Brnabic: Serbia, China political relations at highest point (RTS/Tanjug)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said during the talks with a delegation of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China that the political relations of the two countries have reached the highest point of development in their history through a high level of cooperation in all areas. Brnabic described the relations of the two countries as a comprehensive strategic partnership, and the People’s Republic of China as a friendly country and the most important economic partner on the Asian continent. She said that Serbia attaches special importance to cooperation through the “16 + 1” mechanism and considers it an integral part of the initiative of the President of the People’s Republic of China Mr. Xi Jinping “One Belt, One Road”, in which Serbia is a very active participant. The interlocutors agreed that our country is a leader in the region of Central and Eastern Europe by the number of realized and contracted projects with China, on a bilateral basis, as well as through the mechanism of cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European (CIEZ) countries. Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Tsao Jianming expressed his belief that the next Summit of the Prime Ministers of the member countries of the China-CIE Cooperation Mechanism, which will be held in Sofia on 6-7 July will bring new ideas and proposals for a more successful follow-up within the framework of the mechanism, which is of great importance for the development of our countries. Brnabic concluded that the China-CIEZ mechanism has opened a new perspective for bilateral cooperation between countries, primarily in the field of infrastructure through the construction of a transport network. She pointed out that for Serbia the trilateral project of railway modernization through the construction of Belgrade-Budapest railway is particularly important, which is the first cross-border project under this cooperation mechanism. She voiced expectation that by the end of the year works on the construction of the Corridor 11 section from Preljina to Pozega will begin. As no less important projects, Brnabic also mentioned the reconstruction of the thermoelectrical power plant Kostolac and the construction of the Serbian-Chinese industrial park in Borca. The interlocutors estimated that it is important for Serbia that Belgrade has been given the opportunity to be the Centre of the China-CIEZ mechanism for Transport and Infrastructure and recalled that the next meeting of the China-CIEZ transport ministers will be held in Belgrade in October this year. In addition to infrastructure that has been recognized as the leading area of Serbian-Chinese cooperation, the interlocutors agreed that it is necessary to develop cooperation in other areas of mutual interest.
Jianming told Brnabic that the International Imports Fair will be held in Shanghai in November this year and invited Serbia to participate and present its products to the markets of as many countries as possible. Brnabic expressed her satisfaction with the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping accepted the invitation of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to visit Serbia again, saying that this will be an exceptional opportunity for further deepening of relations between the two countries.
Vucic: I haven’t received a plan for Kosovo (Tanjug/RTS)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in Sofia on Wednesday that he had not got any US plan for Kosovo, but that he did get “hints, assumptions, principles,” in which he saw “some decent things” but also the solutions he did not agree with. Asked if he would reply, Vucic said that “everybody knows what I think about hints, assumptions, principles…” and denied he was told to accept the US plan or step down. “Is there a kind of pressure on Serbia? Yes, there has been for the last five years… It’s normal that they are waiting for Serbia to change its mind since they obviously won’t change their,” Vucic said, adding that “Serbia’s position was not an easy one at all.” He reiterated that Serbia was looking for a compromise and wanted Kosovo’s Serbs interests honored, but also the same for the legitimate and legal interests of Serbia, which, he said, “many do not understand.” Vucic said no one was threatening Serbia and added he always had correct meetings with Mitchell, regardless of their disagreements over Kosovo.
Scott: No Western plan for Kosovo (Blic)
There is no Western plan for Kosovo, no coordinated proposal by the members of the Quint and no 11-point plan, US Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott told Blic. The claims of a Western plan and coordination Quint proposal are the “fantasy of imaginative media”, the US Ambassador said, adding that exchanges of views between countries is part of normal diplomatic activity. A sustainable agreement on Kosovo has to be the result of negotiations between leaders from Belgrade and Pristina, Scott said. The Ambassador feels that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue under EU auspices should end with a comprehensive agreement to normalize relations through legally binding documents.
