Brnabic: EU Serbia’s strategic direction, but not at any cost (Beta/Politika)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has said that, to Serbia, accepting Kosovo’s independence and introducing sanctions against Russia to speed up the process of European integrations were not an option. “Were we to say today: ‘Sanctions to Russia and we acknowledge Kosovo’s independence’ – this road to Brussels would be much easier and faster. But that is not a road that is in Serbia’s interest… This road is absolutely not an option for Serbia,” Brnabic said in a New Year’s interview with the Politika newspaper. She said that the EU was Serbia’s strategic direction, but not at any cost. “The road of reforms, though, where you have rule of law, more efficient courts, where you are cracking down on corruption, have an efficient and transparent state administration, a predictable business environment — this is all part of the road that lead to the EU, and is in our interest,” she said.
Vucic on Kosovo (Novosti)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has declared that he thinks that it is impossible for Kosovo to get a seat in the UN, unless a form of agreement is made which would satisfy Serbs. “Right now, this is completely unacceptable,” Vucic said in an interview to the New Year edition of Novosti, but did not specify what is it that might incite the Serbian side to consider consenting to a Kosovo seat in the UN. Vucic has said that it would be good “to untie the Kosovo knot by the end of 2018” but added he is not optimist regarding reaching an agreement with Albanians. He said he is aware that he would be denounced by most of the Serbian public from the moment of a possible compromise with Albanians, but added he thinks he would be celebrated in twenty year time for doing the same thing. “They tell me all sorts of thing, but everyone is hoping that Vucic will resolve it all, that that entire burden will fall on my shoulders. Regardless of that, reaching an agreement with Albanians without conflict would be a historical event”, Vucic declared.
Stefanovic: US and EU should take stance on threats out of Pristina (Tanjug/B92)
Serbia cannot allow the Serbs to always be the people that can be killed and tortured with impunity. Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said this on Tuesday, reacting to the threats coming from Albanian politicians in Pristina ahead of the launch of the Specialist Chambers, i.e., the special court for KLA crimes. Stefanovic stressed in an interview for Tanjug on Tuesday that he expects the international community to react to these threats, above all, for the US and the EU to make their stances known – as the biggest supporters of Pristina in its efforts. “It is important that they declare themselves on what they say, when those people whom they support say that if justice is sought and if criminals are prosecuted, they will create new terrorist formations that will again kill people,” stressed Stefanovic. It is very important, the minister added, that we know what Europe thinks about, so that we, too, can take a stance on some issues. “If Serbia is trying to put all war criminals on trial, to give them fair trials in our country, that restore justice to the victims as well, it is normal that we want this to happen in the entire territory of Serbia, and also for the crimes committed against the Serbs. We cannot allow the Serbs to always be the nation that can be killed, cut, tortured, have their organs removed, while no one is held responsible, for ways to be found, when justice begins to be sought, to threaten and postpone the start of the trials and the formation of the tribunal,” he said.
At the same time, Stefanovic pointed out that the establishment of the court is a belated move, given everything that has been done to protect the criminals – which is why it’s questionable what it can achieve at all. “Volumes could be written about the pressuring of witnesses, their disappearance, the killings, the removal of forensic and other evidence, about what has been happening over the last 20 years. That is, of course, a question for the greatest sponsors of Kosovo’s so-called independence,” he said. Stefanovic also told the agency that his ministry is closely monitoring the events in Kosovo and Metohija, in order to prevent any possible spillover of instability and terrorist activities across the province’s administrative lines. Asked about the ministry’s cooperation with the Kosovo police, Stefanovic said it was very complex: “We started this cooperation through UNMIK, then through EULEX and we are trying through every channel, but also with the local security authorities of the Pristina side to establish a kind of cooperation that will guarantee the implementation of the law. It is not going easy.” But despite this, efforts will continue so that no criminal, including those abusing certain political offices, can find a safe place anywhere in the territory of Serbia, including in Kosovo and Metohija, Stefanovic concluded.
