EAEU or EU – Is the Eurasian Economic Union an alternative to EU membership?
Western Balkans countries, October was marked by a failure to reach a date for
the start of EU membership negotiations for Northern Macedonia and Albania, as
well as new agreements Serbia signed with Russia and China. These events have
once again fueled the debate on the space being opened up for the influence of
other actors on the Western Balkans. While the European perspective of these
countries remains uncertain, their cooperation with partners from the east
indicates that an alternative is considered if the European integration process
and EU membership remain on the long stick.
on recent weeks developments, Serbia is the country that is taking the most
concrete steps in further developing cooperation with countries and
organizations coming from the East. Since the beginning of this year, Serbia
has hosted the highest officials of the Russian Federation in two occasions. In
January this year, Russian presidentVladimir Putin paid a visit to Belgrade,
while Prime Minister Medvedev visited Belgrade to mark the anniversary of
Belgrade’s liberation in World War II. Despite increasingly intensive
cooperation with China, these visits indicate that Russia is still Serbia’s
traditional partner in international relations and a welcome guest. One of the
topics that marked the visits of these two officials was the signing of
Serbia’s agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union. Serbian prime minister Ana
Brnabic signed a free trade agreement with Eurasian Economic Union in Moscow on
October 25th. This agreement provides free flow of goods, duty free, between
Serbia and the five countries that make up this international organization.
Eurasian Economic Union was formed in 2015 on the foundations of the Eurasian
Economic Community. The Union is made up of five countries: Russia, Belarus,
Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Member States comprise a population of 183
million people and can represent a significant market for product placement and
for improving foreign trade relations. The Eurasian Economic Union represents
the final step of Eurasian economic integration, initiated by Kazakhstan’s
President Nursultan Nazarbayev since the first half of the 1990s. Today, among
the countries that make up the Eurasian Economic Union, Russia is positioning
itself as the most important actor, both in the field of international
relations and in resolving issues within the community. The member states of
the Eurasian Economic Union are harmonizing their economic relations but are still
pursuing an independent foreign policies.
to the European Union, decision-making institutionsns have been developed. The
umbrella institution is the Supreme Council of the Eurasian Economic Union,
which, like the European Council, brings together heads of state. The
Inter-State Council of the Eurasian Union brings together the heads of governments
(Prime Ministers) of the Member States, while the Eurasian Economic Commission
is a supranational body that provides all conditions for the Union’s further development
and elaborates proposals in the field of economic integration. The seat of the
Commission is in Moscow. The Union Court, based in the capital of Belarus,
Minsk, is the permanent judicial body of this organization.
between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union were announced back in 2016,
just one year after the organization officially began operating. It was
originally announced that the agreement would be signed during Putin’s visit to
Belgrade in January 2019, but the signing was postponed until October.
signing a free trade agreement, Serbia has improved the pre-existing conditions
it has in trade relations with five member states. Namely, Serbia already had
free trade agreements with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, while it gains
greater access to the markets of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Of all these
countries, Serbia has by far the most developed relations with Russia, as one
of the most important partners in the field of foreign trade, with foreign
policy relations which are now traditionally very tight-knit.
addition, Russia’s position in the field of international relations leads to
the interpretation of the Eurasian Economic Union as “Putin’s Union”, an
organization in which Russia has a leading role and is Russian way of expanding
influence over its immediate spheres of interest.
economic relations between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union will be
improved to some extent, the announcement and subsequent signing of the
agreement has come under criticism from EU officials. As a candidate state for
EU membership, Serbia is obliged to align its foreign policy with the foreign
policy declarations adopted by the EU member states. The level of alignment of
Serbian foreign policy with the foreign policy of the European Union has
already been at the lowest level, compared to other Western Balkan countries. The
low level of alignment is conditioned by the relationship between Serbia and
Russia, precisely by the fact that Serbia has not imposed sanctions on Russia.
At the EU foreign ministers summit held in August 2019, European officials
criticized Serbia, pointing out that signing the agreement moves Serbia away
from its strategic and long-term foreign policy goal – European Union
questionable how much Serbia will really profit from signing an agreement with
the Eurasian Economic Union. The existing agreements have provided access to
the largest part of the market of almost 200 million people. Apart from Russia,
none of the remaining four member states is a significant foreign trade partner
of Serbia. The most important partners in the field of foreign trade are still
EU member states and CEFTA countries. What constitutes a significant part of
the signing of the agreement is the further intensification of relations with
partners from the east and the tendency to act towards an alternative to the
process of gaining EU membership.
politicization of relations with partners from the east has to some extent
distracted the public from the Serbian European integration process, which has
been stagnant for quite some time and is increasingly uncertain in terms of
obtaining a concrete date for Serbia to become a member of the EU. Serbia’s cooperation
with non-EU countries is greater than ever. With a traditional partnership with
Russia, cooperation with China is at its historically highest level.
can also be seen as one of the actors with which Serbia develops close
relations, primarily through announced joint projects in the future, such as
the Belgrade-Sarajevo highway. Signing an agreement with the Eurasian Economic
Union is all about pursuing a foreign policy in a direction that can be called
creating a safety net or creating a “plan B” in case the European
integration process fails, or Serbia does not get a date for becoming a member
state of the European Union.
uncertainty of the results of European integration for the Western Balkans
countries allows the influence of other actors in this area and the conduct of
a foreign policy that will be based on fostering relations with other actors.
The signing of the agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union is a step which
shows that decision-makeing processes in Serbia, especially in the foreign
policy area, takes into account other actors with whom relations could be
further intensified, primerely Russia, China, and Turkey. Unless the process of
European integration is intensified and concretized, cooperation with other
actors, including the Eurasian Economic Union (with Russia at the helm) will
become a relevant alternative and a way to secure Serbia’s position in the
field of international relations – a position of a country that has no EU membership
perspective and is located between East and West.
First published in Novi Magazin weekly no. 444, 31 October 2019
Photo: Russian Federation government