Dacic and Keefe discuss preparations for Summit on Western Balkans in London (RTS/Tanjug)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic received today British Ambassador to Serbia Denis Keefe, who delivered him a letter of invitation from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to attend the upcoming Western Balkans Summit Balkan. This gathering, which will be held in London on 9 and 10 July, will be held in a series of summits on the Western Balkans since the Berlin Process, launched as an informal initiative by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in August 2014. Dacic and Keefe exchanged views on the topics and expectations of the upcoming summit in London, especially in the fields of regional cooperation, security and cooperation in the field of economy. Dacic informed Keefe of the previous activities of Serbia within the framework of the Berlin Process, as well as the priorities of our country at the forthcoming meeting in London.
During the meeting, the officials also discussed the current and upcoming activities on a bilateral level, reads the statement from the Foreign Ministry.
Joksimovic: Important that Serbian arrived at the Sofia Summit (RTS)
Serbian Minister for EU Integration Jadranka Joksimovic has told RTS that the main topic of the Summit in Sofia will be linking inside the Western Balkan region which makes our region more competitive. She says that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic received an opportunity to speak at the first panel in Sofia right after the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the host Boyko Borisov, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and EP President Antonio Tajani. She says that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be speaking after Vucic, which speaks enough about how the region views Serbia. According to her, the main topic will be energy, transport and cultural. “These are the topics of significance for all of us…Even though the topic of enlargement is not on the agenda, this doesn’t mean that it is not coming through this topic of linking. Several agreements will be signed,” she said. She says it is very important that Serbia is attending the Summit in Sofia, adding that she expects one more inter-government conference to be held by the end of June, i.e. until the end of the Bulgarian presidency. “We have prepared five negotiating chapters and I would like us to open two-three chapters. This shows the dynamics, stability, but it doesn’t depend from us. For example, yesterday Italy became the main topic since they can’t form the government. Other topics come up, and this is why it is important for the focus to stay on Western Balkans,” says Jokismovic. When it comes to yesterday’s meeting of Vucic with Federica Mogherini and Hashim Thaci, she notes that it was really a short meeting. “Mogherini used the opportunity to meet with Vucic, Thaci was also there, they exchanged several sentences. The message of the President was that Serbia was ready for dialogue always when the other side shows readiness for compromise,” she said.
EU expects definitive progress in normalization between Belgrade, Pristina (Tanjug)
The European External Action Service (EEAS) has said EU High Representative Federica Mogherini had met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci on the fringes of an EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia on Wednesday. “The two leaders confirmed their readiness to continue working intensively with the High Representative (Mogherini) to reach a comprehensive normalization of relations, a key element for the transformation of the whole region,” the EEAS said in a statement.
Covic’s announcement of HDZ B&H’s plan ‘B’ for post-election coalition sparks harsh reactions (TV1)
Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic’s announcement of HDZ B&H’s so-called plan ‘B’ in formation of a coalition after the general elections and a possibility of a post-election coalition between HDZ B&H and SNSD caused harsh reactions on Wednesday. Deputy Speaker of B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Borjana Kristo (HDZ B&H) stated that the current period is the period of a pre-election campaign. Kristo underlined that B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) called the general elections for October 7 and citizens will decide who will be the relevant factor in the future mandate of authorities. SDS’ representative in B&H HoR Aleksandra Pandurevic said it seems to her that Covic and Republika Srpska (RS) President and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik acted prematurely in announcing a coalition. Pandurevic considers that Dodik should have first discussed with Covic what can be solved at this moment, namely the issue of constituent status of Serbs in four cantons in the Federation of B&H with the Croat majority. Leader of the People’s Party (Narodna stranka) Ognjen Tadic reminded that an alliance between HDZ B&H and SNSD has never been questionable, not even due to the coalition with the Alliance for Changes (SzP). He deems that the past period has served for homogenization of voters on the basis of their ethnic affiliation. Bosniaks