Dacic: Problems that caused wars have not been removed (TV Happy/Tanjug)
Only a blind person can believe that problems in the Balkans ended, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told the talk show Cirilica (Cyrillic) on TV Happy. Regional conflicts will last as long as the reasons of these problems last – if you push all problems under the carpet, you will trip on the carpet, said Dacic. “Have the problems that caused wars in the Balkans been removed – no. This is just an intermezzo between new clashes, not because of the Serbs, but because of unresolved issues in the Balkans. If the big powers do not realize this, they are creating a problem, we will be turning around in a circle,” said Dacic.
Speaking about pressures of the big powers on countries that haven’t recognized Kosovo, Dacic directly mentioned the US, Great Britain and France. “I can’t say that these are our friends, I apologize to President Vucic, they are not working for our interests, they are working against our interests. I can respect them as partners, but far from them being friends,” he said, adding: “These are big powers, they think that just because somebody is from the State Department they can dictate conditions here. The US will analyze our military cooperation with Russia, if they have something to say, let Donald Trump or Rex Tillerson come and tell us, I am not going to listen to Bryan Hoyt Yee telling me this, he can go to my assistant, deputy…” On the other side, he adds, the Russians are our friends, our brothers. “Ten years ago many countries recognized Kosovo under pressure. Ten years passed, but Kosovo didn’t complete independence and will never do so as long as Serbia is such, as long as Serbia is under this authority, as long as it will not make compromises to the detriment of its state. Russia will not allow Kosovo to become a UN member because it has the right of veto,” said Dacic.
Speaking about relations in the region, Dacic pointed out that the Serbs in Slovenia do not have the status of a national minority, that in Croatia they were once a constituent people, and that Croats are now a problem for Bosnia-Herzegovina. He also said that in Montenegro, a third of the population declares themselves as Serbs, but, he added, “I am looking to see one Serb hold an office in Montenegro – what kind of a thing is that?” “I told Milo Djukanovic that it would be too much to ask for reciprocity , considering how many Montenegrins hold offices in Serbia – they would not have no spots left for Montenegrins,” Dacic said. In Macedonia, he added, the government believes that Serbia is working against that country – “we challenged that many times.” “They warn us from the EU about using the term the Republic of Macedonia, we have problems in the negotiations with the EU… they say it must be FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). We are getting our knuckles rapped for recognizing Macedonia under its constitutional name. The Greeks are angry, the EU is angry, while Macedonia is voting in favor of Kosovo in UNSCO. Do you want us to be friends? We will, but it has to be mutual,” said Dacic.
Turkish Kurd extradited pursuant to decisions by court, commission – ministry (Tanjug/Beta)
Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic has signed the consent to the extradition of Turkish Kurd Cevdet Ayaz to Turkey pursuant to a final decision by a court that found that all conditions for his extradition had been met, as well as pursuant to a final decision by the Interior Ministry’s Commission on Asylum to reject his asylum request, Tanjug has been told by the Ministry of Justice. The Justice Ministry said it had fully complied with a UNHCR recommendation that Serbia abstain from extraditing Ayaz pending resolution of his asylum application.
Sutanovac DS candidate for Belgrade mayor (Blic)
Dragan Sutanovac will be the candidate of the Democratic Party for the Belgrade mayor, Blic writes. At a joint session of the Presidency and DS caucus that was held on Tuesday, it was proposed that the leader of the Democrats be the head of the list that the DS will lead at the city elections in March. Previously, the Belgrade DS municipal boards had supported this idea.
The decision of the former mayor Dragan Djilas to run for mayor without previous agreement has prompted the DS leadership to have their own candidate for the elections.
