First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic held the following lecture entitled “Serbian Foreign Policy Priorities” for the attendees of the Diplomatic Academy programme:
“Dear participants of the Diplomatic Academy programme,
After realistically reviewing the security and political challenges that we are facing today, and respecting international law, the Republic of Serbia has defined the following as its key foreign policy priorities: principled fight for the preservation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty; continuation of the negotiating process with the European Union pending full membership; further development of good-neighbourly relations; strengthening economic bonds with major countries; and military neutrality. In the implementation of its foreign policy goals, the Republic of Serbia is guided by its legitimate national interests, resorting to diplomatic activity and dialogue as a means of deepening the traditionally good relations with friendly countries, while establishing, at the same time, better quality relations with those partners in the international community with which we share positions on certain issues and understand differences of opinion. Such a policy of independent decision-making which is, we are convinced, realistic and right, requires a lot of effort to reflect nuanced positions and strike a balance among many divergent interests that are conflicting, more often than not.
Today, Serbia is on the right track, as a result of its foreign policy and the strategic choices made over the past years. The reform path and European Union membership, on the one hand, and the enhancement of its relations with world policymakers – Russia, China and the United States, on the other, as well as the development of the relations with friendly counties of Africa, Asia and South America, whereas the essential and foremost priority in its foreign policy action is to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, with Kosovo and Metohija as an integral part of Serbia.
Irrespective of the fact that these priorities seem to be mutually antagonistic – preservation of Kosovo and Metohija vis-à-vis European Union membership, enhancement of relations with the Russian Federation as well as with the United States – actually they are not, because they are anchored in the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, and because they are being pursued while abiding by the fundamental principles of international law.
In the diplomatic efforts to protect international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter, that is, the principles of sovereign equality and inviolability of territorial integrity, Serbia is actively engaged on bilateral and multilateral levels. It has close cooperation with friendly countries that have not recognized the unilateral declaration of the so-called Republic of Kosovo aimed at preparing argumentation and adopting a joint position towards third countries and international organizations so as to prevent the membership attempts of so-called Kosovo. In defiance of the vast lobbying on the part of some Euro-Atlantic countries in order to promote independence of so-called Kosovo, Serbia has made a significant accomplishment in this respect. Last year, Serbia prevented the attempt of so-called Kosovo to become a member of UNESCO and Interpol, while it was particularly engaged in denying its admission to the World Customs Organization. In this context, I would like to underline that the joint efforts on the international level by Serbia’s highest officials and all the relevant ministries and institutions have resulted in the slowed process of new recognitions of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, as well as the revocation of recognitions, as seen in the cases of Suriname and Guinea Bissau.
At the regular quarterly sessions of the UN Security Council devoted to the work of UNMIK, Serbia continued its activities to the effect of preserving the format and the existing dynamic of convening UNSC sessions concerning the UN Secretary-General’s Reports on the work of UNMIK. We are continuously drawing attention to the fact that the presence of UNMIK – in the existing format without downsizing it and change of mandate – as the guarantor of status neutrality of the international presence in Kosovo and Metohija is vitally important for the security and confidence-building among the communities in Kosovo and Metohija. On the other hand, we regret to note that the other side has made no progress in respect of establishing the Community of Serbian Municipalities, and we wish to warn that the unilateral acts of Pristina, particularly its efforts aimed at creating “Kosovo Armed Forces”, are unacceptable. Activities continue on the international level to improve the status and protect the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo and Metohjija, and to work on the full implementation of the Regional Housing Programme for refugees.
The role of KFOR in Kosovo and Metohija, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1244, is exceptionally important not only from the aspect of Serbia’s interests, but the region as a whole. Serbia fully supports the mandate of the KFOR Mission, and it is highly important that its presence in Kosovo in Metohija is not downsized. Serbia highly appreciates NATO’s approach that decisions on the size and deployment of KFOR forces be made based on the assessment of the security situation, without setting premature frameworks. KFOR plays a highly important role in the protection of the Serbian inhabitants, as well as in respect of Serbian cultural and religious heritage sites in the Province.
Membership of the European Union is one of Serbia’s strategic foreign policy priorities. Although we believe that Serbia could make more rapid progress along its EU path, we support the “regatta principle” based on the assessment of progress made by individual states, rather than all regional states in a “package”. Last year has seen the opening of 6 negotiating chapters out of the total of 12 that Serbia has opened thus far, whereas 8 are at various stages of the negotiations.
On the other hand, Serbia’s commitment to Common Foreign and Security Policy has been demonstrated through its participation in military and police peace missions, building capacities for participation in civilian peace operations, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including successful cooperation with the EU during the refugee and migrant crisis. Serbia has embarked on a review of its strategic documents in the security and defence areas, guided by the Global EU Strategy and other strategic EU documents.