Telephone numbers in Kosovo and Metohija unchanged (Tanjug/Novosti)
Domestic charges apply – and will apply – to telephone traffic between central Serbia and Kosovo and Metohija, and the +383 geographic area code will not be required for calls in the Telekom Srbija landline and mobile networks, in spite of politically-motivated statements by the Pristina regulatory body, the Office for Kosovo and Metohija said in a statement on Tuesday. “The single telecommunication system will continue to operate in the territory of the Republic of Serbia…, and customers of the services provided by the company MTS d.o.o. will continue to make calls to central Serbia, and vice versa, in the same way as until now,” the statement said.
Kuburovic: ICTY documents to be available to Serbian judiciary (Tanjug)
Public documents of the ICTY will be made available to the Serbian judiciary and courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia by the establishment of information centers in the three countries, says Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic. The goal of the centers is to ensure the availability of all public documents of the ICTY – in particular, judgements and court records, which are fully public, Kuburovic told Tanjug in an interview. The provision under which judges and prosecutors are elected for a first term of three years will be removed from the Serbian constitution, which will also set out the possible reasons for relieving them of duty, while the executive and legislative authorities will no longer decide about the election of judicial office holders, Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic told Tanjug. Speaking about constitutional amendments that are under preparation, Kuburovic said a three-year first term could not ensure sufficient independence to judges and deputy prosecutors.
Avramovic: Draft declaration nearly complete (Novosti)
The draft joint declaration of Republika Srpska and Serbia on the survival of Serbs is nearly complete, with some details remaining to be fine-tuned, says the dean of the Belgrade Faculty of Law Sima Avramovic, who is also a member of the team working on the declaration. “Although it will be popularly called a declaration, which means a proclamation or something that is desired, the act that is under preparation will still have more of a legal than a political character,” Avramovic told Novosti.
Issue of missing Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija primary (Tanjug)
The Association of Families of Kidnapped and Missing Persons in Kosovo and Metohija on Tuesday called for making the issue of Serbs kidnapped and missing in Kosovo and Metohija the primary subject of the Brussels dialogue. It should be the number one subject in 2018, the association said in a statement.
Dodik: Not even 100,000 Muslim votes will help SzP if I decide to run (EuroBlic)
Republika Srpska (RS) President and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik did not want to state which position he intends to run for in the upcoming general elections, but he claimed that he will secure “a wide front which will win 70% of votes and this front will enter the joint institutions, establish authorities in the RS, be united and be a striking fist of the Serb people and the RS”.
Asked whom he would like to see as his counter candidate in case he decides to run for the Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency, Dodik said that he does not want to even think about other candidates, adding: “Surveys show that not even Muslim votes from abroad will help them if I decide to run. Since Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of B&H Mirko Sarovic is the best Serb Muslim in B&H, he probably counts on the same scenario that happened in B&H Presidency member Mladen Ivanic’s case. He won 38,000 votes the last time and defeated RS Prime Minister and SNSD member Zeljka Cvijanovic who won 20,000 Serb votes more than he did”. Dodik added that “our calculations show that not even 100,000 Muslim votes will help them. Foreigners and the US Ambassador most probably need Sarovic as the most flexible and smallest of Serbs”. Dodik also said that SNSD will discuss nominations with its coalition partners but he added that SNSD will have its candidates for the RS President and Serb member of B&H Presidency. Asked if he would agree to cooperate with the SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic in Sarajevo, Dodik replied by saying that no level of the authority at the level of B&H is elected but established. “If SNSD gets the majority, and it will get it, then it would be logical for it to represent the RS at the level of B&H. If one has a firm and confident political position, then one should not care who is on the other side”, Dodik said and denied that SNSD, unlike SDS, has any kind of cooperation with SDA. He was also asked to say if a possible SDP-DF-SBB B&H bloc would be more favorable partner than SDA, to which Dodik said that he favors nobody. “Our position is clear – restore constitutional position to the RS and then we can respect B&H. However, we do not respect this one that was imposed by violence of the High Representatives”, Dodik said and criticized the Alliance for Changes (SzP) because its only desire is to get positions in the joint institutions for as many of its members as possible. Asked if the 3rd Regiment of the Armed Forces (AF) of B&H will participate in marking of the RS Day, Dodik said that he is not the one in charge of deciding on use of the unit of B&H AF. “We do not want to be humiliated by anyone”, added the RS President.
