October 25, 2016
There are few good news coming from Brussels these days. The pundits are still wondering if Brexit will happen, hoping it would not and wondering at the same time how hard it will be. CETA negotiations are an embarrassment for the EU. They showed that not only one single country but one region in a small member state can block a trade agreement. To make matters worse, common market and trade policy used to be a least contested and best functioning EU policy area. Agreement on migration policy is non-existent. The Euro crisis persists. Turkey is cooling in its EU membership ambitions.
In all this doom and gloom it was so refreshing to see that the Union remains attractive at least to some. Recently I took part in an event in Belgrade, Serbia, that gathered the government officials and civil society deliberating how to speed up the accession negotiations and how to better prepare Serbia for it.
Most striking was the enthusiasm of young people – students who were showing short viral YouTube videos (on chapters 11, 19 i 23) what the EU can mean for their peers. It was great to see that the youth of Serbia is so pro-European. Very clearly Europe is in their future. The event was organized by the Deutche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit and the Serbian National Convention on the EU.
The latter is “a permanent body for thematically structured debate on Serbian accession into the European Union, between representatives of the governmental bodies, political parties, NGOs, experts, syndicates, private sector and representatives of professional organizations”. It has a numerous following and an impressive working plan that includes “shadow” expert groups on various negotiation chapters that will have to be addressed by Serbian negotiators. EU accession is clearly not a program of the governing elites but also of the NGOs and the young.
I am not sure about the attitudes of the older generations but I not a pessimist. On the same day there was a celebration of World War II liberation of Belgrade. The number of vintage communist flags was much, much smaller than what we are used to seeing in Slovenia. But the elderly sealed Brexit in the UK. In Serbia they look towards Russia, who is a reliable partner of this also Slavic and also Orthodox country.
There is nothing wrong with that, Russia is a European power, but Brussels would do well to recognize and value that there are European countries still enthusiastic to join and who are demonstrating that the EU still is attractive. It is one of these things that could disperse some of the gloom so evident in these rainy autumn days in Brussels.Žiga Turk