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Belgrade Media Report 21 May

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LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic comments on Quint’s statement: “Stupidest thing ever” (B92/Tanjug)
• Russia will always support Serbia – especially on Kosovo (Tanjug/B92)
• Dacic: Serbia and Ghana must overcome differences regarding Kosovo (Beta)
• Drecun: Delineation is not a dividing line between Serbs and Albanians (N1)
• Serbian military deploys new medical contingent to MINUSCA mission (Beta/Politika)
• Antic: TurkStream to secure gas supplies (RTS/Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik: SNSD does not accept ANP (BN TV)
• NATO publishes explanation of MAP and ANP (N1)
• NATO is in focus of talks (Oslobodjenje)
• Covic: Merkel expressed support to process of Euro-Atlantic integration of B&H and resolving internal disputes based on equality of peoples (BHT1)
• Dodik: Austrian Vice-Chancellor Strache obviously framed (N1)
Croatia
• Did Angela Merkel really understand what happened at HDZ rally? (Hina)
Montenegro
• Markovic: Montenegro is EU-oriented, relations with Russia are administrative (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Zaev: Changes in government, state and local institutions in early June (Nezavisen vesnik)
Albania
• Albania – Kosovo to establish common economic area (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Though not a member, Serbia eyes EU polls carefully (EurActiv)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic comments on Quint’s statement: “Stupidest thing ever” (B92/Tanjug)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says he was surprised by a statement issued by “Quint” countries after local elections in northern Kosovo and Metohija. Speaking in Novi Sad on Tuesday, Vucic was referring to the reaction of the US, Germany, Italy, the UK, and France to the voting that took place in four Serb municipalities on Sunday, with the Serb List emerging as the winner. Vucic said that the only thing to be concluded from the statement is that some people are dissatisfied that the elections were peaceful and orderly. “I want to congratulate them on their inventiveness. I have never read something so stupid in my life,” Vucic said, when journalists asked him to comment on the statement. He added that all these countries had their observers in the elections, in order to find some irregularities and mistakes to accuse the Serbs of – but as this failed, they had to refer to pressure that took place in 2017. “What sense does that make,” Vucic asked, adding that this showed how sorry some people are that the elections took place in peace and order. He then congratulated citizens in North Kosovo for demonstrating, in a peaceful and dignified manner, how to protect the interest of their people and fatherland, and that one can behave wisely without poking anyone in the eye, and be winning at the same time. Commenting on media reports that only those who had some interest voted in the North, Vucic said that a huge number of citizens went to the polls, producing a much higher turnout than in 2017. “So, 25,000 people had a personal interest?,” Vucic asked, adding that Albanians are saying that there are 58,000 voters in the North – when there aren’t even that many inhabitants there. Vucic also said that the opposition has no other way to explain its failure, and the fact the Serb List received 22 percent more votes than in previous elections. “How can they explain that their boycott has failed and how can they explain they can’t bring anyone to their ranks except from Savski Venac (central Belgrade)? But they don’t matter, they don’t decide on anything, and very few people find them to be important,” Vucic said.

 

Russia will always support Serbia – especially on Kosovo (Tanjug/B92)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has received Leonid Slutsky, the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Russian Federation’s State Duma. They met in Belgrade and discussed further development of Serbia-Russia cooperation in all areas, the President’s press service announced on Tuesday. Vucic said that he was honored to meet with President Putin in Beijing recently for the second time this year, as each of their meetings confirms the high degree of understanding and trust, which characterizes relations between Serbia and Russia. He expressed his gratitude for the firm and active support of Russia in defending the integrity and independence of Serbia, and its state and national interests.

Slutsky said that Moscow is proud of the relationship between our two countries, that is as close as can be, stressing that Russia will always support Serbia’s positions, especially when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija. Vucic informed the Duma official bout the development of the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, particularly about a number of measures taken by the Pristina authorities, that have – besides the delay in the dialogue – caused a deterioration of the living conditions for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. Vucic said that the dialogue can only be continued if Pristina abolishes its unreasonable taxes imposed on Serbian goods, and that Serbia will always be committed to a policy of peace and stability.