Dodik commented on Serbia’s long-term stance on the position of the RS within B&H and said that this is the matter of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) and Serbia, as a member of the United Nations (UN), respects the international agreement. Apart from this, Dodik said that Serbia is also of the firm stance that it will respect everything agreed upon within B&H. Dodik noted that he is thankful to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic because he clearly stated that Serbia respects the international agreement but also because he said that “nobody will ever cleanse Serbs like it was done during operation ‘Storm’”.
Asked if the border between the RS and Serbia can be practically erased, Dodik said that the border will stay but it can be reduced to an administrative line. “In an abstract context, if we managed to create an independent RS, then we would create some kind of a relation with Serbia but the RS would never abolish itself”, Dodik added.
Commenting on the joint declaration on preservation of Serb people, which is being prepared by Serbia and the RS, Dodik said that the official document will be called “the Annex to the Agreement on Special and Parallel Relations” and he announced that the document should be adopted by the Serbian Parliament at the beginning of February.
Vulin: There is no ‘Dayton 2’, only Dayton which is signed and Serbia is guarantor (Srna)
In the interview to Srna, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin stressed that there is no need to change Dayton Agreement and that one should not play with such serious issues. “There is no ‘Dayton 2’, no ‘Dayton 3’. There is only Dayton that is signed. Dayton, which is base for functioning of B&H. Dayton, which is base for existence of Republika Srpska (RS) with clearly defined competencies and Serbia is guarantee of this Agreement”, said Vulin. He stressed that Serbia deems that change of Dayton would not improve life in B&H and stressed that Belgrade finds acceptable everything that three peoples and two entities agree on. “Without that, nobody from aside should not even try to impose ‘Dayton 2’ or any other Dayton. If they would try, I am certain that they will encounter the resistance of all peoples and entities, even of Serbia, as country guarantee of Dayton Agreement”, said Vulin, adding that nobody should play with such serious things. “Peace in B&H is of the outmost importance for us and we will do everything to preserve it”, said Vulin. Speaking about cooperation in military industry sector, between Serbia and the RS, Vulin said that Serbia is very interested for RS defense industry capacities. Speaking about crimes against Serbs in B&H committed by Serbian citizens from Raska/Sandzak, Vulin said that Serbia dealt with anyone who was suspected of crimes, regardless of their ethnic affiliation and place where crimes were committed.
Inzko: It is incredible and unacceptable that issues such as third entity and alleged statehood of RS are still appearing 22 years after Dayton (Dnevni list)
High Representative (HR) Valentin Inzko said that Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) has made some good positive steps on implementation of the Reform Agenda and has continued work on preparations of answers to the EC’s Questionnaire. On the other hand, continued HR Inzko, some political and institutional leaders, with certain exceptions, have not distanced themselves from nationalist topics and rhetoric that creates divisions, and failed to take the path of compromise oriented policies. That is why, added the HR, negative agendas dominated the year 2017. He went on to say it is incredible and unacceptable that issues such as the third entity and alleged statehood of Republika Sroska, as well as glorification of war criminals and warmongering statements, still appear 22 years after the Dayton agreement. Inzko further said it is clear that pre-election campaign is B&H has started, which however does not free the authorities and political parties from responsibility to improve the situation in the country. He also noted that the international community expects that political leaders reach an agreement on reform of the electoral system, which will enable undisturbed holding of the elections and successful implementation of the election results. “It is an absolute priority from standpoint of my mandate”, added HR Inzko.
B&H Prosecutor’s Office appeals against first-instance verdict in Oric case (RTRS)
The B&H Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal to the first-instance verdict of the Court of B&H in the case of wartime commander of the B&H Army in Srebrenica Naser Oric and his comrade Sabahudin Muhic, who were acquitted of charges for war crimes against Serbs. Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H Miroslav Janjic confirmed this information for RTRS but refused to present details about the appeal.
