European Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn on Saturday supported and encouraged Serbia's efforts to join the European Union, saying no country should obstruct another in its EU association and that he was confident that the Croatian parliament's decision to support Serbia on its European path was still valid.
The Croatian parliament voted with a large majority to support Serbia on the road towards the EU. That was done recently, by the previous government. For good reasons and out of conviction, I expect that vote to still be valid, Hahn told reporters in Belgrade after meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and attending a Serbian government session with the chief of the EU Mission in Belgrade, Michael Davenport.
Asked by the press if the EU would respond to Zagreb's rhetoric and if Croatia could block Serbia's Euro-integration because of Serbia's universal jurisdiction law, Hahn said Brussels was following all statements and messages and commended Serbia's decision to refrain from responding to statements and messages from Zagreb.
I am a friend of Serbia because I believe in reconciliation and the need to contribute to the development of the region. My job is not to provoke, quite the opposite, he said, adding that the region needed peace on the Euro-integration path.
Every country is better protected and has better prospects if it is in the EU, Hahn said.
It takes time but we are determined to go towards the final goal, Serbia's EU accession. There were some doubts about the mood after Brexit but all European leaders have voiced a strong commitment when it comes to enlargement to the western Balkans and Serbia is on the top of the list. Rest assured in the EU's determination and our support to you to join the European family, he said.
Responding to questions about the situation in Kosovo and frequent incidents against Serbs, Hahn said Brussels was "fully aware of all the problems" and that he believed the "multilateral setting" would "help to overcome bilateral problems" between Belgrade and Pristina.
"We cannot change everything from one day to the other day. There is a history, there are experiences and it's a challenge for politicians to have a vision, to go ahead but not to lose your citizens out of your eyes... Fortunately, your prime minister is a statesman," Hahn said.
Vucic told the same press conference that Serbia would "behave responsibly" in the region and that "Serbia's strategic goal is EU membership, but it will know how to protect its national and state interests."
"When we don't agree with the EU about everything, we will clearly say so, but we want to be part of that type of society, share those values, and I think that in future we will have to and want to reach many solutions," he said.
Vucic did not explicitly say if he expected the tensions between Zagreb and Belgrade to defuse after Croatia's parliamentary election, saying Belgrade would continue to refrain from harsh words against Croatia and its citizens. "That was one of our topics and I'm grateful to Johannes Hahn for, unlike some others in the EU, not running away from difficult topics."
He said Serbia wanted good relations with everyone in the region "because it knows how important the region is," reiterating that Belgrade would act responsibly regarding stability, peace and economic progress in the region.