Serbia’s president has said he is “fed up of being lectured” by European leaders about close ties with Russia and China, insisting Belgrade remains committed to EU membership despite unprecedented delays to accession.
Aleksandar Vučić, a right-winger who has been in power since 2017, told Euronews that Serbia was still on the path to joining the EU despite disillusion with the project.
In an interview in Davos, he took aim at critics who say Serbia is too close to Moscow and Beijing, blaming the stalled membership process on “geopolitics.”
“Serbia is not very enthusiastic, but we are still committed towards an EU path because we don't see a real alternative.” he told Isabelle Kumar. “We have been on that path for 20 years already. I think, apart from Turkey, not a single country has been waiting for so many years.”
Serbia 'not jubilant' about EU — but 'grateful'
He denied that slow progress in normalising ties with Kosovo, against whom Serbia fought a war two decades ago, was the exclusive reason his nation was behind the curve on accession, blaming a lack of incentive from the EU and Western allies.
“It was mainly because of the Belgrade-Pristina relationship,” Vučić said. “But at the same time, even today, I discuss this [issue] not only with European officials, but with [US Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo as well. And I asked him if we do that arrangement with Pristina, if we find the compromising solution, if that would be enough to join the European Union. And nobody from the EU — or even from the US because they were co-operating closely — could confirm that we would be a part of the EU.”
He added: “It means that we need to wait for a decision and a conclusion from the European Union, whether they want to see Serbia as a part of European Union or not.”
The Serbian leader said he was “not jubilant” about the state of his relationship with the EU, but was nonetheless “profoundly grateful” to Brussels for its help when major floods hit the country in 2014.
But he expressed anger when asked when he would choose between Moscow and the EU, saying Western media had “a problem” understanding that Belgrade’s ties with Moscow were “for the benefit of Serbian people and that's for the benefit of our country.”
'Do your job'
Serbia’s police recently received reinforcements from China to cope with a growing number of Chinese tourists and workers.
Vučić said: “I always say to Putin — and I don't hide it, like many other politicians from European Union, because when they see Putin they forget where they come from — I say to him that we are on an EU path … that’s our strategic goal.
“But it doesn't mean that, even when we become an EU member state, that we will shut all our ties, stop all our links with Russia, with China all the others.”
He added: “To tell you the truth, I'm fed up of being lectured and told by all the others about our co-operation with China, Russia, and then I see all the others meeting Xi Jinping and Putin even more often than I do. Do your job. You are sovereign states. Serbia is a sovereign state. We do everything that is for the best for our people and for our country.”
Serbia economic growth
Serbia will not make “false” decisions to please the EU or Moscow, he said. “We don't know whether we're going to be a part of European Union within three years, five years or seven years. We'll keep all our ties for the sake of all people and that’s our politics.”
He also said his economy was the strongest in the western Balkans, with 4.5% growth last year and 4.1% this year, which shows “that we are heading in the right direction.”