Srebrenica to host conference on rights of returnees on January 9 (TV1)
A conference on rights of returnees and democratization will take place in Srebrenica on January 9, on a day when Republika Srpska (RS) authorities will celebrate the RS Day. Representatives of returnees, leaders of political parties and representatives of institution were invited to attend the conference. The conference will focus on protection of civil freedoms of returnees in the RS. They will also discuss a joint strategy on relations towards SNSD and the Alliance for Changes (SzP), as well as perspective of the pro-Bosnian bloc in upcoming general elections.
Leader of movement “Odgovor” (Response) Camil Durakovic said that their voice is voice of a group of people who are not heard, but who are living in the entity, and added that RS authorities do not accept decisions of B&H Constitutional Court and keep celebrating January 9 as the day of the entity.
Durakovic said that inhabitants of Srebrenica are citizens of B&H and the RS, and added that January 9 is a day when all pro-Bosnian politicians should say how to protect rights of citizens. He noted that they will talk about their platforms and plans with returnee population in the RS, and to check if it is possible to join one political platform in elections. Durakovic stressed that both SNSD and SzP use returnees only when it is in their interest, while neither of them respects returnees at all.
President of SNSD in Srebrenica Radomir Pavlovic said that the response to the conference will be in line with marking of the RS Day. “Bosniaks in Srebrenica must act in line with the Constitution and laws. I do not think that Durakovic’s initiative will get the support of all Bosniak political parties either”, Pavlovic said and assessed that certain matters represent Durakovic’s attempt to “impose some kind of destabilization in Podrinje region”. Pavlovic reminded that a similar attempt happened back in 2007 when a tent settlement was set up with the goal to secede Srebrenica from the RS and concluded by saying: “They will not succeed this time either because authorities in Srebrenica are stable”.
Austria and Netherlands worried about Croatian-Slovenian border dispute (T portal)
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed concern about the dispute over the border between Slovenia and Croatia. Kurz and Rutte explained their views at a news conference on Monday after their meeting in Vienna. They also both expressed willingness to help address this issue, according to the Slovenian news agency STA. Kurz said he was “very unhappy” because of the situation in a country which neighbors Austria and added that he wanted to “contribute positively to the resolution of the conflict.” Rutte also said he wanted to help resolve this issue.
Hague Tribunal on Praljak courtroom suicide: “No omissions in procedure were found” (Jutarnji list)
An independent investigation conducted after the suicide of Slobodan Praljak, B&H Croat convicted of war crimes in B&H who committed suicide in the courtroom by taking poison in late November during the reading of the verdict, found there were no omissions or deficiencies within the legal framework of the Hague Tribunal regarding the treatment of prisoners, and therefore there was no need to change the rules, announced on Sunday the Hague-based tribunal, reports Jutarnji list. The investigation was led by Judge Hassan B. Jallow, President of the Supreme Court of the Gambia and former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. The investigation took place from 1 to 29 December and was complemented by an ongoing Dutch investigation that will determine whether a criminal offence has been committed in the case. The investigation was focused on the appropriateness of the ICTY legal and political framework and compliance with the prescribed procedures. “My review has not revealed any omissions or deficiencies in the ICTY legal framework when it comes to the treatment of prisoners in the UN jail and the court, and therefore I do not suggest any changes to the ICTY rules and regulations,” Jallow said in a statement. “Further, the audit has shown that the staff of the UN jail, security staff and other ICTY staff respected the legal framework when it came to Praljak’s treatment;” he added.
