Not everyone in Belgrade is convinced…(via Limbic, Flickr)
Buying love has a tradition in the European Union: Think of the generous farm subsidies to calm its disgruntled big members or the gigantic bureaucracy to give every member-state a Commissioner. Ahead of Serbia’s election, which is taking place today, the EU once again presented its generous side: In late April, it signed an agreement with Serbia’s government which brought it a bit closer to the “route to membership” (with the implication that the pre-condition of Serbia being willing to track down war-criminals is obsolete for now); on May 6th, it announced a lot of Serbs would no longer have to pay for EU-entry-Visas (unlike countries like Macedonia, who are far more ahead in passport technology and EU-negotiations).
The gifts are all aimed to please Serbian voters and to cool down the EU-scepticism, which according to polls has given the nationalism of Tomislav Nikolic’s Radical Party a slight edge against the pro-European camp of President Boris Tadic, the Democratic Party. But will promises from Brussels help to turn the tide and prevent Serbia from turning to Russia? Last polls show Mr. Nikolic still leading. And even if Mr. Tadic’s side wins – what would be the consequences? Mistrust against the EU has not so much to do with the delay of negotiations, its roots lie in the EU-role in the Kosovo-conflict. After Kosovo declared independence a few months ago, the EU was unable to speak with a single voice. At the same time, a European mission is standing in line to take over from the current UN peace force in the next couple of months , strengthening the Serbian resentment about Kosovo as a “EU protectorate”.
A free visa and a EU-perspective might be good for symbolism – but it looks like for the next decade, the Kosovo-question largely determines Serbia’s opinion about the EU. Continuing presents might buy Brussels some time, but in the long run, it may ultimately have to decide whether to back Serbia or Kosovo.