisation and Association agreement between the European Union and Serbia was signed in 2008 in Luxembourg and we worked hard to be able to open the first negotiating chapters under the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union back in 2015. We hope to be able to see the opening of new chapters before the end of the year.
The candidate countries can fix the rhythm of the accession negotiations through their own reform agendas. The faster these reforms are implemented, the closer a country moves towards the EU. The rules of the club are clear and universally known; it is about implementing the EU acquis. Of course, we will continue to encourage the countries to continue to make the necessary reforms, which are not always easy. We also remain committed to providing financial support to facilitate this process. Nevertheless, the main effort has to come from the candidate countries, as it has been the case in all previous enlargement rounds.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to Serbia's faster progress toward the EU? Is it the normalization of relations with Kosovo or low rating in the rule of law, media freedom, functioning of institutions, and the fight against corruption?
The current government is working hard towards the strategic goal of becoming a Member State of the European Union. This is a long and at times difficult process of bringing the national laws into harmony with the EU acquis communautaire. A particular importance has to be given to the fundamental rights: respect of human rights, freedom of expression, democracy, equality, the rule of law and judicial independence. I believe that the moment is right to move forward decisively in implementing reforms to further strengthen these fundamentals in Serbia. This will bring Serbia ever closer to fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria.
The normalization of relations with Kosovo is also crucial step towards the European path of Serbia and any agreement between the two sides has to contribute to regional stability. A lot of political courage is required from both sides in order to achieve a normalization of relations. The leaders of North Macedonia and Greece have demonstrated that with the right amount of political courage, the impossible becomes possible.
Luxembourg could not have prospered after World War II, had we not embraced the path of regional and then European cooperation. Only 5 years after the war, the European Coal and Steel Community began to unite the six founding EU member states economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace across Western Europe. This was not an easy step at the time.
We will continue to encourage all six Western Balkan countries to look ahead and strengthen their regional cooperation, so that they may become strong members of the European Union. In this context, I also believe that it is important to continue the work on reconciliation; the Western Balkans cannot be strong without reconciliation.
What is your stance on the idea of forming a "European army" which some EU member states support? Slovenia is even proposing that the European Defense Union expand to the Western Balkans?
Indeed, the idea of a “European army” has been put forward by some, but so far there is no concrete plan on the table. If a “European army” means fully integrated pan-EU forces, then I think that this is rather unrealistic for the time being. Member States already have a lot of work in order to accomplish the ambitious, but realistic commitments taken under the Permanent Structured Cooperation in the area of security and defense policy. This includes aligning national defense planning to EU capabilities, needs and shortfalls, by means of pooling and sharing of our resources. A recent case in point was the European air transport capabilities that enabled the evacuation of people from Afghanistan.
Relations between Serbia and Luxembourg, which area has the most room for improvement? You will meet MFA of Serbia Mr. Selaković. What whill be the main topics of your meeting? I look forward to welcoming Minister Selaković for his first visit to Luxembourg. We will of course discuss the further strengthening of our bilateral relations, but also developments in Serbia and in the Western Balkans.
Our countries established diplomatic relations in 1927 and even though bilateral relations have been considerably strengthened in the last couple of years, there is still some room for further improvement. I also see a lot of untapped potential in a number of policy areas: economic and financial but also cultural.
Luxembourg is an important investor in Serbia and the newly established direct flight connection by Luxair should enable our citizens to further strengthen their contacts. Novi Sad and the second biggest city in Luxembourg, Esch-sur Alzette, will both be European capitals of Culture in 2022. This will provide us with a unique opportunity to further develop ties between our two countries.
Luxembourg also continues to assist Serbia in its accession efforts by offering training seminars for Serbian civil servants to acquaint them with the acquis and gain expertise in this matter. This cooperation has been further reinforced in recent years. Luxembourg is also actively supporting the start-up ecosystem in the Western Balkans to unleash their full potential through the programs of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.
Two leading independent televisions in Serbia, N1 and Nova S, have been exposed to constant pressures, attacks and labeling by top Serbian officials, including President Aleksandar Vucic, for years. Those televisions, which officials often target as anti-Serbian, anti-state and opposition, are owned by Luxembourg companies Adria News Sarl and United Media Sarl. What is your opinion on the state of media freedom in Serbia, do you share the view of many international organizations that it is largely jeopardized, i.e. non-existent? Will you discuss that subject withMinister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Selakovic at the upcoming meeting?
Luxembourg is known for its long-standing tradition as a venue for broadcasting companies. A broadcasting company that has an establishment in one EU Member State can freely broadcast into all other Member States. As with other issues, the Serbian government is currently bringing its national legislation in line with the acquis communautaire. Indeed, particular attention has to be paid to media freedom and the protection of journalists. We will of course address these issues in an open and constructive manner.
A free, critical, and independent press is indispensable for liberal democracy and for any open society. Journalists and media workers hold politicians, governments, and private companies to account and help guarantee our fundamental right to information.
The Luxembourg city of Esch-sur-Alzette will be a European Capital of Culture in 2022, together with Serbia's Novi Sad and Lithuania's Kaunas. Are there plans for any joint projects with Novi Sad?
Since we have an important Serbian community living in Luxembourg that has flourished over recent decades, we are really looking forward to the cooperation between Esch-sur-Alzette and Novi Sad as European Capitals of Culture in 2022. This will further enhance the exchange and the dialogue between not only our artists but also among our citizens.
A series of very interesting projects have been identified in which Novi Sad and Esch-sur-Alzette will both participate, such as a jazz exchange, a European youth music festival or a night of culture. Through these projects, we have the opportunity to build bridges between our artists and our citizens. This is important and has to be encouraged!
Photo: Yves Kortum