are being homogenized to support SDA’s candidate for a member of the B&H Presidency and DF leader Zeljko Komsic as Covic’s opponent, while Covic is doing the same in order to defeat Komsic while running for the Croat member of the B&H Presidency, Tadic concluded. SDP B&H’s representative in B&H HoR Sasa Magazinovic noted that there is no doubt that HDZ B&H and SNSD have control over CEC. Magazinovic added that he would not be surprised if the two parties in question already discussed how CEC “via people they control” will behave after the post-election process. SDP leader Nermin Niksic said that Covic’s decision to give up on further talks on changes to the Law on Elections and announcement of some sort of ‘plan B’ is a show for the public. According to Niksic, it is obvious that US representatives in B&H no longer have a problem to say it to Covic and HDZ B&H, stressing that HDZ B&H’s only plan was to make sure they are in power forever and that they can treat one third of the country as ‘election loot’. Niksic went on to say that ‘we’ are prepared to continue with talks about changes to the Law on Elections and will continue the political fight that the Parliament of Federation of B&H adopts the Proposal of Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates, which SDP proposed with DF. SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic assessed Covic’s agreement on coalition with SNSD as risky. DF leader Zeljko Komsic stated that he was not surprised by Covic’s announcement about the ‘project B’: “Plan A were amendments to the Law on Elections after which there would be attempts to change the essence of the Dayton Agreement and the character of B&H, and in the end the essence of the Washington Agreement. The problem is located in the Federation of B&H. Plan B means that Dodik and Covic can dictate who their partner is going to be after the elections so they can resume their rhetoric. In plain words, they need someone from Sarajevo who is willing to be a part of that story. Unfortunately, I am noticing there are those willing to be a part of it.” He noted that all of the said would be legitimate if B&H was a stable country, but in the current situation a coalition with Covic and Dodik would be treason, because he believes it is treacherous to even support their demands that can only lead to establishment of ethnic and political enclaves in B&H. Komsic also noted that if they are allowed to divide B&H in such manner now, maybe later they will want to completely tear it apart.
Tusk says EU-Western Balkans Summit will be opportunity to affirm Euro-Atlantic perspective as geostrategic option of Western Balkan (ATV)
The EU-Western Balkans Summit will be opened in Sofia on Thursday. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived in Sofia on Wednesday, but he said he will not attend the summit since he does not want to attend the event at which politicians from Kosovo are regarded as statesmen. B&H Presidency Chairman Bakir Izetbegovic and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also arrived in Sofia on Wednesday, as well as Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj whose attendance at the summit on Thursday was opposed by some of the countries. Delegation of Republika Srpska (RS) government led by RS Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic will arrive in Sofia on Thursday to attend some of the meetings within the summit. Addressing the press conference prior to the meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk shortly touched upon the goals and course of the summit on Thursday, which will be focused on the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. Tusk stated that the summit will be an opportunity to affirm the Euro-Atlantic perspective as a geostrategic option of the Western Balkan countries.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stressed that for the Western Balkans there is no alternative to the European perspective, noting that everything is being done in order for the Western Balkans to become one of the most important topics of the EU foreign policy.
Talking about the upcoming Summit, Izetbegovic said that in his opinion, influence of some countries in the Balkans has been overestimated, adding that all countries in the region are committed to become the EU members. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that Croatia will do its best to help neighbors on the EU path, noting that neighboring countries can learn a lot from Croatia about the EU path. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic assessed that such summits should be organized more frequently. She announced that another summit of this kind will be held at the beginning of 2020, when Croatia is expected to take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU. “While announcing this summit, the European Council has already pointed out what kind of outcomes are expected in terms of strengthening the European perspective, launching concrete and notable initiatives for connecting the South East Europe and the EU, as well as future cooperation in facing common challenges such as security and illegal migration challenges,” Grabar-Kitarovic said.
