On April 29, 2008, Serbia signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union (EU). This has caused much debate in Serbian politics. I keep seeing the different parties mentioning the SAA and so I did a bit of research about it. Here is what I found.
The 27-member country European Union (EU) has a Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) with countries in or near Europe that are not part of the EU. One of the countries involved in this process is Serbia. Serbia has been identified by the EA as a “potential candidate country” and some leaders in Serbia are aiming for EU membership sometime between 2012 and 2015. Part of the SAP is these candidate or potential candidate countries signing Stabilization and Association Agreements with the EU. These are detailed contracts of the relationship between the EU and the country involved.
The agreement is basically the EU offers Serbia tariff-free access to some or all EU markets, and financial and technical assistance. Serbia in return commits to undergoing political, economic, trade, and human rights reforms.
One of the stumbling blocks with signing the SAA was Serbia’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The agreement covers a wide range of the economy, law, government, etc. Some aspects of the SAA include:
• EU facilitating visas for Serbs to EU countries
• 164.8 million Euro financial assistance from the EU
• Serbia needs to cut down corruption and have a stronger justice system and constitution
• Civilian oversight of the military
• Better human rights for Roma and other minorities, women, children, prisoners, etc.
• More protected freedom of expression in media and citizens
• Stopping of ethnic violence
• Serbia have friendlier relations with neighboring countries
• Fight against organized crime
• Lower inflation and have a market economy
• Fight trafficking in human beings
Most of these “demands” by the EU are characteristics of a modern functioning state that is trying to do the best for its people. I understand the viewpoint of some in Serbia that they are losing some autonomy. There should also be some historical resentment of larger powers dictating the affairs of Serbia. For hundreds of years, Serbia was controlled by the Ottoman Turks and the Austro-Hungarian empires. Other Great Powers from time to time also have interfered with Serbia like Germany and Russia. I haven’t read enough about the International Tribunal to make a comment on it. I know there is resentment and calls of unfairness from Serbs regarding this. That will be a future post for me.
I would think however, that economic factors take precedence over this. Economic prosperity for my family is important and it probably is for most Serbian families. Serbians for hundreds of years have benefited by being close to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Many became rich merchants in trade with the Empire, mostly selling pigs for AHE consumption. In fact the royal families of Serbia started that way. Serbia has taken steps this century to open their markets. Many older Serbians were hurt with these reforms because they live on pensions from the old communist government of Yugoslavia. Some politicians in the radical bloc are not in agreement with these reforms and further economic integration with the EU. They seem to offer Russia as an alternative. I would think the French, Germans, etc. would be better consumers of Serbian products than the Russians.
The question of what kind of relationship Serbia will have with the EU is looming large over the country. It will be interesting to see how it will go. Here is a link to a B92 interview with EU spokesperson Christina Gallach about the SAA agreement.