Negotiations going to plan

Serbia is negotiating with Member States on joining the European Union (EU) – but that will depend on how quickly this Balkan state can meet the accession criteria.

The destination? The European Union. In early 2014, formal negotiations opened in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the EU. Behind the scenes, the Serbian Government has been working for a very long time to make this Western Balkan country fit for Europe – with support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is working with Serbia to strengthen its democratic structures, boost its economic performance and support its EU integration process. In cooperation with Serbia’s European Integration Office (SEIO), GIZ is building Serbia’s capacity to conduct the accession negotiations by deploying advisors and staff from other Member States, such as Slovenia, Hungary and Croatia, which joined the EU fairly recently. They know from experience how best to conduct the accession negotiations.

The negotiations take years

Membership of the EU takes years of preparation, but Serbia is determined to be ready for EU accession by 2018. There is a lot to do before then, as this Balkan country must show that it has transposed the EU’s body of law – the acquis communautaire – into national law. Whether it relates to food safety, environmental protection or customs regulations, the acquis is non-negotiable. However, candidate countries can negotiate the pace of their reform process, so Serbia must explain to Member States how it is preparing for EU membership and meeting the accession criteria.

This is the task of the Serbian Government’s negotiating teams, whose members are drawn from ministries, other government institutions and non-governmental bodies. Good cooperation is vital in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion, so everyone must work together and represent Serbia’s interests coherently to the EU. This cannot take place unless there are clear rules governing their cooperation, which had to be drawn up in advance, with GIZ’s support. In all, 35 negotiating groups – one for each chapter of the acquis – must reach a consensus on all the various topics.

Praise from the EU

So far, the Serbian negotiations have gone to plan. The Serbian Government’s negotiating groups give the GIZ project top marks for improving internal coordination. In a survey, almost 90 per cent of staff involved in preparing the negotiations confirmed that the project has improved their competence and efficiency. And this success has resonated more widely as well: the EU has praised this Balkan country for its well-structured negotiations on its journey towards EU integration.