Court of B&H renders first-instance acquittal in case Radoncic et al. (TV1)
The B&H Court rendered the first-instance verdict in the case ‘(SBB B&H leader) Fahrudin Radoncic et al.’ on Wednesday acquitting Radoncic and other individuals tried in this case of all charges. Specifically, the Court of B&H acquitted Radoncic, SBB B&H officials Bakir Dautbasic and Bilsena Sahman, as well as former employee of the US Embassy in B&H Zijad Hadzijahic of charges for conspiring to commit obstruction of justice and trade in influence. According to the indictment that was confirmed in February 2016, Radoncic and others are charged with conspiring to exert pressure on key prosecution witness Azra Saric to protect Naser Kelmendi in her testimony in the trial before the Basic Court in Pristina, in the part related to the murder of Ramiz Delalic a.k.a. Celo. The acquittal of Radoncic and others was read by Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber Hasija Masovic. Explanation of the verdict reads that the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H did not provide evidence that would indicate that Radoncic, Dautbasic, Sahman, and Hadzijahic committed any kind of crime. After the verdict was presented, Radoncic told media in front of the court building that the verdict confirmed that he and other individuals in this case are innocent and that the indictment against them was a set-up. “I am very glad that we proved that there are no elements for our criminal prosecution”, Radoncic underscored. The SBB B&H leader noted that fair trial has shown that there was only a wish to “politically eliminate” the individuals in this case. In the SBB B&H leader’s opinion, this verdict represents a major victory of citizens of B&H and not his personal victory. Radoncic’s attorney Asim Crnalic said that he expects that the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H will submit an appeal to the verdict “bearing in mind how interested it was to prosecute Mr. Radoncic and other defendants”. Crnalic assessed that the court accepted the defense team’s perspective “that was convincing”. The trial in this case lasted over two years.
Prime Minister defends his position on Agrokor affair (Hina)
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday the opposition’s initiative for dissolving parliament was yet another initiative that would not succeed, and that he did not know all the details regarding experts’ remarks on the drawing up of the law on emergency administration in strategic companies, dubbed Lex Agrokor after the ailing food and retail conglomerate. “It is one of the initiatives launched by the opposition which, naturally, won’t succeed. What is important, and I am repeating again today, is that we did everything in such a short time, we reached for the expertise of those who could make their expert contribution. Everything we did was aimed at salvaging Croatia’s economy and our financial system,” he told Croatian reporters covering his visit to Sofia, where he is attending a European Union-Western Balkans summit. “As you can see, a tsunami threatening the economy didn’t happen,” he said, adding that the process of Agrokor’s restructuring “should ensure that all stakeholders involved reach a settlement.”
One should have been more considerate and more transparent so that a generally good step forward would not be questioned because of a certain mistake, Plenkovic said. Asked if he knew of legal experts’ remarks that some parts of Lex Agrokor would be against the constitution, he said he did not and that this was evident from recently leaked emails. “However, that is not important in the end. What is important is that the Constitutional Court said that the final draft of the law that was adopted was in line with the constitution.”
Croatian and Slovenian presidents meet (Hina)
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Slovenian President Borut Pahor met at an informal working dinner in Croatia on Wednesday, continuing their regular dialogue, her office said in a press release. The meeting was arranged at a recent Brdo-Brijuni Process meeting in Skopje and it was a continuation of their regular dialogue on current bilateral and international matters, the press release said. The presidents agreed that in the current international situation it is especially important to maintain good neighborly relations and regular dialogue between states at the highest political level, the press release said.
Croatia supports EU enlargement to Western Balkans (Hina)
The European Union member states neighboring the Western Balkans must set the tone with a view to stepping up enlargement to those countries, in which the individual achievements of those wishing to join the EU are of key importance, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday. “We are first and foremost for meeting the requirements, for individual achievements, but also for a more open approach, as we believe that too much hesitation isn’t good,” he said in Sofia, where he was attending an EU-Western Balkans summit. The migration and financial crises and other problems in the EU have pushed enlargement back, but “the neighboring EU member states, including Croatia, must set the tone so that the process is faster and so that the candidate states are better prepared,” Plenkovic said. The very fact that all 28 EU leaders came to the summit is a big success, given that five of them do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, he said, adding that there had not been such a summit since the one in Thessaloniki in 2003. “That’s a bigger message than the nuance from the final statement.”
He underlined the importance of better connections, saying the capitals in the region did not have the best air, rail and motorway connections. “For Croatia, as one of the countries which considerably supports the process of further enlargement and which is helping its neighbors, this represents focusing on the region which has been sidelined for many years.” He said that in 2020, during its presidency of the EU, Croatia would organize another EU-Western Balkans summit, 20 years after the Zagreb Summit.