 

Dacic: Serbia and Ghana must overcome differences regarding Kosovo (Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic stated in Ghana that the two countries should improve cooperation and overcome differences regarding Kosovo. After a meeting with the foreign minister of Ghana, Shirley Bothchwey, Dacic said that political and economic relations between the two countries were exceptional and that the problems arose in January 2012, when Ghana, unexpectedly for Serbia, decided to recognize the independence of Kosovo. “Our petition now to everyone is that it should be borne in mind that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is still underway and that it is a very difficult issue, the issue of the preservation of a country’s territorial integrity. We are now petitioning all countries to wait for the completion of the dialogue, to maintain a status-neutral position until then, and to honor the results of that dialogue, which will be presented in the United Nations,” Dacic said. According to the Serbian Foreign Ministry, Dacic stated in Ghana that Pristina’s claim that there was no need for a dialogue with Serbia because 116 countries had recognized Kosovo, was not true. “In the past two years, 13 countries withdrew their earlier decisions on recognizing Kosovo. Kosovo did not manage to join UNESCO, Interpol, the United Nations or any other major international organization. We should overcome this issue in order to be able to have the cooperation that our two countries deserve,”

Dacic stated. The Serbian foreign minister stressed that Serbia decided to open an embassy in Ghana this year, although it abandoned that idea after Accra had recognized Kosovo.

 

Drecun: Delineation is not a dividing line between Serbs and Albanians (N1)

 

The Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun has told N1 on Monday that Vucic’s idea on delineation in Kosovo and Metohija, whose details he has never publicly elaborated, was not acceptable in a larger part of the Serbian public, but assessed that mistaken are those who think that delineation implies a border that would be dividing the Serbs and Albanians. “I think the situation is much more complex and could be identified in part with some solutions from the Dayton agreement, so I am not understood wrongly. You need to find a solution for the final status of Kosovo and Metohija,” said Drecun.

He says the Albanians are saying ‘the story is over, we are a state and only Serbia needs to recognize us, while Serbia says ‘no, the story is not over, we will never recognize you this way’, while the Americans are saying ‘yes, the story is not over, there still needs to be an agreement with Belgrade’. “And here we see a chance for these big powers to finally allow a compromise solution. So, it is not only us who are losers,” says Drecun. He called on defining the status of Kosovo and Metohija, and then within this, the status of the Serbs in the north, then the status of the Serbs in Pomoravlje, on Brezovica, in Strpce, as well as the defining of the protection of sanctities. He recalled that there is the Brcko District and corridor towards Gorazde in the Dayton agreement and that a specific solution needs to be found for one area that is ‘mixed’, where the Serbs do not live in only one part. “I think that the idea on delineation was more in that sense,” said Drecun.

 

Serbian military deploys new medical contingent to MINUSCA mission (Beta/Politika)

 

The Serbian military has sent a new medical corps contingent to the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin handed a Serbian flag to contingent commander Colonel Igor Andic at a ceremony in Belgrade. The contingent is made up of 72 officers and enlisted personnel, including two staff officers and two military observers. The MINUSCA mission was set up under UN Security Council resolution 2149 on 10 April2014. The Army of Serbia has been engaged in the mission since 20 September 2014 when four officers were deployed with a military field hospital with a staff of 68 deployed since 11 December 2014.

 

Antic: TurkStream to secure gas supplies (RTS/Tanjug)

 

Serbia has begun another strategic investment – the construction of a national trunk gas pipeline from the Bulgarian to the Hungarian border that will also transport gas from the TurkStream pipeline, Serbian Minister of Mining and Energy Aleksandar Antic said Tuesday. It is one of the strategically most significant projects for Serbia’s future and development, he told the RTS.

“Through this project, Serbia will secure gas supplies and tackle all the risks we have been facing until now, and also become a transit country when it comes to gas. Serbia will obtain revenue from that and open up possibilities for further development through this. This will enable new gasification, new industrial and business zones and further reindustrialization of the country,” Antic said. He said 30 percent of the funds were provided by Gastrans stakeholders – Srbijagas and Gazprom – and that the rest was project-based funding.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik: SNSD does not accept ANP (BN TV)

 