“As stated in my conclusions, there are no measures that would guarantee the detection of poison at any stage,” Jallow said. “However, the revision has pointed to some measures that could be taken to increase the likelihood of detection in the future.” Jallow then gives recommendations referring to search procedures, including of visitors and prisoners’ cells, as well as training of security personnel. Also, he recommended that a 30-minute delay in the televised coverage of the proceedings should be introduced. With regard to the poison used by Praljak, Jallow stated that it was potassium cyanide and that it was not possible to ascertain precisely when and how he obtained it. “The substance Praljak took has been analyzed and found to be potassium cyanide. It is not possible to legally obtain potassium cyanide in prison nor produce it from substances available in prison. Potassium cyanide can be sent as a powder or dissolved in water. Quantity needed for a deadly dose is about 200 to 300 mg (equivalent to one tablet).” “It is not possible to say definitively when and how Praljak obtained the poison. The current investigation by the Dutch authorities could clarify that. It is important to note that UN jail staff and ICTY officers did not have any information that Praljak had poison. But, even if they had such information, the nature and amount of poison were such that it could easily have remained undiscovered even after the most rigorous search of humans, cells and other areas. Its small size, strict search restrictions and the nature of search equipment in the UN jail and the court have contributed to the difficulty of detecting poison,” explained Jallow. Jallow was assisted by independent experts with experience when it comes to security measures in prisons. They have analyzed relevant international and ICTY detention regulations and internal security procedures. They interviewed 23 members of the ICTY staff to determine the circumstances of the incident which took place on 29 November. They also analyzed the video footage from the prison and the court, as well as documents related to Praljak. They also visited the UN jail and court, including the courtroom number 1 and prison cells. Judge Jallow was informed about the progress of the Dutch criminal investigation and met with representatives of the Croatian Embassy in The Hague, according to a statement by the Hague Tribunal.
Djukanovic: Russia has returned to the region again (RTCG)
Bulgaria’s priority is to lead the Western Balkans towards Brussels. The country presides over the Council of the EU as of 1 January 2018. Membership in the European Union is the only way to keep tensions in the region under control, Montenegrin ruling party leader Milo Djukanovic said in an interview. He visited Amsterdam and gave a lecture at the University. According to him, the Balkans has always been at a crossroads among the West, Russia and blazing nationalism. “This region is perhaps a dead end for the European Union, but it is constantly threatened by third countries. I’m very worried about that,” Djukanovic says. “Finally, I have time to analyze the root causes of the problem in the region,” Djukanovic said. “Russia has returned to the region again. The country wants to show that it is politically and militarily superior to the European Union. As has happened so far in history, the strategic conflict is taking place in the Balkans. It is the conflict that Europe must overcome. Our recent history has shown that the Balkans itself cannot preserve stability,” Djukanovic said. He points out that the European Union has been in the Balkans since the Dayton Peace Agreement, 22 years ago.
“The biggest problems from these days are still here. Bosnia still does not work properly, talks between Serbia and Kosovo are slow, while Macedonia is completely paralyzed in the process of negotiations with the European Union. Brussels must accelerate the processes, otherwise the enthusiasm for Europe in the Balkans will disappear,” Djukanovic points out.
Kacin warns: Russia’s not the only one aspiring to interfere in regional affairs (Pobjeda)
Slovenia’s ambassador to NATO, Jelko Kacin, says countries of region need to build up resistance to every attempt of destabilization of a country and society, thus warning that Russia is not the only one aspiring to meddle in regional affairs. “This is not only about Russia. There are many other countries which might endanger stability of the countries of region. It’s crucial to develop resistance to all possible attempts of destabilization of societies and countries in the region,” emphasized Slovenia’s ambassador to NATO and former European MP, Jelko Kacin, in his interview with Pobjeda. As for the new enlargement strategy, recently announced by the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, referring to Montenegro and Serbia’s joint EU accession by 2025, Kacin claims the Union “has never supported accession automatism”. Therefore, Kacin warns the accession procedure is not simple and joint implementation with Serbia is possible only if the latter accelerates the quality of its accession to the EU.
Stoltenberg: Montenegro represents the Balkans’ greatest exporter of stability (Dnevne novine)
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Montenegro’s NATO membership should contribute to consolidation of security and stability in the Balkans. In an interview with Dnevne novine, Stoltenberg adds NATO has been grateful to Montenegro for its concrete and significant contributions, thus welcoming the Montenegrin government’s decision to pay out 2% of its GDP on defense and security by 2024. Even before joining NATO, Montenegro had provided significant contribution to Euro-Atlantic security. In October-November 2016, Montenegro hosted the largest-ever NATO military exercise and it effectively engaged itself in promoting scientific cooperation within NATO Peace and Stability Program,” reminded NATO’s secretary-general. According to Stoltenberg, Montenegro continues to be a reliable partner as a full member of the Alliance.