Six arrested for displaying fascist and Nazi symbols at Bleiburg commemoration (Hina)
Five Croatian and one Slovenian national are in custody in Klagenfurt, Austria, on suspicion that they broke an Austrian law banning the display of fascist and Nazi symbols at a commemoration at Bleiburg on Saturday, Austrian media said on Wednesday. “Five men were arrested for saluting with the so-called Hitler salute and one for wearing symbols of the SS units,” the spokeswoman for a Klagenfurt court Eva Jost-Draxl told Kronen Zeitung. The suspects are in custody due to flight risk. A judge will decide within a fortnight whether to remand them in custody. They are facing up to ten years’ imprisonment, she said. Local police official Michaela Kohlweiss regretted that persons under investigation for the same crime were not arrested at last year’s commemoration. “Fourteen criminal proceedings against unidentified persons are still open,” she told Kronen Zeitung. The newspaper said the Klagenfurt court hoped this year’s strict measures against the display of banned symbols would have a lasting effect so that “the commemoration of Croatian victims can pass in a dignified manner and without a radical right-wing backdrop.”
Macron commends Macedonia, Greece commitment to settling name issue (MIA)
Macedonia and Greece have been undertaking a historic role by their commitment to settling the name, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday in Sofia at a meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. France has been following the political developments in the region, Macron said, commending Macedonia’s reforms. France, he said, will support Macedonia’s efforts to implement the changes and speed up the progress. Zaev on his part said that Macedonia was resuming the reforms in the spheres of judiciary, public administration and media, notifying that all projects to that effect are being implemented in cooperation with the opposition, the government said in a press release. “Macedonia is a successful story in the Balkan region and deserves a recognition that will be consistent with its achievements. We support your efforts for more cohesive, functional and sustainable EU. France’s leadership is a motivation for the region and Macedonia,” Zaev told Macron. Zaev and Macron are in Sofia for the EU-Western Balkans Summit, which kicks off in Bulgaria’s capital on Thursday.
Zaev: WB countries should take part in building a stronger EU (MIA)
Now’s the time to recognize the moment appropriate for the Western Balkan countries to play a role in building a stronger EU, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Wednesday in Sofia where he participated in an international conference “Democracy that Delivers: Ten Years Later – Unlocking the Potential of the Western Balkans.” Zaev, attending the conference by an invitation of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of the think tanks Center for European Democracy Studies and the European Fund for the Balkans, mentioned that the citizens in Macedonia had toppled an authoritarian regime ‘by using a pen in elections’ and with a strong determination to restore democracy. “We have succeeded in something that many countries around the world often strive to do but rarely succeed in it,” PM Zaev said adding that to overcome the crisis was ‘only half of the story.’ According to him, a good governance system has been established that is based on four pillars. “We have introduced a new spirit in our relations with the neighbors. We have opened a dialogue to settle issues. We are building bridges of cooperation based on mutual trust and respect and we keep insisting on a win-win situation regarding all bilateral issues,” Zaev said referring to Macedonia’s relations with the countries in the region. The name negotiations, he added, are taking place in the same spirit and they are in a very advanced stage. Zaev reiterated that Macedonia had no alternative to full-fledged membership to the EU and NATO. The country strives to get a NATO membership invitation and the EU to open accession talks in 2018, he concluded.
Baily: We expect Macedonia’s progress towards NATO (MIA)
US Ambassador Jess Baily reaffirmed the US support of Macedonia’s bid to join NATO.
We support Macedonia’s aspiration to join NATO for 25 years, certainly we expect and want you to make progress, Baily said Wednesday answering journalist question whether EU Summit in Sofia will open Macedonia’s path to NATO. Baily attended info session on USAID Readers are Leaders Project which was held in Skopje’s City Park.
Mickoski meets Hahn, Kurz and Tusk in Sofia (MIA)
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski met Wednesday with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn and European Council President Donald Tusk ahead of the European People’s Party (EPP) summit in Sofia. The meeting with Hahn and Tusk focused on Macedonia’s perspectives, current political developments and the country’s strategic interest to join the EU, VMRO-DPMNE said in a press release. Regarding the name dispute, Mickoski said the party’s principled positions have not changed and voiced concern over the government’s “non-transparent way of conducting the negotiations”. The VMRO-DPMNE leader said the party supports Macedonia’s European integration, which has been demonstrated by the active participation in the process of adopting the reform laws. Mickoski and Tusk referred to Macedonia’s strategic objective of EU accession and enhancement of cooperation in this regard, reads the press release.
