Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Nice to Meet You!

Dessislava Dimitrova, June 19, 2012

It is often said that the first impression is the most important and if this is a fact then the first meeting of Serbia's president-elect Tomislav Nikolic with Brussels top officials seems like a normal, if not friendly conversation in the spirit of understanding with no disagreements on the main topics of the agenda. And this is the truth, at least judging from what the participants said during that part of the meeting which was available for media.

It is also often said that the lack of bad news is news as well. And this is also true – there were no bad news following Nikolic’s meeting with Herman van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton on Thursday (June 14th). But there were no clear signals either. Maybe because the expectations were that as Nikolic visited Moscow first and then Brussels the tone towards Serbia would be colder, but the truth is that most probably the European leaders are not fully aware whom they have met with. Having being defined for years as a hard nationalist, who had recently adopted a milder position, but who in the first days in office showed that he had not truly abandoned his past, Nikolic is more or less a mystery for Brussels.

Half-true, half-joke the following dialogue can be seen, as interpreted by Serbian media recently: Nikolic was unable to greet Baroness Catherine Ashton because of his poor English, while she was unable to recognise him and greeted him with: “Mr Tadic, nice to meet you, you look quite changed since we last met.”

Actually, according to official information, Nikolic and Ashton mainly discussed the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade where the president presented his idea in the future the negotiations between two sides to be led by Serbia’s new prime minister. He is also said to have convinced the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs that for Serbia there was no better future than the EU and that his next task would be to convince the politicians in his country to form a government as soon as possible in order not to lose precious time.

According to a top European Commission official, quoted by the Tanjug state-run news agency, the meeting with Ashton took place in a positive atmosphere but Nikolic got a reminder that his statements on Srebrenica and Vukovar were unacceptable for the EU and that the country should not deviate from the path of reconciliation and that this was extremely important for the European future of the whole region.

During his meeting with Barroso, the Serbian president was assured that the European Commission would not put the condition “Kosovo or the EU,” it becomes clear from Nikolic’s statement following the end of the meeting. In his official statement, Barroso himself said that the meeting was useful for both sides and that the EU’s wish remains Serbia to stay on the membership path, assisted by its EU partners. “As a Candidate Country, Serbia must now re-energise an ambitious reform agenda – and we believe this is also in Serbia's own interest,” Barroso pointed out.

In his words the main tasks before Serbia remain the judicial reform, anti-corruption policy, the fight against organised crime, media freedom, protection of minorities, and last but not least structural economic reforms needed to promote economic progress in Serbia that would allow young people in Serbia to find a job in the country.

All these reforms are vital for Serbia - we believe they will be necessary with or without the European accession - as they are in the interest of Serbia and we believe there is no time to lose, especially in the current economic climate. Moving ahead brings its challenges, but I think going ahead in this reform path is good for Serbia's citizens, good for the nation's European path and good also for the future of relationship between Serbia and the EU,” Barroso also said.

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