The Executive Committee and the Presidency of SNSD held sessions in Banja Luka on Monday. On this occasion, both the Executive Committee and the Presidency of the party discussed the current political situation in Republika Srpska (RS) and entire Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), with the emphasis set on formation of authorities at the B&H level and the NATO path of B&H. Addressing media after the sessions, Chairman of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik elaborated on the conclusions of the Executive Committee and the Presidency. When it comes to the NATO path, Dodik stated that SNSD does not accept the Annual National Program (ANP), referring to it as a document for activation of the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) and it thus remains consistent with its previously taken stances on this matter. “The Presidency and the Executive Committee said that it is impossible for us to accept any document that could serve as a basis for activation of the MAP or the membership. We remain committed to the RS National Assembly (RSNA)’s Resolution on Military Neutrality”, he underlined. Speaking about the conclusions related to formation of the authorities at B&H level, Dodik confirmed that SNSD also remains consistent with its previously taken stances when it comes to formation of the B&H authorities. Dodik commended work of the RS Government and stated that the RS has a stable financial situation. Following the session of the SNSD Presidency representatives of SNSD announced that SNSD, SDA and HDZ B&H are expected to hold a new round of talks about the process of formation of new authorities in B&H by the end of the week. Dodik stressed that SNSD has not set a single condition for formation of the B&H CoM, except for compliance with the previously adopted principles on formation of new authorities, which was signed by the leaders of SNSD, SDA and HDZ B&H. Dodik explained that it means that the RS should get the post of the B&H CoM Chairman, three ministerial posts and three posts of deputy ministers. He added that distribution of the latter will be agreed upon later on. He noted that SNSD welcomes the agreement reached by the Bosniak bloc, but he stressed that the three strongest parties will remain the main participants in the talks about formation of the B&H CoM. “We will not accept any kind of possibility of expanding the circle of participants in these talks because of the attempts to solve the situation in the Federation of B&H. As I said, the only participants in the talks are the blocs gathered around SNSD, HDZ B&H and SDA,” Dodik explained. SNSD Spokesperson Radovan Kovacevic confirmed on Monday that new talks of SNSD leader Milorad Dodik, HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic, and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic on formation of the executive authorities at B&H level are expected to take place by the end of this week. Kovacevic announced that SNSD will use that opportunity to once again state that it has nothing against B&H’s cooperation with NATO, but at the same level of cooperation that Serbia has with the Alliance. “This is expected to be the most important topic during talks of Milorad Dodik, Dragan Covic, and Bakir Izetbegovic” Kovacevic noted.

 

NATO publishes explanation of MAP and ANP (N1)

 

The NATO HQ Sarajevo issued on Monday a press release explaining what the Annual National Program (ANP) actually is. “It is not a decision about membership, nor does it imply membership. The ANP is a technical document, a list of reform priorities and goals that Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) prepares and drafts to help direct the reform processes and activities,” reads the press release. The press release further reads that “this tool could help B&H achieve progress in different fields, which includes more effective and efficient defense and security abilities, a better response to natural disasters, greater interoperability with the NATO member states and partners including all countries in the region, as well as greater contribution to overall security in the region.” “In this context, the NATO fully respects the country’s sovereignty and independence. It is up to B&H to decide to accept the invitation and submit its first ANP” reads the press release.

 

NATO is in focus of talks (Oslobodjenje)

 

Vice President of SDA Edin Ramic said that the wish of SDA is to reach an agreement on formation of authorities at B&H and Federation of B&H level by the end of this month or by the next month. He stated that the intention is for the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) and the Federation of B&H Government to be jointly discussed. He stated that further details will be known when the delegations of the parties convene, however he did not state when that will happen. He added that the removal of current Speaker of the Federation of B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Elvir Karajbic (SDP) can be expected. Karajbic replied that this will not be a problem as long as the request is filed and his removal is voted on in a democratic manner. SDA Vice-president Safet Softic said that he believes the agreement amongst SDA, DF and SBB B&H is going to speed up the process of authority formation. He underlined that the ANP does not equal NATO membership, and that it is simply an issue of respect or disrespect state legislation. Softic explained that they will have to find a solution, but they will not be able to reject the ANP. SBB B&H Vice-president Adisa Omerbegovic-Arapovic stated that formation of the Council of Ministers of B&H slowed down because of violation of the Law on Defense of B&H and blockade of the ANP adoption process. “Anti-NATO hysteria is being encourage for the past several months without any reason or cause, and we know by whom. Neither ANP means NATO membership, nor blockade of these benign reports can bring anything good for the citizens of B&H, including the smaller entity” said Omerbegovic-Arapovic and pointed out that SNSD is the most responsible party for the blockade of B&H CoM formation.