Protest escalates, demonstrators throw eggs against Interior Ministry (ADN)
The atmosphere is made awfully tense among the protesters gathered in front of the Interior Ministry this Wednesday to require the resignation of Interior Minister, Fatmir Xhafaj.
They threw eggs towards Interior Ministry premises while the situation was made worse after Prime Minister, Edi Rama declared that his minister, won’t resign. Part of the protest were even democrat MPs, Edi Paloka, Eno Bozdo, Belind Kellici. Paloka considered the words of Rama as scandalous and said that he will regret his declarations. In an urgent press conference, Xhafaj declared that the audio registration made public by Democrats who pretend that Xhafaj’s brother continues drug trafficking, is false. “The audio registration is fake. It is a bad tentative to manipulate the public. If the opposition did this thing, it will face justice. The audio is fake and an ordinary manipulation,” said Xhafaj. After he refused to resign due to his brother’s scandal, Xhafaj was seen this Wednesday entering in the Prime Ministry. ADN learned that he was actually having a closed door meeting with the Prime Minister, Edi Rama who defended him earlier in the morning in the SP Parliamentary Group, saying that he will not resign and the video registration made public by the Democratic Party on minister’s brother is fake and a video montage.
Accession talks, Ruci gets support from Greece, Bulgaria and Romania (ADN)
Speaker of the Albanian Parliament, Gramoz Ruci, has attended the Conference of the Black Sea Parliamentary Speakers (CBSPS), held in Istanbul this Wednesday. During the Parliamentary Assembly meeting, he met the Parliament’s Speakers of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania and asked their support for the opening of EU accession negotiations with Albania in the June 2018 meeting. All three of them, fully supported the European integration of Albania and the opening of negotiations in the June meeting by saying that the country fully deserves it. Meanwhile, Ruci underlined that CBSPS, representing a region of the world with different cultures, beliefs, stories, and traditions of development, is open to wider cooperation with the European Parliament, the European Council, NATO, the OSCE and other international organizations.
“I would like to thank our friends from the Turkish Parliament for their excellent organization, hospitality and warmth. The establishment of CBSPS was an important step towards cooperation between the founding countries, but also beyond. By representing a part of the world with different cultures, beliefs, stories and different development traditions, our organization has remained open to wider cooperation. The CBSPS vision is clear: friendship, understanding, mutual respect, and non-interference in domestic affairs are the core of cooperation between our countries, to the benefit of peoples and all of our citizens, “said Ruci. He added by saying that the cooperation between countries, economies and governments in all sectors of vital interest should be intensified, for the lives of citizens and their well-being.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
EU urges Balkans reform but cool on accepting new members (AP, by Lorne Cook, 17 May 2018)
European Union leaders on Thursday encouraged Balkans countries to continue on the path of EU-oriented reform but were cool on any of the six joining the bloc in the near future.
The Balkans spiraled into conflict in the 1990s as the former Yugoslavia broke apart and ethnic and nationalist tensions continue to simmer more than 20 years on. Yet the prospect of accession to the EU has been a powerful driver of democratic reform in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo. Amid a rise in support for far-right parties and populist politicians, divisions have surfaced among the 28 EU countries, particularly on how to manage Europe’s migration challenge, and the political and public appetite for expansion has dwindled. On top of that, Britain is set to leave the EU next year — the first country ever to do so. That move has shaken the bloc to its foundations and a group of nations led by France insist that the EU must first clean its own house before it invites anyone else in. “The last 15 years have shown a path that has weakened Europe by thinking all the time that it should be enlarged,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at an EU-Balkans summit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that “Europe must be deeply reformed to function better, to be more efficient, and at the same time the Balkans countries have to reform their ways of functioning; more stability, more security, more respect for the rule of law. The EU welcomed in 10 mostly Eastern European nations in 2004, then Bulgaria and Romania three years later. Croatia was the last country to join in 2013.
Newcomers like Hungary and Poland saw their economies boosted by billions of euros in so-called cohesion funds meant to build up their infrastructure, but their leaders now refuse to share the burden of responsibility for sheltering refugees. Brussels is also concerned about moves in both countries that it considers to be undermining the independence of their justice systems.