Appeal for defense of Kosovo gathered intellectuals and bishops (Novosti/Politika)
The Montenegrin-Littoral Bishop Amfilohije is only one of the signatories of the “Appeal for Defense of Kosovo and Metohija”, which was prepared and initiated by a group of prominent intellectuals from Belgrade and Serbia, Novosti writes. The daily was told at the Montenegrin-Littoral Metropolitan that the Appeal was not sent to anybody individually, but to all those responsible for the future of Kosovo and Metohija, and several bishops of the Serbian Patriarchate are among the signatories. The headquarters of the Metropolitan in Cetinje deny that any kind of presentation of the “Appeal” to closest associates was organized at the religious gathering in Lustica or that secret meetings were held, as reported by some media. At the same time, Politika writes that the “Appeal” is actually a proclamation composed in the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). The idea had come from the DSS Political Council, which formulated this text and should present it to the public by Christmas. The initial text was given to several people outside the party for their suggestions, since at issue is a topic that goes beyond the party, Politika was told in the DSS. Asked whether this was a way to respond to the internal dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija launched by President Vucic, in which the DSS is not taking part, DSS leader Milos Jovanovic negatively responds and says the idea is to gather as many as possible intellectuals and people from the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The “Appeal” by public figures is an expression of opposition to the policy on Kosovo and Metohija conducted by the authorities in Belgrade. The text voices opposition to any division of the province, its admission to international organizations and signing of the legally-binding agreement with Pristina.
Dodik: Concept of coordination mechanism is biggest achievement in 2017, it stops centralization (RTRS)
Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik summarized achievements of the ruling authorities in the RS, in terms of political, economic results and foreign policy. Speaking about the elections in 2018, Dodik said that SNSD will propose candidates for the seats of the RS President and Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency. He did not reveal whether he will run for the post of a Serb member of B&H Presidency, but he said that this is the only real option, bearing in mind that he cannot longer run for the other post, due to legal limitations. However, Dodik stressed that he is yet to consider this option.
Commenting on economic achievements of the RS in 2017, he argued that the past year was successful and that the RS Government reduced costs in the public sector, with a rigorous policy that banned hiring in this sector.
According to Dodik, establishment of the concept of the coordination mechanism was the biggest achievement in 2017, which in his opinion, stopped attempts of centralization of B&H. Dodik stressed that the RS is far from a divided society, reminding that at least six, seven political parties voted for adoption of the RS Budget for 2018, giving 51 votes which is the highest number of votes received during adoption of the RS Budget, in the last couple of years.
Speaking about the foreign policy, Dodik underlined that the RS managed to position itself on the EU scene in a gradual way and stressed that no action on B&H’s EU path is possible, without participation of representatives of Serbs. In his opinion, the way B&H is functioning at this moment disables the country to become an EU member state. At the end, RTRS carried Dodik saying that Serbs do not care about the NATO which bombed them and decided that the RS should transfer its military property to the level of B&H, in order to activate the Membership Action Plan (MAP).
Ivanic asks Dodik to allow participation of Third Regiment during marking of January 9th (Klix.ba)
Member of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency form Republika Srpska (RS), Mladen Ivanic called on the RS President Milorad Dodik to change his decision and allow participation of Serb soldiers in B&H Armed Forces in marking of January 9th.
“We need to endure this battle and there is no need to turn victory into defeat. I call on RS President to enable members of Third RS Regiment – the only regiment carrying coat-of-arms of Nemanjic family and legacy of RS Army- to participate in marking of January 9th as everyone else”, said Ivanic to media in Bijeljina. He noted that this would be “matter of unity and content”, stressing that he does not mine if ceremonial platoon of the RS Police will be lined up as well and of the RS President will carry out the lining up, but participation of Third Regiment should be allowed. “I think these honest people, who love the RS, need to be allowed this possibility, and to do that in spite of all the demands for this not to happen”, said Ivanic. He told media that the pressure was exerted on him, not to line up the Regiment in Banja Luka and noted that representatives of international organizations and certain people from Sarajevo already asked him to give up this idea and he rejected them all, as he expected that soldiers form Third Regiment will be present. With the current decision of RS President, Ivanic deems, RS fulfills desires of everyone who asked this, Bosniak policy and part of the IC.
