What does Serbian President Vucic’s visit to Sofia signal?

Photo: BTA

At the end of the past week at the invitation of his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev, President of neighboring Serbia,AleksandarVučić,made a visit to Bulgaria. A visit to the country holding the Presidency of the Council of EU that came just two weeks after the announcement of the new EU Strategy for the Western Balkans, according to which Serbia, together with Montenegro, are closest to entering the EU. Two days after Vucic's talks in Sofia,President of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker is paying today a visit to Belgrade.

Vucic's visit was also followed with great attention due to the fact that he is one of the most prominent political figures in Bulgaria’s western neighbor. As the leader of the center-right Serbian Progressive Party since its creation in 2008 Vucic became a prime minister in 2012 and remained in office until 2017, before nominating for the position current Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabić, but also became head of state in a crucial moment for Serbia's European perspective. AleksandarVučić's center-right policy is similar to that of the ruling GERB party in Bulgaria, and his mandate as president almost entirely coincides with President Radev's mandate. Because of these circumstances, it can be said that last week's talks outlined paths for bilateral cooperation between Sofia and Belgrade for at least three years to come.

After the talks, the presidents made joint statements that made it clear that Bulgaria would continue to support Serbia on its way to the EU. President Radevpointed out that the support would be for reforms and good neighborly relations in the region, which implies that this support is not unconditional. Sofia will obviously continue to call for solving disputes between Serbia and Kosovo. The Bulgarian statewould not give up its active protection of the rights of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia, judging by the fact that President Radev has explicitly called onVučić for measures to ensure progress in the regions where this population predominantly lives. It was agreed that during a forthcoming visit ofRadevto Serbia, he would also visit these region together with Vucic.

Speaking on this sensitive for Bulgaria issue,Vucicsaid that Serbiawould do its best to increase the number of pupils studying Bulgarian language.

Immediately before his visit to Sofia, Vucic spoke in Belgrade with Russian Foreign Minister SergeyLavrov. At these talks, Vucic said that Serbia would withstand pressure that could come in the name of its path to European integration and would not change its course towards ever better relations with Russia. Serbia would not introduce sanctions against Russia and would continue to be grateful to the Russian Federation "forprotecting the territorial integrity of Serbia and supporting its position on Kosovo.”These positions expressed by Serbia were not discussed during the talks in Sofia, which shows the Bulgarian side accepted them with understanding, perhaps even favorably, and relations with Serbia would be driven largely by pragmatism.

Indeed, discussions were dominated by questions of particularly pragmatic nature. At presidential level, a hope was expressedthat in the short term, cooperation in the field of infrastructure and energy would be enhanced. Projects said to be a priority for both countries were said to be the completion of the highway between Nis and Sofia, the construction of a gas interconnector between the two countries, optimization and electrification of rail links and increasing the number and capacity of border crossing points. AleksandarVucic told journalists that there are broad opportunities for cooperation in the military industry, as well. At Ministerial level, a Memorandum for Improving the Effectiveness of Rail Transport, a Memorandum for Cooperation in the Development of Danube Port Infrastructure, and a Memo for improving the exchange of experience and good practices in the field of labor, employment, Integration of people with disabilities, social security legislation and policies to promote employment and vocational training were signed.

English: Alexander Markov

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