 

Covic: Merkel expressed support to process of Euro-Atlantic integration of B&H and resolving internal disputes based on equality of peoples (BHT1)

 

President of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) of B&H and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the pre-election rally of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Zagreb on Saturday. According to Covic, Merkel expressed support to the process of the Euro-Atlantic integration of B&H and resolving internal disputes in the country based on equality of peoples. Covic said that Merkel also insisted on implementation of the election results and rapid formation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM).

 

Dodik: Austrian Vice-Chancellor Strache obviously framed (N1)

 

Commenting on the resignation of Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, Chairman of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik stated in Banja Luka on Monday that Strache was obviously framed. “We will keep cooperating with a new structure. Our relations have always been good. As far as Strache is concerned, I have had excellent cooperation with him. Where he sits, what he does and who he talks to is not my concern, nor does he monitor what I do. It is their responsibility and right to make such political move. They did what they did. I think the case is about Balkanization of the European political situation,” Dodik assessed. Asked by media to comment on the resignation of Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache amid a corruption scandal, Dodik announced that this will not affect the cooperation of SNSD with Strache’s Austrian Freedom Party and assessed that this is a case of “an obvious setup”.

 

Did Angela Merkel really understand what happened at HDZ rally? (Hina)

 

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, otherwise one of the most powerful people in the European Union, was recently in the Croatian capital of Zagreb at HDZ’s pre-European election rally. HDZ is a party which divides opinion vastly among the public, with some loathing it more than anything and others loyal like dogs to it, its leader and its core values, regardless of whether or not the party actually sticks to them. But, what exactly did Angela Merkel, a highly respected and intelligent political figure who has dominated both German and European politics for such a long time, think of HDZ’s performance? The real question is, what did she really take away from it at all, or did the somewhat bizarre undercurrents manage to pass her by entirely? As Index writes on the 19th of May 2019, whether or not Merkel, from the vastly different (and vastly wealthier) Germany, truly grasped what was really going on at HDZ’s recent gathering at Zagreb’s Cibona is perhaps the most brutal question that could be posed right now, as it appears that HDZ decided to use their limelight in front of Europe’s most powerful woman to drop any proverbial mask and show, let’s say, a rather old face of the party. HDZ is a topic as tired as any in Croatia, and the country and its populace have had more than enough time and equally as many chances to make up their own minds about HDZ over the past thirty years, and PM Andrej Plenkovic once again decided to reveal the true face of his party just before the European elections, and in front of no less than the German chancellor herself, who came to the party’s pre-election gathering in the capital for the first time. Why did Merkel choose to come in the first place? Of all the countries where the European People’s Party operates, the family of which, as HDZ love to state, both Merkel and Plenkovic proudly belong to, she decided to come to Croatia. It’s still not clear why. It’s true that HDZ, given the number of MPs it has in Croatia, has a very high percentage of EEP MEPs, but it’s not very likely that this is the sole reason Merkel came to show her personal support to Plenkovic in Zagreb. It is possible, however, that Plenkovic is very well respected in the EEP, but that doesn’t quite seem to be the real reason for Merkel’s arrival, either. Her reasons should probably be sought during the campaign for Manfred Weber, who was also present at the recent HDZ rally. The fact that Croatia is set to assume the rotating EU presidency for six months may have a lot to do with it all. The reason for Merkel’s arrival is certainly more to do with Andrej Plenkovic than anything else, to whom the whole European environment is a natural habitat. HDZ’s main man is a loud and proud member of the European family and is generally seen as a modern European among his peers, as a diplomat deeply attached to European values. Merkel recently announced that this is to be her last term in office in Germany, but despite that decision, she’s still probably the most powerful woman on the international political scene. Despite being a very ”out and proud” Europhile and a member of the very progressive EEP, just what did Plenkovic and his party choose to present to Merkel? Rather bizarrely, the Bleiburg tragedy, Thompson and Franjo Tudjman… Although HDZ’s European election program was entitled “Croatia for Generations”; which is supposed to suggest that the party’s main focus is the future, it seems that at HDZ’s mildly odd rally, there were more words said about the past than much else. What might not be surprising to that party is the fact that Croatia has somehow managed to gain a massive 1687 new ex-defenders, a whole 24 years after the end of the Homeland War. To make the matter even more absurd, a controversial topic of the past was openly discussed by HDZ’s Karlo Ressler, a 29-year-old man who is present as a promising new face in the party. Ressler was born in no less than Bleiburg, the location of the infamous Bleiburg tragedy, for which a commemoration to murdered Croatian soldiers is held annually, which unfortunately tends to attract political symbols of the past, and which, most importantly of all, Austria has sought to ban. Austria is a nation that Germany shares very many special ties with, and discussing something that the aforementioned country appears dead set on banning in front of the German chancellor might not have been the most well thought out approach. Germany is far from the horrors of the Second World War, and discussions about it don’t seem to scream that HDZ is a party with its eyes on the prize – the future. Ressler took to the stage and stated that the Bleiburg tragedy was one of the greatest tragedies of the Croatian people, receiving HDZ’s ovations in response. Ressler was otherwise born 44 years after Bleiburg happened. Next on the rather strange agenda was to play a bit of Thompson to Merkel at the rally in Zagreb. The controversial singer, regardless of personal opinions, is banned in half of Europe, and his concerts are banned in Germany of all places, but HDZ still decided to go ahead and blast out Lijepa li se for the German chancellor anyway. If HDZ’s message wasn’t quite clear enough to everyone yet, the party leader made sure to confirm it all again, by going out onto the stage and literally screaming about it for around twenty minutes. Screaming about what you might ask? The past and Dr. Franjo Tudjman, I’d answer. He described HDZ’s strength and even went as far as to discuss the party’s ”enemies”, but refrained from naming them. Let’s not forget that among all of this, there was also a language barrier to deal with, too. Uncomfortable? Yes. HDZ managed to glorify nationalism and Croatia’s membership of the European Union at the same time, and while there were Croatian and HDZ flags galore, there was not one single EU flag to be seen.