Jerinic condemns Dodik’s decision re participation of B&H AF in ceremony marking RS Day (ATV)
Republika Srpska (RS) Minister of Interior Dragan Lukac confirmed that some 500 members of the RS Ministry of Interior (MoI) will participate in the ceremony marking the RS Day – January 9. Lukac added that this number includes 50 members of an honorary platoon of the RS MoI. He underlined that members of this platoon will be wearing special uniforms prepared for this occasion and that they will line up to honor the RS. Although organizers of the ceremony marking the RS Day refuse to reveal the prepared program, it is certain that members of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Armed Forces (AF), i.e. members of the Third RS Regiment of B&H AF will not participate in it. Reporter reminded that RS President Milorad Dodik decided that B&H AF will not participate in this ceremony. Dodik’s decision was condemned earlier by B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Crnadak. Deputy Minister of Defense of B&H Boris Jerinic underlined that the Third Regiment of B&H AF inherits tradition of the RS Army and that this is sufficient reason they should participate in the RS Day marking the ceremony. Jerinic believes that members of B&H AF from the RS are hurt with Dodik’s decision. “The RS President should not give up on the RS citizens regardless of their employer”, explained Jerinic. He also stated that this decision might be beginning of Dodik and SNSD’s pre-election campaign. RS Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic said that the goal of Dodik’s decision is to avoid the situation in which Serb members of BiH AF will face consequences of participating in the abovementioned ceremony. Reporter reminded that upon the request of Serb member of B&H Presidency Mladen Ivanic, members of B&H AF participated in the RS Day ceremony in 2017, adding that no one of these soldiers faced any sanctions.
US Embassy to B&H on US Congressman Turner’s initiative for “Dayton 2” (Hayat)
With regard to the initiative of US Congressman Michael Turner that “Dayton 2” should be signed, the US Embassy to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) has issued a statement saying that members of the US Congress often present their stances that do not necessarily reflect the current policy of the US. The statement reads that the US supports the Dayton-based Constitution of B&H, a sovereign and independent state with two entities and three constituent peoples, which guarantees human rights and legal protection to all of its citizens. The US Embassy to B&H issued a statement explaining that the Embassy does not comment on individual initiatives of congressmen and that do not represent the official stance of the US Department of State.
Former HVO member sentenced to 14 years in prison for war crimes against Serb civilians (Srna)
The B&H Court sentenced former HVO member Azra Basic to 14 years in prison for war crimes committed over imprisoned Serb civilians in Derventa and village Polje in 1992. Basic was extradited to B&H from the USA in 2016 after a long and complicated extradition procedure
Congress to Pentagon: Give us everything about Russians in the Balkans (RTRS)
Due to concerns regarding spreading of Russian influence in the Balkans, the US Congress instructed US Defense Secretary James Mattis to prepare the analysis on security cooperation of Russia and each individual country of the Western Balkans. Mattis, with approval of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, needs to submit both Houses of the Congress and relevant committees with the report. The report shall include an assessment of security cooperation between each Western Balkan country – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia – and the Russian Federation. It shall include a list of Russian weapons systems and other military hardware and technology valued at USD 1,000,000 or more that have been provided to or purchased by each Western Balkan country since 2012. Furthermore, the report shall also include a description of the participation of each Western Balkan country’s security forces in training or exercises with the Russian Federation since 2012, as well as description of any security cooperation agreements each Western Balkan country has entered into with the Russian Federation. The Secretary of Defense is also tasked with providing an assessment of intelligence cooperation between each Western Balkan country and the Russian Federation. The goal of the report is to give the US an insight in “how much the security cooperation between each of the countries of the Western Balkans and Russian Federation, influences the security interests of the US, NATO, countries of the Western Balkans, as well as each of NATO members who share border with countries of Western Balkans”, reads the Congress document. Congress further expects similar report to be submitted on security cooperation of each of Western Balkans countries with the USA, as well as evaluation of cooperation of each of the countries with NATO.