Sofia Declaration, 17 May 2018 (European Western Balkans)
We, the leaders of the European Union (EU) and of its Member States, in consultation with our Western Balkans partners, and in the presence of relevant regional stakeholders, today concluded the following:
- The EU welcomes the shared commitment of the Western Balkans partners to European
values and principles, and to the vision of a strong, stable and united Europe, underpinned
by our historic, cultural and geographic ties and by our mutual political, security and
- Recalling the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003, the EU reaffirms its unequivocal support for
the European perspective of the Western Balkans. Building on the progress achieved so far,
the Western Balkans partners have recommitted to the European perspective as their firm
strategic choice, to reinforcing their efforts and mutual support. The credibility of these efforts
depends on clear public communication.
- The EU is determined to strengthen and intensify its engagement at all levels to support the
region’s political, economic and social transformation, including through increased assistance
based on tangible progress in the rule of law, as well as in socio-economic reforms, by the
Western Balkans partners.
- The EU welcomes the Western Balkans partners commitment to the primacy of democracy
and the rule of law, especially the fight against corruption and organised crime, good
governance, as well as respect for human rights and rights of persons belonging to
minorities. Their effective implementation of reforms rests on these foundations. Civil
society and independent media play a crucial role in the process of democratisation.
- The EU supports the Western Balkans partners pledge to continue strengthening good
neighbourly relations, regional stability and mutual cooperation. This includes in particular
finding and implementing definitive, inclusive and binding solutions for their bilateral
disputes rooted in the legacy of the past and devoting additional efforts to reconciliation.
- Constructing a dense web of connections and opportunities within the region and with the EU
is vital for bringing our citizens and economies closer together, and for enhancing political
stability, economic prosperity, cultural and social development. Building on progress made,
including through regional initiatives, we pledge to enhance substantially connectivity in all
its dimensions: transport, energy, digital, economic and human.
- The EU agrees to promote a market- and investment-friendly environment in the Western
Balkans to move faster towards a digital economy and to sustainable and climate-friendly
societies in line with the Paris agreement. Energy security will be prioritised, including
through improved energy efficiency, better cross-border inter-connections, diversification of
sources and routes, as well as a balanced energy mix better integrating renewable energy.
- Special emphasis will be put toward creating further opportunities for the youth, while
ensuring that this contributes to the socio-economic development of the Western Balkans.
- To that end, the EU welcomes the Western Balkans partners commitment, inter alia, to accelerate the implementation of the acquis under the Energy Community and Transport Community Treaties, to remove all administrative barriers at borders, to complete the Regional Electricity Market and to urgently implement the July 2017 Multiannual Action Plan for the Development of a Regional Economic Area. The EU will continue to support these
- The EU and the Western Balkans partners share many security challenges that demand coordinated individual and collective action. When we work together, we are able to address these challenges effectively. Our cooperation in stemming illegal migration flows has demonstrated its value and will be developed further.
- Countering terrorism and extremism, including financing, radicalisation and the return of
foreign terrorist fighters require our increased cooperation.
- The EU and the Western Balkans partners acknowledge that results in fighting corruption
and organised crime are essential for the region’s political and socio-economic
transformation and also for regional stability and security, which are in the best interest of
their citizens. The EU welcomes their commitment to take resolute action, in cooperation with
the EU and with each other, against human trafficking, drug cultivation, and smuggling of
human beings, drugs and arms.
- The EU welcomes the contribution of the Western Balkans partners to its Common Foreign
and Security Policy (CFSP) in all its aspects and expects a progressive deepening of
cooperation in this area, especially an enhanced level of alignment, notably on issues where
major common interests are at stake.
- Disinformation and other hybrid activities will be fought together through greater
collaboration in resilience, cyber security and strategic communication.
- To accelerate improvement in the lives of our citizens in the areas of connectivity and security
in view of the European perspective of the Western Balkans, today, drawing on the relevant
aspects of the Commission’s Communication adopted on 6 February 2018, the EU launched a
Sofia Priority Agenda for the EU and the Western Balkans, which is annexed to this
- The EU welcomes the intention of Croatia to host an EU-Western Balkans Summit during its
Presidency in 2020.
- We note that our Western Balkans Partners align themselves with the above points.