A special segment in Serbia – EU negotiations is Chapter 35, which determines to a considerable extent the course of the entire process. Achievement of progress in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue is set as a condition for progressing in other areas, which aggravates the process because of Pristina’s continued obstruction of the implementation of the agreements reached.
Developed and successful regional cooperation through many regional initiatives is also conducive to Serbia’s EU membership. The Republic of Serbia has taken a constructive stand in respect of the participation of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Pristina in the work of regional forums, which is a requirement under Chapter 35. In compliance with the agreements reached, Serbia has accepted the participation of “Kosovo*” (with an asterisk and the known text of the footnote): in the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) and the activities in the Migration, Asylum and Refugee Regional Initiative (MARRI).
I particularly wish to single out the on-going “Berlin Process”. Four summits have been held so far: in Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Trieste, and 19 meetings convened at the level of relevant Western Balkans government ministries and the European Commission. Within the framework of the “Berlin Process”, Serbia has worked devotedly to deliver on the commitments undertaken within the framework of the “Connectivity Agenda” – the initial backbone of the process, aimed at construction and development of infrastructure as the basis for an accelerated regional development, where Serbia has made greatest progress compared to the rest of the region. At the most recent Summit in Trieste, Serbia and other Balkan countries commenced their work on strengthening trade, investment and digital connectivity.
Serbia considers its relations with NATO through the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme as a highly important area of its foreign and security policy. Serbia is pursuing its policy of military neutrality, reflecting its desire not to join any military alliance. However, military neutrality is not an obstacle to the promotion of its partner cooperation with NATO. Political dialogue has been on the rise, particularly following the adoption of Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP). The standards reached through the participation in the PfP programme proved considerably conducive to Serbia’s successful participation in UN- and EU-led missions and operations. A proof of the high level of cooperation with NATO is the fact that, this year, Serbia will be hosting, for the first time, emergency response exercise. The Republic of Serbia is participating in four EU missions, with a total of 35 Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) personnel, and additional six UN missions and operations (Congo, Liberia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Middle East and the Central African Republic). In 2017, almost 700 SAF personnel took part in peace missions and operations worldwide.
Fight against terrorism is a joint task, particularly in respect of radical Islamism and the Jihadist phenomenon. Serbia is a member of the Global Coalition against ISIS/Daesh. It devotes particular attention to the “foreign terrorist fighters” phenomenon, that is, the registered soaring of radicalisation and violent extremism in Kosovo and Metohija (according to the estimates, more than 300 persons from Kosovo and Metohija have participated in ISIS ranks, on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq). Moreover, equally threatening is the registered presence of terrorist organizations’ cells including Al Qaeda, Mujahideen and the Wahabi movement.
The energy security issue constitutes one of the key factors in the economic development of states. Energy supply is not solely an economic issue, but also a national security issue. Serbia supports Energy Community priorities in a series of projects significant for the entire region – “Trans Adriatic Pipeline”, “Adriatic Ionian Pipeline”, construction of interconnectors, construction of liquefied gas terminals, etc., whereas the activities concerning the “Turk Stream” are also being followed attentively.
One of the foremost foreign policy priorities of the Republic of Serbia is the preservation of the stability in the region, enhancement of good-neighbourliness and further economic recovery, including higher standard of living for all people. We have as yet clearly confirmed in each and every situation, without exception, Serbia’s determination to address, by way of dialogue, all outstanding issues with its immediate neighbours in the region. This approach has produced significant results, last year.
The visit of Turkish President Erdogan to Serbia has opened, according to mutual assessment, a new chapter in the relations between the two countries. During the visit, 15 inter-state agreements were signed, including the declaration on the establishment of the High-Level Cooperation Council between the two countries, whose first session is expected to convene in 2018. The relations between Serbia and Greece have been raised to the highest level; the Greek President and Prime Minister visited Belgrade and the First Session of the High-Level Cooperation Council with that country was held in Thessaloniki.
Political dialogue is held on the highest level, both in trilateral and quadrilateral formats – with Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. It is our expectation that the intensity of the dialogue in this format will be maintained in 2018, as well, whereas the next quadrilateral meeting is scheduled to take place in March 2018, in Bucharest. Last year saw the renewal of the trilateral format at foreign ministers level with Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina, while we are also resolved to continue the trilateral cooperation on the level of foreign ministers of Serbia, Italy and Albania.
It should be pointed out that we recently substantially promoted dialogue with Albania. In that sense, I would single out in particular our joint interest in projects Nis-Pristina-Durres highway, Belgrade-Podgorica-Shkoder-Durres railway as well as setting up of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office and the Western Balkans Fund, etc.