President’s Office says messages sent out during holiday season must not incite conflicts (Hina)
“If politicians wish to send out messages during the holiday season, those messages should not incite conflicts and they should contribute to mutual understanding and the settlement of outstanding issues” the Office of the Croatian President said on Tuesday in a statement prompted by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic‘s statement that the possible reason for the cancellation of his visit to Zagreb was his statement that the number of “missing Serbs is higher than the number of missing Croats”.
Serbian NGO accuses Croatia and Hungary of illegally returning migrants to Serbia (Hina)
A Serbian civil society association, which is engaged in offering assistance to migrants, on Tuesday accused Croatia and Hungary of returning to Serbia dozens of migrants on a daily basis and thus violating international laws.
Decision on border demarcation postponed for 15 January (MINA)
The Kosovo parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs did not send the Draft Law on Border Demarcation with Montenegro to the parliament. It will decide on the matter at the next meeting scheduled of 15 January. Until then, the State Border Marking Commission should submit possible additional arguments that Kosovo loses a part of its territory by the demarcation agreement. The commission, appointed by PM Ramush Haradinaj, reiterated before the parliamentary committee that the former commission did not do the demarcation of the border with Montenegro, but established a new border line. They added that the commission also exceeded its authority and that Kosovo had effectively governed the controversial part of the territory by 2009, which according to the agreement belongs to Montenegro today.
Mocnik: Western Balkans to be more involved in EU projects (Pobjeda)
Twelve EU member states led by Slovenia and Italy have proposed to the European Commission that the Western Balkan countries are given greater participation in Union programs and the work of European agencies. The EC is expected to apply the suggestion when drafting a new strategy for the Western Balkans, the ambassador of Slovenia to Montenegro Mitja Mocnik said in a statement to Pobjeda. “Those are programs such as Erasmus+, Creative Europe, Kosme, Horizon 2020 and similar things. We also suggested that somehow the approach for those countries that are not at all in the negotiation process is somehow harmonized within the chapters 23 and 24, in order to open some dialogue. All this will be announced after the New Year,” ambassador Mocnik specified. He explained that this was not a document that would be an alternative to the EC strategy, but a proposal that is expected to be included in the strategy, which is to be published in early February.
Ivanov called for “compromise instead of revanchism” (Meta)
In the 50-minute speech in parliament among MPs and from the government and the main opposition party – VMRO-DPMNE, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, heads of state institutions, heads of religious organizations and foreign diplomats, President Gjorge Ivanov, called for a ceasefire. He said that the Macedonian public space has been poisoned with hate speech, personal frustrations and a desire for revenge. At the same time, the Macedonian President urged for urgent reforms in UBK, as the generator of the crisis, and welcomed the agreement on good neighborly relations with Bulgaria and the efforts of the Macedonian government to resolve the name dispute, and demanded unconditional protection of the Macedonian identity, the constitutional name of the state. Regarding the law on languages, he asked MPs to draft a new version after an extensive public debate with many experts, because, as he said, the present seriously violates the unity of the Republic of Macedonia and he does not make progress in the protection of the rights of nationalities. He also spoke about fake news, which, he said, was himself a victim of, when he was accused of wanting to declare martial law and demanded responsibility from the creators. He claimed that certain institutions and responsible persons mount cases based on fake news and false information. Ivanov alarmed that over the past three years, more than 30% of intelligence identities have been disclosed and thus endangered lives and an agency’s data collection network has been destroyed. The Macedonian President called for “a merciless fight against corruption and organized crime” and reforms in the judiciary. According to him, the reforms should be implemented with eminent, objective and independent experts, on which no party influence and pressure will be exercised. Ivanov’s speech from Parliament Hall was met with loud reactions and disagreements when he spoke about the law of languages, the so-called Tirana platform, the reasons for the political crisis, Kosovo and the “Divo Naselje” case and the “For a United Macedonia” protests.