 

Markovic: Montenegro is EU-oriented, relations with Russia are administrative (CDM)

 

Montenegro is clearly oriented towards the EU and NATO and that’s exactly the fundamental prerequisite for the improvement of life quality, said the Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic in the interview for German Euroactiv. He pointed out that Montenegrin economy was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and that we had received over €1,5 billion of FDI. As for the relations with Russia, he said they were at very low administrative level. He said that in 2006, Montenegro had taken Euro-Atlantic path. “The fundamental prerequisite for our EU membership will be the progress we are going to make in the area of rule of law”, said PM. He said that he used to be Minister of Justice and, therefore, he knew very well the things we were facing in that field. “We have 32 chapters open. Three chapters have been closed temporarily and we are ready to close seven more. Hopefully, we will be able to do that by the end of this year. We have strengthened our institutions, judicial system, state administration, we have established new institutions, today Montenegro looks differently than eight years ago”, pointed out PM. He said that the corruption was still a problem, but not as serious as it was before. “Organized crime is the biggest problem today, not only in Montenegro but internationally. In order to respond to that, we have set up Special Prosecutor’s Office which has already convicted many, even highly-positioned state officials, members of my party” said Markovic. Speaking about protests, Prime Minister pointed out that they were democratic right of every citizen. “And of course, protests can make the government think why people are protesting. Initial spark was the bank that went bankrupt whose owners were engaged in criminal activities. Then, everything was followed by a negative campaign against the President, Milo Djukanovic, who refused to protect the owners. Later, political opposition used that as a motive to support protests, get the support of masses and make requests that have gradually become political,” said PM. Due to our NATO membership, we are not having any political talks with Russia. “Russia opposed to our NATO membership. It endorsed the forces in Montenegro that are against the NATO membership. That’s why they meddled into the elections. If the pro-European forces hadn’t won the elections in 2016, NATO accession wouldn’t have been successful” said Markovic. He added that Montenegro had for long been exposed to hybrid threats, including false reports. “Their aim is to threaten our European integration, as well as our institutions, the government and the economic development,” said the Prime Minister.

 

Zaev: Changes in government, state and local institutions in early June (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that changes in government, state and local institutions will take place in the first half of June. “I intend to make changes in the Government, state and local institutions in the first half of June. There will also be changes in SDSM, for the purpose of improving the performances of the largest ruling party,” Zaev told reporters after the end of conference “Vienna Economic Talks – New Perspectives for the Republic of North Macedonia” in the Austrian capital. Zaev said the move is logical after two years of SDSM in power. “We have perceived the weaknesses and citizens sent a message at the elections that some things need to change in the executive,” noted Zaev. He added there are also certain shortcomings in the local authorities run by SDSM and the ruling coalition. “Of course, changes will take place. This will occur at the beginning of June, because the European Commission will release the Progress Report on 29 May,” said the Prime Minister.