Zaev: Time for work, not elections (MIA)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev promises that 2018 will be a good year for Macedonia, saying that it is time for work, not elections. The 2018 will be a year of economic prosperity, Zaev said, expressing belief that it will bring new investments, jobs and GDP growth for the benefit of citizens’ living standard. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Finance Minister Dragan Tevdovski, Zaev sent a message of support to businessmen. This year, the government will be able to support the business sector and considering the stable parliamentary majority, to be sure in the implementation of all strategic plans to that effect, the PM said.
Ivanov: Greece should stop holding Macedonia hostage for admission to NATO (Meta)
The President of the Republic of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, said that at the upcoming NATO summit, Macedonia is finally expected to become a member of the Alliance, and Greece should “show awareness of what is happening in the region and its selfish interests should not to be the basis for holding out country hostage”. He also added that in the name dispute, Macedonia has done a lot in the process within the UN, but Greece does not fulfill its obligations. “I hope that in the upcoming period, NATO structures will not be held hostage by one of its members, who comes first of all for its own interests, and not for the interests of NATO and the situation throughout the region. We expect this to be exposed at the NATO Summit and for Macedonia finally become a NATO member. What Greece is looking for is within the United Nations is the name dispute. All these years, we actively participate, but we are facing demands that are not in accordance with the UN Charter and UN resolutions that do not correspond with the bilateral agreement, which Greece voluntarily accepted and did not fulfill it,” said Ivanov. Regarding the Bulgarian EU Presidency, the Macedonian President says that Macedonia has clearly outlined its expectations, which is finally to get a date for the start of negotiations. “It’s a long and painful process, but we are ready and our administration is ready. All issues arising from our adjustment to the EU have been met during the negotiations. This blockade does not cost, but so far we have not seen in any way, for Greece to be pointed out for the damage done to Macedonia and the entire region,” Ivanov said.
Opposition reacted over the detainment of two opposition supporters (ADN)
Border police stopped on Tuesday the democrat activist Fiqirije Nezaj, because she resulted to be on the list of the persons declared wanted for disobedience against police in the opposition protest of December 18 in front of Parliament. Earlier, the former chief of the Quick Intervention Forces, Osman Levanaku was stopped on the border point of Qafe Thana. Democratic Party reacted, Albana Vokshi, considered intolerable the detainment of Fiqirie Nezaj this Tuesday. “Prime Minister, Edi Rama offers only jail to the Albanians. Rama offers only jail for those who dare to protest against the violation of the Constitution,” said Vokshi. She denounced that Premier ordered the arrest of the opposition protesters violating the International Cart of the Human Rights. In the name of DP she ordered the immediate release of Nezaj.
The leader of the opposition also reacted over the detainment of two opposition supporters. He called these actions as ‘cowardly behavior’ of the Prime Minister Edi Rama and his government.
“The detainment of the protesters on the night of the New Year’s Eve is a cowardly behavior by the Prime Minister, Edi Rama. He allowed to passes tons of drugs to Italy with the support of the Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj, and stopped the citizens who are against the violation of the constitution. These are the signs of the horror that caught him and the Government from the next protest. The imprisonment of citizens cannot save Edi Rama, because a whole nation cannot be imprisoned,” said Basha.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Commission Sees 2018 As Balkans’ Year of Opportunity (BIRN, 3 January 2018)
In a regional review for BIRN, the European Commission says it is working on a new strategy for the Balkans and urges the countries to embrace the chance to further their European perspectives.
The spokesperson of the European Commission, Maja Kocijancic, says 2018 could be the year of opportunity for Western Balkan countries to take irreversible steps on their EU integration path.