Ivanov’s annual address was a shameful party-political speech, say SDSM and the government (Meta)
The annual address of the President of R. of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov at the Parliament, according to SDSM is a “shameful and party-political speech, where Ivanov proved once again that he neither has been nor shall be a president for all citizens.” the ruling party said that apart from that, President Ivanov showed that “he cannot abandon the policies of divisions and factions.” SDSM said that it is odd because Ivanov mentioned subjects about which he kept silent for a decade. The government also reacted to president’s speech at the Parliament and it stated that “president Ivanov remains entrapped in divisions and factions, in a time when Macedonia is turned towards securing welfare for its citizens.” “Instead of acting like a statesman, today Gjorge Ivanov sent several messages to the citizens that call for further divisions and who are additionally confronting the concepts of one, single and united society. Instead of having a united society and standing together in a single historical and key moment for the Republic of Macedonia, its president has turned the rule of law and the principle of accountability for everyone without any exceptions into an act of revanchism.”
Parties comment President Ivanov’s annual address (MIA)
Ruling SDSM and its coalition partner DUI are criticizing President Gjorge Ivanov‘s annual address in the Parliament, while for the opposition VMRO-DPMNE he presented own views about the developments in Macedonia in the course of 2017. SDSM MP Frosina Remenski considers that the President missed the opportunity to distance himself from the rhetoric of divisions and conflicts, promoted by VMRO-DPMNE for the last few years. He failed as Macedonia’s President to offer a slightest contribution to reconciliation in this vital year for restoring the democracy in the country, she said. For the last ten years, she went further, Ivanov said nothing about the developments in the country – the then ruling party (VMRO-DPMNE) control over the public administration, politically-motivated court cases, persecution of political opponents, galloping corruption, environmental problems, 24 December 2012 incident in the Parliament, dubbed ‘Black Monday’ (when the then opposition SDSM MPs refusing to vote for the budget were forcibly removed from the parliament, along with the journalists) and the ordered attempts for murder in the Parliament this April. Ivanov has marred the government’s efforts to advance the good-neighborly relations – one of the international community’s key criterion for strengthening the interethnic cohesion, Remenski said pointing out that he failed to perform as a president of all citizens of Macedonia. For new VMRO-DPMNE leader Kristijan Mickoski, the President’s speech was comprehensive, reflecting his own opinion.
DUI MP Artan Grubi defined the President’s speech as an oxymoron. DUI has over 20 remarks to the speech, Grubi said, singling out the one related to a draft law on languages.
‘The bill wraps up the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, signed in 2001 by the four major political parties and the then president Boris Trajkovski. The draft derives from this agreement, the European Peace Institute’s analysis, and most important from the country’s constitution, Grubi said. The President should contribute to the social cohesion, good interethnic and neighborly relations, Grubi said, adding that Ivanov’s comments about Macedonia’s neighbors, in particular about Kosovo, were scandalous and completely unacceptable for DUI MPs. ‘Ivanov should apologize for these comments,’ Grubi said.
Zaev-VMRO-DPMNE leader Mickoski: Opposition should take part in Macedonia’s reform processes (MIA)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and new opposition VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski had a constructive meeting Tuesday in spite of their different opinions about certain issues, the government said in a press release. PM Zaev and VMRO-DPMNE leader Mickoski however agreed on the need of the opposition to take part in the reform processes in Macedonia. They concluded that Macedonia’s future was within the European Union and NATO, which calls for an engagement of political stakeholders, namely of both ruling and opposition parties, the press release reads.
Zaev on name issue, coalition partners and parliamentary majority (MIA)
Name talks still lack substance, however there is commitment to solving the name issue, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Tuesday adding that the most favorable time to settle the row would be the first half of 2018. Commenting about a statement of Koco Angjusev, Deputy PM for economic affairs, involving the name issue, Zaev said he had took the liberty of commenting the name alternatives openly. “The citizens should be aware that the government will be transparent in the process.” On Saturday, Deputy PM Angjusev in an interview with a local radio station said the name issue should be settled. “Northern, Upper or New Macedonia – it is up to the people to say what they think. In my opinion, Northern, Upper or New are acceptable qualifiers,” he said stressing that the name row also affected the economy. “I’m a democrat, I respect different opinions. We haven’t yet delved into the essence of the talks with Greece. I hope it will be concluded with a final solution… The name process, mediated by UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, so far has produced a determination, as shown by the two parties, to commit more to settling the issue Greece has involving the name,” stated Zaev. I believe, he added, that a solution will be found at every level, between the ministers of foreign affairs, and between us, the premiers. “The first half of 2018 is an excellent time to finally find a solution to the problem and for Macedonia to move forward, i.e. to get a date for start of EU accession talks and to become a member of NATO,” PM Zaev said answering journalist questions.