 

Albania – Kosovo to establish common economic area (ADN)

 

In the framework of the creation of a common economic area in the region, Albania and Kosovo are continuing to work to approximate legislation among themselves, but also with the EU.

The second co-ordination meeting of the respective ministries of Kosovo and Albania was held on Monday at the Palace of Congress, regarding the agreements signed on 26 November 2018.

In the speech held on this occasion, Deputy Prime Minister Erion Brace said that “five years have passed since the first joint meeting of two governments in Prizren, where the basic strategic partnership document was signed. Our work and the main challenges are in four major areas: the market, services and mobility, security, culture and Diaspora and diplomatic action and political cooperation,” said Brace. Regarding the market, services and mobility, Brace said that “with Kosovo, as well as with other four Western Balkan countries, we are working to create a common economic area in the region, where our country’s legislation facilitates trade and movement free of people and goods, but at the same time it is aligned with EU legislation”.

In this regard, Brace highlighted the regional agreement signed in March 2019 for roaming, which will have real effects on phone charges starting from 1 July 2019.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Though not a member, Serbia eyes EU polls carefully (EurActiv, by Julija Simić, 20 May 2019)

 

EU candidate Serbia is carefully watching this week’s European Parliament election as its result may impact Belgrade’s progress towards EU membership. Though Brussels is not expected to abandon enlargement, the process is almost certain to slow down, at least this year.

The biggest Western Balkan country is particularly keen to see who will replace Federica Mogherini, who mediates the Belgrade – Priština dialogue, as the new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and whether the EU’s new diplomacy chief could give a new impetus to the stalled normalisation talks with Kosovo. Belgrade is also interested in whether the EU executive will have a Commissioner solely for enlargement or if that policy will be merged with another department – with either option a signal about the future priority status of the process. According to Sena Marić, a senior Researcher of the European Policy Center – CEP Belgrade, a good result of the extreme and populist options could affect institutional solutions, and lead to the situation where a separate enlargement directorate would not be designated within the new European Commission. “That outcome would send a political message that enlargement is not an important topic for the next make-up of EU institutions and would thus produce negative consequences for Serbia’s further European integration,” Marić told EURACTIV Serbia. Although surveys suggest a rise of the far right in the EU, Belgrade officials believe that traditional parties will continue to dominate the European Parliament and will thereby continue to have a crucial impact on the appointment of new Commissioners. There is also the matter of the future senior officials’ political orientation and personal take on enlargement, which should be known in the autumn.

The effect of the EP election on Serbia and the Western Balkans is already visible in the delay of publication of the annual progress report, from April to late May, after the election. “The EU election has pushed the enlargement policy to the sidelines, it is either not talked about at all or is being put on hold until the EU has reformed itself from within… The dynamic of the accession process of Serbia and the other candidates will be slower this year,” said European Movement in Serbia (EMinS) Secretary General Suzana Grubješić. The fact that the EU vote has a short-term effect on the entire enlargement process was also pointed out by Ambassador Duško Lopandić, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Along with the delay of the progress report, he highlighted “the attitude of some EU member countries’ leaders toward ‘removing’ the enlargement topic from the official debate of certain EU institutions, including the European Council debate on the EU strategy until 2024.” Sena Marić pointed out that the start of the next EP’s term will be marked by a vote on the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027, which includes the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) that Serbia uses. “In that regard, European MPs may be influential in finalising that arrangement, in the ways of using this fund and its content, as well as the final financial amount,” Marić said.  As for the expected strengthening of right-wing populists, Ambassador Lopandić believes this could affect “to some extent” the EP’s agenda and, indirectly, the enlargement process, but not essentially, as accession is managed primarily by the Commission and the member states and not the Parliament. In the long term, the EU is not expected to abandon the enlargement policy. “In the long term, I expect enlargement to remain an important topic in the coming years and the process itself, relative to the Western Balkans, to get new impetus because that fits the logic of the EU’s long-term need to maintain its importance and influence over European and broader events,” said Lopandić. What is certain is that Serbia will not take part in the next EP election, due in 2024. The EU Strategy for the Western Balkans, adopted just over a year ago, mentions 2025 as a possible year of Serbia and Montenegro’s EU accession, provided that they meet all the membership requisites by that time. Given the pace of the membership talks so far and the impasse in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, at this time, 2025 does not seem like a very realistic year of accession for Serbia.

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