BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia is determined to join European Union despite the bloc’s “problems” but will do nothing to jeopardize its good relations with Russia, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said.
Dacic is also deputy prime minister in Serbia’s ruling coalition that is expected to win four more years in power in Sunday’s general election.
The government opened negotiations on EU membership last December, and hopes to complete them by 2019, but opinion polls show Serbs are increasingly skeptical about the benefits of joining given the painful economic restructuring required.
Years of euro zone crisis and Britain’s June referendum on whether to leave the bloc have also clouded the EU’s image.
“Clearly, the EU has problems. There’s no international institution without problems in its functioning,” Dacic told Reuters in an interview on Monday evening.
“Serbia is neither Norway nor Switzerland to say it does not need the EU. (Brexit) is a danger to the EU, not to our determination to enter the EU,” he said.
Serbia’s ties with Russia, with which it shares Slav and Orthodox Christian history, and its link with rising power China, will not be harmed by plans for accession to the EU, Dacic said.
Serbia relies heavily on Russia for gas and sees Russia as an important market for its agricultural exports. It holds military exercises with both NATO countries and Russia and has no plans to join NATO.
In 2014, Serbia refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, despite EU pressure to align its foreign policy.
“Serbia has no intention of making any moves that would jeopardize its EU path, but neither will it make any moves that could jeopardize ties with our traditional friends, including Russia,” Dacic said.
The 28-nation EU is Serbia’s biggest trading partner and investor and two former Yugoslav republics - Croatia and Slovenia - are already EU members.
Editing by Adrian Croft and Raissa Kasolowsky