Asked to comment on a statement of the Alliance of Albanians (AA) leader, Zijadin Sela, who said that his party would quit the government coalition once the law on the use of languages was adopted, Zaev said he expected to continue to cooperate so as to allow reform implementation in the country. He said he wasn’t concerned with the ‘thin’ majority in Parliament. It is in fact, the PM added, a sound thing for Macedonia and I don’t plan on being focused on elections next year, I plan on being committed to the pledged we made to the public. “After announcing the party is going to leave the government, I hope we will be able to continue to cooperate in pursuing reforms, the law on languages, ratification of the friendship treaty with Bulgaria, laws requiring ‘two-third’ majority, and in being committed to improving the overall quality of life in Macedonia,” PM Zaev told reporters in Prilep.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Hahn: 2025 ambitious but realistic goal (European Western Balkans, 27 December 2017)
VIENNA – European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn believes that 2025 as a date for the possible accession of candidate countries from the Western Balkans is a real but ambitious goal. “The president of the European Commission has stated, for some candidates, 2025 as a possible date of accession, which is realistic, although ambitious,” Hahn said in an interview with the Vienna daily Kurir. Asked whether Catalonia would leave the EU, he said that all participants should return to the dialogue. “The outcome of the election did not ease the situation on the ground,” Hahn said. Regarding the EU procedure against Poland, he pointed out that there was no talk about splitting the Union. “We are confronted with certain circumstances in certain countries that the rule of law, such as respecting judicial decisions, has not yet been sufficiently developed,” Hahn said. Regarding the future of the EU, he reminded that the Commission presented five options for reform of the Union and expressed the hope that an agreement on a central position would be reached. “The foundation will be – a concentration on large, globally relevant topics and the transfer of other topics to national states,” explained Hahn. According to him, it is crucial to cooperate in foreign and security policy, so that the EU can act as an international player, which requires the introduction of a majority vote since until now it was necessary for everyone to agree. To the conclusion that the EU is far removed from the active foreign policy and that Russia makes decisions in the Middle East, while the United States has withdrawn, and Europeans are only looking at their bare hands, Hahn explained, pointing out that Moscow’s influence is overestimated. “Isolationism of the United States provides the EU with a chance to play a much more active role,” said Hahn. Regarding the intentions for better coordination in EU defence policy, he said that it was the first step towards joint research and procurement activities and added that military expenditures must be more effectively used. Asked if the EU does enough to reduce migration, Hahn recalled that there are 20 to 25 million refugees around Europe, a constant challenge for Europe. “There is a gap between the EU and the immediate neighbourhood in terms of living standards, and we could work to promote economic development in order to give people a perspective in their countries. With the investment fund that could be used specifically for Africa, we can mobilize 44 billion euros from European companies for sustainable projects. The big problem is population growth, for example in Egypt, where we have up to 2.5 million people annually,” he explained. Hahn pointed out that Frontex has already been significantly strengthened, and expressed the hope that members understand when negotiating a new EU budget framework, that the protection of external borders is not free. According to him, it is important to fight against the cause of migration, and this is not possible only with Frontex.
