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The EU''s Foreign Policy vis-à-vis Serbia: When Conditionality meets Denial

Bernhard Stahl
Universität Passau
Bernhard Stahl
Universität Passau

Abstract

When the Balkans stumbled into the abyss of nationalism, “ethnic cleansing” and war in the 1990s Yugoslavia’s image rapidly degraded from a valuable member of the non-aligned movement to a pariah state. Serbia inherited this label, the high hopes of the October 2000 revolution evaporated after Djindjic’s murder 2003 and Serbia not only remained an illiberal democracy but also a “problem child” of the international community. For the European Union – after having declared its substantial commitment to the region after the Kosovo war – solving the “Serbian question” therefore means the key challenge for its SEE policy. Consequently, the EU has been making use of its well-proven external governance tool: the promise of accession (with the core principle of conditionality). The thesis developed here is that the EU’s policy towards Serbia largely failed. The theoretical argument is based on identity theory. In this perspective, the EU’s problematic behavior vis-à-vis Serbia stems from her uneasiness to come to terms with the “near other” of the Western Balkans. Serbia – by contrast – seems unable to leave the past behind and therefore still struggles to find her place in Europe. In order to highlight the two-sided identity problems, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations will be examined in detail (2005-2010). The working hypothesis is that the EU’s conditionality strategy is over-strained since the EU pursues too many different goals and the EU’s rhetoric resonates badly in the Serbian discourse. As a consequence, the conditionality principle has degenerated to a policy of farce.