Serbian plans to enhance trade ties with Russia have triggered a backlash from the EU, but Belgrade is standing firm.
The Balkan country wants to move forward with the signing of a deal with the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russian-led regional bloc, despite warnings from Brussels that the Balkan country would have to withdraw from all bilateral trade accords if it were to join the European bloc.
A Serbian official told POLITICO that the country is “very well aware” of its obligations as an EU accession candidate.
Belgrade has had a trade agreement with Moscow since 2000 and plans to sign an additional agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, whose members include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, on October 25.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić met Monday with Alexander Bocan-Harchenko, the newly appointed Russian ambassador to Serbia, to discuss the signing of the deal, the Serbian official said.
Brussels, however, hinted that such an extension of economic ties with Russia stands in contradiction to the country’s ambitions to join the EU.
“In the context of its EU accession negotiations, Serbia committed to withdrawing from all bilateral free trade agreements on the day of its accession to the EU,” a spokesperson for the EU’s External Action Service said Wednesday.
The country first applied for EU membership in 2009 and has been engaged in membership talks for years.
“The EU remains Serbia’s most important trade partner, covering 63 percent of total trade, with very good dynamics of growth,” the EEAS spokesperson said, adding: “Trade with Russia is less than 10 percent of Serbia’s total trade.”
A European Commission report on Serbia from late May said that Belgrade’s planned trade deal with the Eurasian Economic Union “will have to include an exit clause, which guarantees that Serbia can denounce the agreement by the date of its accession to the EU.”
The EU spokesperson admitted, however, that “Serbia can enter into agreements with other countries or organizations before the country’s EU accession.” Euronews first reported about the EU’s warning.
The Serbian official stressed that talks on becoming a member of the bloc had only advanced slowly recently.
“It doesn’t seem likely we will be able to join the EU in the next 2-3 years,” the official said. “In the meantime, we have to look have at our own interests. We have a good relationship with Russia.”