2018 will be important for Western Balkans (EUobserver, by Bernard Kouchner, 27 December 2017)
The door to EU enlargement has at last creaked open, three years after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker slammed it shut by saying there would be no enlargements in his five-year term in office. For whatever reason – crises survived, an improved continental economy, Brexit – Juncker now feels the time is right to inspect the queue outside and hand out admission slips. But only two. And of those most eager for accession, these two are not among them. Accession remains a controversial topic in both Serbia and Montenegro, currently tipped as the top candidates for the next round of enlargement. Their leaders deserve great praise for forging ahead regardless, but the hard truth is that there are other nations, also in the Western Balkans, equally deserving of joining our Union and, crucially, far more enthusiastic about doing so. The rumour in Brussels is that Montenegro and Serbia are the top candidates because they are most apt to switch sides and cozy up to Moscow. Personally, I do not give much credit to this. Apart from oil and missiles, Russia has little to offer. But even were it true, it is not a sufficient reason to approve entry while denying others. The EU is not a cult formed to frustrate the ambitions of Russia. It is a union of nations with ambitions of their own, with common values, a shared culture and a shared perception of how to achieve prosperity and peace in the future.
Nations which share these values belong and should be given every possible encouragement to do so. I’m not arguing here that the front-runners do not belong in the EU. Far from it. Both are already negotiating the terms, and Montenegro in particular is well advanced in the process.
What is regrettable is that the EU, perhaps inspired by Juncker’s early scepticism, has kept others in the region in the slow lane, including those most enthusiastic about joining. Take Albania: Polls consistently show over 80 percent of its citizens want to join the EU. This shouldn’t in itself qualify the nation for membership. But where there is a strong consensus for accession, history tells us that the institutional and policy reforms required for accession are much easier to implement. In fact, Albania is proving this to be true. For over a year, its opposition Democratic Party fought furiously against particular aspects of the reform package the EU has asked of the Socialist Party government.
The result? Prime minister Edi Rama’s Socialists were returned to power in June with a clear majority. It is a mandate which should ensure continued progress towards alignment with EU standards, especially in the five areas Brussels has specified as prerequisites for formal negotiation: administrative reform, human rights, the battle against corruption, justice system reform, and action against organised crime. But the opposition is still resisting these reforms, as witness some shocking scenes of chaos and disruption recently in the Albanian parliament, when the minority Democrats tried to block the appointment of a new prosecutor general. “The people of Albania should not be surprised that their politicians are fighting amongst themselves,” a tartly-worded statement from the US embassy observed. “This means the judicial reform is finally being implemented.” It added: “The prosecutor general who refused to prosecute politicians is gone.” In other words, with reforms now at an advanced stage, this is exactly the wrong moment for the EU to keep Albania at the back of the queue. It is time to send a strong message to the Albanian voters that their support for reform and for the EU is having an impact.
Similarly a clear majority (54 percent) of Macedonians want EU accession (compared with just 26 percent in Serbia). True, its disagreement with neighbouring Greece over the use of the name – which Athens insists applies to one of its provinces – continues to pose a problem. But given the incentive of a faster-track entry to the Union, I suspect the Macedonian authorities would find a solution. And then there is the Republic of Kosovo, where I was once UN Special Representative.
A remarkable 90 percent of Kosovars want to join the EU. Sadly I doubt their wishes will be granted soon, with both Serbia and five current EU members refusing to recognise its legitimacy. But here too the EU needs to be more proactive, encouraging Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Spain as well as Serbia to accept the inevitable and acknowledge Kosovo’s sovereignty. It is an example of how the EU’s enormous “soft power” assets could achieve important results – if applied. My feeling is that Brussels has, until very recently, deliberately ignored the Western Balkans. Granted there have been distractions: Ukraine, the migration challenge, unemployment, Greece, and more recently Brexit and Catalonia. The mood music seems now to be changing. “If we want more stability in our neighbourhood, then we must also maintain a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans,” Juncker said in his state of the union address in September. My country, France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, has said much the same thing, declaring in the same month that the EU “will have to open up to the Balkan countries.” EU membership is part of the solution to Balkan instability and its long history of inter-ethnic conflict. Last month, Albania’s Rama issued a clear warning: “The Balkans in general, and Albania in particular, will progress,” he told a Brussels audience, “but if the prospect [of EU membership] fades away or becomes an illusion, then things can turn out wrong.”