New methodology for Serbia’s EU accession process

An overview of the current state of affairs in Serbia's accession and recent changes

The flags of the EU and Serbia

The EU accession process is a long procedure, during which a country applying for full EU membership harmonizes its rules and legislation with the standing legal system of the European Union, the so-called “acquis”. The acquis represent the accumulated body of European Union law and obligations from 1958 to the present day. It comprises all the EU's treaties and laws (directives, regulations, decisions), declarations and resolutions, international agreements and the judgments of the Court of Justice).

The acquis is a term for the entire body of the legislation, both primary and secondary, of the European Union. It encompasses every legal act, principle, objective, agreement, treaty, resolution, opinion, institutional and operational practice as well as the case law of the European Court of Justice. These, together, make a set of legal obligations for the Member States. Known in the past as acquis communautaire, (community patrimony), the term was used for the body of legislation of the European Communities, but the shorter term was adopted when, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, this legal body was incorporated into the successor of the European Communities, the European Union.*

Serbia (along with 5 other Western Balkans countries ) was identified as a potential candidate for the EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003, and Serbia officially became an EU candidate country in 2012.

There were several milestones in the accession process for Serbia, which include the following:

In 2008, a European partnership for Serbia was adopted, setting out priorities for the country's membership application

  • In 2009, Serbia formally applied for membership
  • In 2012, Serbia was granted the EU candidate status
  • In September 2013, a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Serbia entered into force
  • In December 2013, the EU Council adopted the negotiating framework and agreed to hold the 1st Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia in January 2014.

Until recently, negotiations were divided into 35 thematic chapters. Important chapters for the agriculture sector are:

  • Chapter 11 – Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Chapter 12 – Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy
  • Chapter 13 – Fisheries

The agriculture portfolio of the EU accession process amounts to almost 1/3 of all acquis. It is to be understood that once-harmonized legislation cannot be just ticked off as a “job done”, since the EU legislation also goes through changes. In a way it is a “moving target” and a process that continuously needs to be monitored.

In 2020, the European Commission decided to revise the enlargement methodology.

The application of the new EU enlargement methodology in Serbia will be a "hybrid", since some of its innovations will be partially applied, considering that the negotiating framework will not change. According to the announcements from Belgrade and Brussels, by the end of February, the European Commission will present the criteria for negotiations by clusters envisaged by the new enlargement methodology. The new methodology of the EU enlargement means abandoning the logic of opening and closing individual chapters and shifting to grouping negotiating chapters that are thematically related in the so-called clusters. When it comes to Serbia, with 18 (out of 35) open chapters, the country has at least one chapter open in five of the six clusters.

Organizational diagram of the current accession process
©European Policy Centre

Serbian Minister for the EU integration, Mrs Joksimovic, is Serbia’s main negotiator with Brussels in the EU accession talks, and her team is changing its structure in line with the new methodology of work, so two new sectors will be formed. The first one will be centered on the rule of law and political criteria, and the other will be about the better coordination of the clusters of green agenda, digitalization and infrastructure connection. Agriculture topics will be a part of the cluster “resources, agriculture and cohesion”. Only Fisheries policy have met the opening benchmarks in the negotiation process and the rest of the sector is still to meet the threshold for the opening of negotiations.

The goal of Serbia is to open an entire cluster after a year of the pandemic. The Serbian Minister notes that “Serbia fares good in cluster 2.” According to her, this is important, because this is the cluster that will define many important policies and instruments for recovery of the EU, Serbia and the Western Balkans, as well as all potential candidates for the EU. The Ministry will designate coordinators for all six clusters, in order to raise the level of the political responsibility of EU integrations within the government. The Minister told EurActiv Srbija she believed the innovative negotiation system would suit Serbia and expedite the accession process.

Details about the new methodology should be specified by end of February - early March. Moreover, an intergovernmental conference should be held by the end of June, during Portugal’s presidency of the EU. On that occasion, the application of the new methodology in relation to Serbia should be completely determined. “It is important to note that Serbia is not idly waiting for that plan of the European Commission, but has engaged in dynamic communication with EU member states instead, working in a partnership with the Commission and offering suggestions as to the implementation of the new cluster methodology,” the Minister pointed out.

*Source: Horváth, Zoltán: Handbook on the European Union, HVG-ORAC, Budapest, 2011.