Serbian President Vučić on EU bid and making "huge efforts” to normalise Kosovo relations
The European Commission is keen to offer the prospect of EU membership to six Balkan states, amid growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.
Serbia, along with Montenegro, is likely to be the next country to join the European Union, possibly by 2025. The EU hopes Belgrade's influence in the Balkans could help other aspirant members reform. But it is not all plain sailing..,
Obstacles remain, notably over relations with its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence a decade ago..
Euronews spoke to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić
Sandor Zsiros, Euronews:
"Two years ago, you talked to Euronews and you said that your country is tired of waiting for European Union accession. How do you feel now, before the Sofia summit?"
Aleksandar Vučić, Serbian President
"During these two years, we had another drop of EU popularity in Serbia. But anyway, we still have the majority of the population on our side. People are not jubilant anymore about it, but, rationally speaking, they are for our EU path."
"If you look at the budget proposal of the European Commission, there is no indication that other countries should join the European Union until 2027. So when actually could Serbia join the European Union, according to you?"
"First of all, I think that no one has ever guaranteed us that we would be a part of the European Union in 2025. But they were saying: 'If you deliver...' It was mainly about the Kosovo arrangement. 'If you resolve all our problems with Pristina' and than everything else including the rule of law and everything that we are asked to do, then we might become a member of the EU in 2025. And we are on our EU path since 2000. It has already passed 18 years and that's why people feel, from time to time, exhausted. But anyway there are no better solutions. We will do our job. And we will invest huge efforts, attempting to find a solution for the Kosovo crisis."
"How will this normalisation between Pristina and Belgrade look in reality? Especially when you look at the fact that last week the Kosovan karate team was actually banned from Serbia, they could not enter..."
"We acted in a very proper way. We allowed them to enter, but with no state flags of Kosovo. Because to us they are not a state. But not only to us. But to all the others. And we agreed that they would come without state flags and there won't be state flags of Serbia as well, and all the other countries. And you can do it, no national anthems and everything else. They were responding; 'No, no, we don't accept it' because they wanted to be banned."
"Looking from the outside, it's the same kind of provocation than what happened last year, when Serbia sent this train to Kosovo with a huge Serbian flag and with the banner saying 'Kosovo is Serbia'. Isn't it the same? Mutual provocations against each other?"
"There are no mutual provocations. If you see, when you say to us, that Kosovo is an independent state, is that a huge provocation against Serbia? And you think that even your country, the country that you are coming from, has recognised the independence of Kosovo, is that a huge provocation today? Should I consider yourself as a big provocateur? Because you have a different opinion on the legal status of Kosovo than we do? We respect the fact that they think differently, speaking about the legal status of Kosovo, than we do. And that's the difference. And you really think still that it was a provocation that someone was writing that 'Kosovo was Serbia'. Wow. I think that Kosovo is Serbia. Am I provoking you? Or what? Are you going to arrest me? Kill me? Or what? If that's a big provocation. And at the same time, I am very much ready to speak about compromise and to do as many concessions as possible. But not to humiliate Serbian people. And not to undermine Serbia's interests."
"I would like to ask you why Serbia is not applying economic sanctions against Russia because as a candidate country, you should basically follow the decisions of the European Council?"
"Can you imagine us imposing sanctions against Russia? Russia is the only country, together with China, that is supporting us in the United Nations Security Council when we speak about the territorial integrity of Serbia. What do you expect from us? To cut our both legs? And then to say, okay now everything is good. And to say yes, when we say 'Kosovo is Serbia' that's a big provocation. It shows that even you did not come to me and you don't think that you should be neutral regarding the status of Kosovo. No. Although there are five EU countries that don't recognise the independence of Kosovo. Why don't you say to them, that they are provoking Europe on a daily basis."
"Now the 'New York Times' said lately that Serbia edges closer to autocracy. And the 'Foreign Affairs' news magazine said that you are Europe's favorite autocrat, who is providing stabilty, but operating in a …."
"That was not said by those magazines or papers. That was said by Serbs, my political opponents, that were writing those articles."
"So Serbia can fulfill the Copenhagen criteria?"
"We will be very ready to discuss all the problems that people feel. But I was listening from all the others that, in Serbia, will happen... terrible attacks and murders and everything else but it happened in Slovakia, in Malta, in Montenegro recently. But it did not happen so far in Serbia. You have heard of some of these cases that were happening in Serbia? No. You have not. And it won't happen. But I am also absolutely certain that we need to do something because one part of our media society and civil society, they are dissatisfied for some reasons. And I am very ready to listen to them and to see what we can do to overcome these kind of different opinions and to see what we can do to sit down together and to find the best possible solutions for everyone. But please buy tomorrow's papers and tell me, is there anyone that is more attacked than myself?"