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The day after and the unfounded optimism

Before the EU’s decision on the Transitional Agreement for the realization of The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), an atmosphere of great expectations was created in Serbia. Just like before an important football match, they said “we’re winning”, and “we’re going to the finals”. After the match, of course, they turn tail. That is what happened here as well. First an impression was created that the EU was again asking for something from Serbia and that maybe this time even the persistent Dutch would give up. Serbia is allegedly supposed to fulfill the wishes of the EU by delivering certain people to the Hague tribunal. It is forever being suppressed why these people are wanted, what they did and that it is in Serbia’s interest to get rid of them, since it did not have the strength to prosecute them itself.

This kind of situation was supported by some domestic politicians, naturally, with gushes of completely unfounded optimism. This was spearheaded by the members of the negotiating team. Instead of being the most sober ones, they were saying that the Agreement would be passed, right up to the day of decision. When they saw the atmosphere in Brussels, they became more restrained. Too late.

A choir of European politicians, some from Brussels, some from other national capitols, sang along with the domestic ones. Those from Brussels figured that passing the Agreement and starting the realization of the SAA would lead Serbia to finally meet its obligations to the Hague tribunal, because otherwise it would have a lot more to lose then if there was no realization. Those in the national capitols may have figured something similar, but they had another reason as well – to ensure easier access to the Serbian market for their businesses. Although the Serbian market is a small one, the state of the European market is bad and every opportunity should be taken.

The drama would be incomplete if we were to leave out the journalists. I cannot recall getting so many calls from them ever before, asking me to say “something optimistic” or even openly suggesting what this optimism should sound like. After I explained the situation, some of them were willing to diminish their optimism, while others still insisted that optimism should remain in the form of a question. Therefore, instead of the question being “what are the Serbian citizens losing by the Transitional Agreement not being signed”, the question was “what are the Serbian citizens gaining from the Transitional Agreement”. I don’t know what they will say now; I guess they will say “They are gaining a lot, only there is no Agreement”.

Of course after Brussels said “no”, there was a sense of disappointment in the country. However, this disappointment was directed at the wrong target. No one is blaming the Serbian government for not having met the obligations to the Hague tribunal, rather blame is placed on stubborn, even curmudgeonly Dutch. Instead of explaining that their optimism was a huge error in judgment, the members of the Serbian negotiating team, are already initiating a new round of optimism, saying how the Agreement would be approved by mid-October, in December etc. The journalists are, naturally, again joining in.

Only a few voices are asking why Serbia shouldn’t begin implementing the agreement on its own, as some Brussels officials recommended. This is not only possible, but would benefit the consumer in Serbia, as well as the reputation of the Serbian government. Because, with the passage of time, the customs duties and barriers for businesses from the EU would decrease, which would lead to a drop in consumer prices of goods and services. Product quality would rise and so would the freedom of choice. It would also have an anti-inflationary effect. The government could begin passing the laws that are part of the requirements for the SAA. This would benefit the businesses and citizens of Serbia. The only ones who would suffer from the implementation of the SAA would be the uncompetitive businesses and monopolists. Uncompetitive companies would have to change or they would disappear. Monopolists would lose a part of their profits, they would have to try harder to draw consumers for less money. Since the Antimonopoly Commission cannot do anything, this would be an efficient way to limit the monopolistic activity.

The governments says that it doesn’t intend to implement the SAA unilaterally. If they were willing to do that, they could have done it before it was even made, simply because it would be useful for a large majority of citizens and businesses in Serbia. All the governments formed after 2000 could have done it if they wanted to. Most likely, this government will also not do anything. It would rather wait for the EU to vote again.

In the meantime, besides cooperating with the Hague tribunal – which is the focus of the EU’s formal requirement – Serbia should focus of some other things in its interest, while keeping in mind how the EU perceives it.

There are a few issues of this nature. First of all, the position of Serbs in Kosovo is not likely to improve if Serbia keeps making things difficult for EULEX. Serbia will also hardly to get sympathies in the EU as a country that wants membership but is hostile to the EU mission. Secondly, the lawsuit in the UN Court contesting the recognition of Kosovo makes little sense. It could have only a slight impact on future recognitions of Kosovo by states that still haven’t done so, but no country that has already recognized Kosovo would withdraw its recognition, regardless of the Court’s ruling. Although Kosovo was recognized by only fifty countries, those are the countries which produce two thirds of the world’s capital. A large majority of EU members recognized Kosovo. Thirdly, leaving aside the fact that it is not in Serbia’s interest to sell the Petroleum industry of Serbia (NIS) to the Russians at a cut-price, there is a foreign policy aspect to that. The EU is long aware of the inconsistency of going around Brussels and begging the EU for money, while giving away much larger sums of money to the Russians. Finally, if it wants some sort of respect from Brussels, the Serbian government should make some reforms.

So, instead of spreading unfounded optimism, which is constantly suffocating us, regardless of whether we are talking about sports, culture, economy or politics, there are a lot of sensible things to do. Optimism makes sense only after those things are done. Naturally, in order to get something done we need to roll up our sleeves, and take on the risks and responsibilities. It is a lot easier to spread optimism. That can be done sitting in an armchair, and the mechanisms for this are well oiled.

Translated by Ivica Pavlović

Peščanik.net, 24.09.2008.