Visa return is EU’s ‘deadliest weapon’ to put pressure on Serbia
Recently, there have been frequent accusations that Serbia is “trying to destabilise the EU on Russia’s orders”, writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
It recalls the claims of Konstantin Kulet, deputy leader of the Liberal group in the Bundestag, who said that “the Serbian government is Putin’s extended arm in the Balkans”, and of Christian Democrat Interior Minister the Province of Brandenburg Michael Stiebgen, said the same.
They claimed that Serbia was deliberately letting people from India, Tunisia, Burundi or Cuba into the country without visas so that they could go to the EU and apply for asylum. Stibgen called this “asylum tourism”, which Serbia supports. German politicians have demanded a review of Belgrade’s EU accession negotiations or of the money from pre-accession funds.
But as Frankfurter Algemaine writes: “The doubts about Serbia are understandable, but in this case untenable.” It certainly does not add to confidence that the Balkan country has not joined the sanctions against Russia. What has gone wrong, however, are the accusations that Serbia is undermining the EU by encouraging unauthorised migration on Putin’s orders.”
The newspaper states that the main objective of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic “is to strengthen his power. He is unlikely to risk a serious conflict with the EU, where Serbia’s most important markets and trading partners are – as long as his stay in power does not depend on it.”
Noting that the EU is not happy that, in addition to the 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees, many migrants from India or Burundi are coming through Serbia, the Frankfurt newspaper focuses on the threats this poses against Serbia:
“Warnings of a possible freeze in accession negotiations are a blunt sword against Belgrade.” These negotiations have been stagnant for years. Suspending them would leave little impression on the Serbian population, which is critical of the EU anyway. Moreover, even among EU supporters in Belgrade, almost no one believes that EU accession is realistic,” the text adds. “”Equally, Serbia could be threatened with a ban on access to Mars.”
The situation is different, writes Frankfurter Algemaine, with the topic mentioned by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ilva Johansson – that the EU abolish the visa-free regime for Serbian citizens to travel to the Schengen area.
“This would hit Serbia’s economy hard, as well as the mainly urban population that travels, and the authorities.” This is the most lethal weapon in Brussels’ arsenal”, the newspaper commented.
The EU has had a mechanism in place since 2013 to do something like this, say in the event of a “significant and sudden” increase in the number of irregular migrants from a particular country.
If visas for Serbian citizens were reintroduced, “many in Serbia would remember the days of sanctions, wars and the autocrat Slobodan Milosevic”, writes the Frankfurter Algemaine. “That feeling of isolation fell from the earth like a heavy nightmare during the cancellation of visas in 2009, it was a real upheaval. Anger due to a return to the dark times would certainly be directed against the Serbian government.”
But, the newspaper adds, President Vucic has already responded to the warnings. In November, two of Serbia’s visa-free agreements – with Burundi and Tunisia – will expire, and Brussels is pushing to do the same with India.
“Thus, the European Union still has influence in the Balkans, because it has given something that the countries of the region do not want to lose with visa liberalisation”, concludes Frankfurter Algemaine./DW