Despite Serbia’s efforts to normalize and promote relations in its neighbourhood and the region, we have to be frank and admit that the other side often did not reciprocate by offering a hand in return. As you know, this was much in evidence in the last year at our meetings with Bosniak officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, officials of Croatia, Macedonia… Still, our country will not be discouraged by such conduct of our neighbours to implement its clearly defined priorities and it will continue to promote the policy of good-neighbourliness and cooperation preventing at the same time any unprincipled conditioning and attempts to internationalize issues that fall exclusively within the competence of sovereign States.
Our interest lies in developing best relations possible with leading European countries. I would single out in particular Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, France, Austria and other European countries.
One of our foreign policy priorities is maintenance and promotion of the already good relations with the Russian Federation. Based upon traditionally good relations we have built a strategic partnership by signing the Sochi Declaration in May 2013. We maintain regular highest level communication. Russia is one of the leading foreign trading partners to Serbia. In addition to the economy, the two countries have successful cooperation in the fields of energy, culture, science and other areas. Russia fully supports the territorial integrity of Serbia, both at bilateral and multilateral level.
On the other hand, we also wish to take our relations with the United States one step further. Although our positions regarding the resolution of the Kosovo issue differ, we are committed to the same goal of stability in the Western Balkans. In order to achieve this goal, Serbia is a reliable and responsible partner. Over the past years, political dialogue at the highest level has been stepped up, coupled with development of economic and military cooperation.
Recently, the relations with China have considerably improved leading to strategic partnership and the visit of the Chinese President to Serbia in 2016. We exchange support on issues of key interests to both States and maintain dialogue at all levels. The Republic of Serbia fully supports the initiative of the Chinese President Xi Jinping “Belt and Road” and actively participates in the cooperation mechanism between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries. At economic level, Chinese companies are leading infrastructure contractors in Serbia improving the connections both within the country and the whole region, thus creating favourable environment for foreign investments. As a result, Serbia is currently the country with the largest number of joint projects in Central and Eastern Europe.
Yugoslav “Third Way” policy and its leading role in the Movement of Non-aligned Countries today represents Serbia’s foreign policy asset in the fight for the preservation of our territorial integrity since most of African, Latin American and Asian countries share our views regarding the respect of international law. In that sense, Serbia attaches great importance to the development of comprehensive cooperation with these traditional friends, especially in terms of restoring economic cooperation and attracting investments as those States, including BRICS countries, are the engines of the global economy.
Although not being a typical foreign policy priority, protection of the rights and interests of our nationals and legal persons and provision of many services and various forms of assistance to them abroad, figure high on the agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, in 2017 with the assistance of Spanish and French Governments and national air carrier Air Serbia, 14 Serbian nationals stranded in the Caribbean region in the wake of Hurricane Irma were successfully evacuated. One of the priorities also includes the process of visa liberalization. Foreign nationals, holders of ordinary passports from 78 countries can travel to and stay in Serbia without visas while nationals of 116 countries still need visas. Our nationals can travel to 68 countries without visas and still need visas for 126 countries. The Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the PR of China on mutual abolishment of visas for holders of ordinary passports, which entered into force a year ago, is being successfully implemented. In 2017, in a bid to increase tourist visits and attract foreign investments the Serbian Government decided to abolish visas for the nationals of Peru, Iran, India, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau and Suriname.
The role of honorary consuls should also be mentioned here. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs steadily expands its network of honorary consuls. So far, the Republic of Serbia has 73 honorary consuls abroad. In September 2017, we established a consular post in Spain, headed by an honorary consul, with a seat in Zaragoza. In January and February 2018, we plan to formally open a consulate headed by an honorary consul in Perth, Australia, Serbian consulate in Martin in the Slovak Republic and Serbian consulate headed by an honorary consul in Auckland, New Zealand.
The protection of the rights and interests of our nationals abroad and development and promotion of ties with Serbs in the region and diaspora is a constitutional duty. To that end, one of the priorities include activities aimed at cooperating with the diaspora and the Serbs in the region, with a view to promoting economic cooperation, affirming Serbian culture and preserving the Serbian language abroad.
As motherland, Serbia has an interest in enabling the nationals of the Republic of Serbia and members of Serb communities abroad to enjoy all individual and collective rights guaranteed under international conventions and bilateral international agreements. The Republic of Serbia seeks to help diaspora and the Serbs in the region to become integrated in the States in which they live, bearing in mind that only a well-integrated community can contribute to the promotion of bilateral relations.
On the other hand, integration runs the risk of ending up as assimilation. To avoid that, we are making all efforts to meet the needs of Serb nationals and ex-compatriots abroad and help them to preserve their national and cultural identity.
In that connection, intensification of bilateral dialogue with the States from the region also pertains to the promotion of the rights of members of Serb people in the regional States regarding the use of Serbian and Cyrillic alphabet, nurturing Serbian culture, national history and freedom-loving traditions, preservation of national geography, preservation and protection of Serbian political representation and association in the countries they live in.
I hope that I have managed to provide more concrete information on some of the major challenges and achievements of our foreign policy and thank you for your attention.