Why Europe: Serbia’s security remains indivisible from the EU

Marko Savković

04. January 2020

Why Europe: Serbia’s security remains indivisible from the EU

Part of Novi magazin’s special report http://novimagazin.rs/vesti/zasto-evropa

Photo by Osman Rana

Serbia’s security is inseparable from that of the European Union (EU). The country borders members and candidates for membership. It has been striving for membership for two decades; with more or less determination. The policies introduced by the Union in response to new security challenges are followed by Serbia – with the notable exception of sanctions on Russia, where Serbia’s disposition is also determined by how the issue of Kosovo plays out. Organised crime in our region is cooperating in order to reach the lucrative EU market.

Although it seems that the resolution of Kosovo “knot” has been delayed indefinitely – in large part because of the mistakes and misjudgments of leading EU member states – the role the EU has to play is still significant. Once dialogue is resumed, stage will be set for new High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Joseph Borel, and whoever he designates as his Special Envoy. Whether the solution is sought in the “quint”, the “troika” or the Security Council format, as long as there is at least the illusion of a “European perspective”, Brussels will have a say in the matter.

Serbia controls its external borders together with Frontex, the relevant agency of the European Union. Decisions in migration policy concerning border control, treatment of migrants and asylum are made after consultation with Brussels and other capitals. The security of its borders depends on an agreement that the EU, and above all Germany, concluded with Turkey; as well as Europe’s ability to find a more durable solution to the irregular migration issue.

We can state the same for other “transnational” threats: down to the “latest”, “hybrid” – where the EU, together with NATO, develops a policy, a “center of excellence” (in Helsinki) and proposes an answer. In the field of security policies, the EU is one of the innovators for Serbia whose practices professionals in the sector must follow.

As a candidate country, Serbia has chosen to participate in European Union peacekeeping missions and has been doing so for seven years. Its participation gradually grew in quality and scope; from medical teams through liaison officers to special forces.

It is one of three “partner countries” that are partners of the European Defense Agency, hoping that this will once again open up opportunities for its dedicated industry; while its officers are seated at Union military headquarters. It has identified units that will contribute to the “Balkan Battle Group” (formerly HELBROC), which may once be used somewhere.

There is, however, one area of ​​action that the EU has overlooked over time. It is about security sector reform and democratic and civilian oversight. Recent practice in Serbia is very reminiscent of late Macedonia under Gruevski; there is a suspected misuse of security services in the context of political “struggle” and the production of affairs. The negotiation process does not know the chapter on reform (security sector) but is viewed – albeit insufficiently – through several key ones, including chapters 23 and 24.

All that being said, it is hard to imagine that in the domain of security policies, Serbia will start doing things “on its own”. As much as, given the recent events, it was far from membership, it remains bound by the decisions made in Brussels. The opportunity cost of a different commitment is still too high.

First published in Novi magazin no. 452-453, 26 December 2019