However, Kocijancic told BIRN that, to achieve this goal, the countries concerned must make reforms, in particular on the rule of law, justice and fundamental rights, a priority. “The EU will not compromise on the accession criteria. Any serious progress is conditional upon effective reforms,” she explained. Although most countries have made progress towards EU membership, Kocijancic added that many reforms remain outstanding, especially in the area of the rule of law, justice and fundamental rights. The countries of the region are at different stages. Montenegro and Serbia have started EU membership talks, while Macedonia and Albania have obtained candidate country status. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are further behind but seen as potential candidates for EU membership at some point. The EU retains a direct supporting role in Bosnia, through the EUFOR/Althea military-led mission. Between 2003 and 2012, the EU deployed a police mission in Bosnia, too. In Kosovo, the EU still deploys EULEX, a mission designed to support the Kosovo courts in upholding the rule of law. Kocijanic said the EU was now working on a new framework for the whole region. “To sustain the positive momentum overall, as well as to better address common challenges, the Commission finds it necessary to provide a separate, dedicated framework for supporting all the countries of the Western Balkans on their path to EU membership,” she said. In this context, she said the Commission is working on a strategy that will be adopted in February 2018. In addition, in April 2018, it will present its regular Enlargement report, which will include detailed reports on the enlargement countries.
“These will take stock of progress in the countries towards meeting the obligations of membership and will assess the level of their preparedness to join the EU,” Kocijancic noted.
The Balkan region is also high on the EU agenda because three Balkan EU member states, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, will hold the European Council presidency in 2018 and 2019 during the important Brexit negotiations. While Kocijancic did not reveal what EU Commission documents will say exactly about each country in 2018, BIRN has received country inputs and reviews from the EU official.
The EU believes Albania has shown steady progress on all five key priorities required to move forward in the EU integration process – public administration reform, judicial reform, fighting organised crime, fighting corruption, and human rights. “It is now implementing justice reform and in particular the vetting of judges and prosecutors. This process is monitored by an International Monitoring Operation led by the European Commission,” Kocijancic said.
The input underlined that, as the EU President Jean-Claude Juncker pointed out recently: “If the reform path is continued, the Commission intends to recommend the opening of accession negotiations for the country within the next six months”.
Bosnia and Herzegovina:
On Bosnia, the Commission is currently preparing an Opinion on its application for EU membership. “We look forward to receiving the answers to the comprehensive questionnaire Commissioner Johannes Hahn handed over to country authorities in December 2016. And we also expect Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to deliver on their signed commitment to undertake all needed reforms to advance the country towards the EU,” the EU official noted.
“It is time for the country leaders and politicians to overcome ethnic divisions and to work together for the benefit of all citizens.”
Kocijancic said the EU expects Kosovo “to fully engage on its EU agenda: to push forward long overdue reforms, especially on the rule of law and economic development, as set out in the European Reform Agenda” . Progress on the EU-led dialogue with Serbia, working towards a comprehensive normalisation of relations, she added, will be crucial for Kosovo to move forward on its European path. “We encourage the government to meet the remaining requirements on visa liberalisation, to deliver on the legitimate expectations of citizens,” she said.
The EU expects Montenegro to remain committed to its strategic goal of EU integration, and to accelerate and implement necessary reforms, in particular in the rule of law, which will continue to determine the overall pace of negotiations. “As the most advanced country in accession negotiations, it will be important for Montenegro to bring down tensions and re-engage political debate in the parliament, where it belongs,” the EU said.
Progress on the Dialogue with Kosovo, working towards a comprehensive normalisation of relations, are deemed crucial for Serbia to move ahead in its EU accession process. Serbia is described as making good progress, with 12 negotiation chapters opened, and two of them provisionally closed. “The EU is committed to maintain this momentum and open several new chapters in 2018. It is up to Serbia to set the pace of negotiations, particularly by making real, substantive progress on the rule of law”.
Regarding Macedonia, the EU said it expects the government and opposition “to continue to implement their political [Przino] agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities, getting their country back on its EU path, so that the Commission can recommend the opening of accession negotiations”. The EU official added that Brussels expects the government to continue to strengthen relations with its neighbours.