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Belgrade Media Report 13 August

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• Vucic: Talks with opposition are honorable (RTS)
• Djuric to the Quint: Serbia will be guided by its interests (RTS/Tanjug)
• Quint urges Belgrade and Pristina to resume dialogue (Tanjug)
• Serbia calls Vatican to prevent seizure of holy Serb places in Kosovo (Beta)
• Sixty years on, nobody has been held responsible for crime in Gorazdevac (Novosti/Tanjug)
• KFOR: Security situation in Kosovo and Metohija peace and under control (Danas)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• HNS calls for implementation of signed agreement and implementation of rulings of domestic and European courts regarding the Election Law (Vecernji list/HRT1)
• Spiric says avoiding to apply agreement on formation of authorities at level of B&H pushes B&H into deeper agony and stalemate (ATV)
• Reactions to agreement on formation of authorities in B&H keep on coming; Opposition: This is capitulation; Dodik: There is no membership in NATO (RTRS)
• Opposition’s political games do not threaten stability in the country (Dnevne novine)
• Improvement of electoral legislation not possible without DPS (Dan)
• Popovic: It’s tragicomic the opposition doesn’t take part in its own proposal (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia
• French Ambassador calls for urgent steps to tackle the corruption scandal, warns about the country’s “EU dossier” (Republika/TV 24)
• US Ambassador Byrnes demands a serious, thorough, transparent and timely investigation into the scandal (Republika)
• Meta: EU/one year wasted: Elections to be held on 13 October (ADN)


• The Berlin Process and why the EU remains a political dwarf in the Balkans (New Eastern Europe)

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Vucic: Talks with opposition are honorable (RTS)


Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has told RTS that the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) and “One in Five Million” have been stating since 2017 that they will not take part in elections, saying this is because they cannot win. “They cannot come even close to us, the people see all this, they know who is doing what,” says Vucic. He says talks are honorable wherever they are taking place, but that they avoided him because they never wanted to talk to him. He says he is very happy that they are successfully talking with members of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). He says he will talk with those who cross the census. Speaking about election conditions, Vucic said: “First they talked about electoral lists, I said ‘you write them’, no commissions, you write every name and nothing will help you, you determine every electoral place in line with laws you had made or opposite ones, rule on financing of parties, we will accept almost anything you wish. You don’t like the law that you yourselves proposed, no problem. We will work according to you law.” He said he cared that all parties take part in elections, because then it will be seen who has how much support.


Djuric to the Quint: Serbia will be guided by its interests (RTS/Tanjug)


The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric says Serbia would continue to pursue its internal and foreign policies guided by its own interests and those of its own people, both in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as in other parts of the country. He said this during an unscheduled press conference at the Serbian government called after a joint statement issued by the Quint countries, who earlier today called on Pristina and Belgrade to resume their dialogue as soon as possible. “If we are talking about an invitation to continue the dialogue, yes, it should be continued but when the tax is abolished. The latest announcement clearly shows the tendency to artificially equalize – even though Pristina violates elementary principles, through taxes and international obligations – with the behavior Serbia has been forced to – preventing Kosovo from joining international institutions. Serbia is forced by the foreign policy behavior of the separatists in Pristina,” Djuric said. “On one hand, you have a clear violation of CEFTA and other basic principles of free trade, and on the other, you have a completely unlawful effort by Pristina to join international institutions. And then this is counted as being the same as Serbia’s standing for, in line with the UN Charter and Resolution 1244, preventing anyone from carrying out the independence process outside of the dialogue,” said Djuric. He said that Pristina institutions are making Serbia have to defend itself on the international scene, but that Serbia is successful in doing that today – and that Serbia has prevented the membership of the so-called Kosovo in nine international institutions, and succeeded in having many countries withdraw their recognition.


Quint urges Belgrade and Pristina to resume dialogue (Tanjug)


The joint statement by the governments of France, Germany, Italy the United Kingdom and the United States says they remain committed to full normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The joint statement reads as follows: “The governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States stand united in our aim to see the full normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia via a comprehensive, politically sustainable, and legally binding agreement that contributes to regional stability. The status quo prevents progress on Kosovo’s and Serbia’s path towards the EU and is simply not sustainable. After years of stagnation, the time has come to finally end the conflicts of the 1990s and provide a secure and prosperous future for the people of Kosovo and Serbia by negotiating in good faith an agreement that both sides can support. Therefore, we call on Kosovo and Serbia to restart the EU-led dialogue with urgency and ask that both parties avoid actions that will hinder a final agreement, which is necessary for both countries to achieve greater Euro-Atlantic integration and its accompanying benefits. We are prepared to step up our role in the process in support of the EU High Representative, but we cannot do so until you both signal a willingness to compromise, remove obstacles and resume discussions. For Kosovo, that means suspending the taxes imposed on Serbia. For Serbia, that means suspending the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo. We want to see the people of Kosovo and Serbia benefit from lasting peace and have the opportunity to build their futures. We stand ready to assist in any way possible.”


Serbia calls Vatican to prevent seizure of holy Serb places in Kosovo (Beta)


Serbian Minister of Culture and Information Vladan Vukosavljevic presented a letter on Sunday to the Pope’s nuncio in Belgrade, addressed to the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, regarding the recent incident in Kosovo and Metohija caused by Albanian bishops, who served mass on the remains of the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novo Brdo. According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture and Information, Vukosavljevic called on Cardinal Ravasi to take the initiative and steps so that “the Albanian Catholic clergy in the territory of the self-proclaimed state of Kosovo would not unnecessarily provoke tension and desecrate religious and cultural-historical monuments of the Serb people.”

Stating that Serbia and the Vatican are fostering markedly good cooperation, the Minister reminded the cardinal that in the 14th and 15th centuries, there was a Catholic church for western believers, whose remains are still present at the excavation site in Novo Brdo, and added that Albanian believers could repair the church and use it as desired. “The rich tradition of Christian culture in the Balkans and in Serbia can and should enable Catholic and Orthodox believers to perform their rituals with dignity in sacred objects that are an expression of their faith and cultural heritage,” the Minister said in the letter.


Sixty years on, nobody has been held responsible for crime in Gorazdevac (Novosti/Tanjug)


Today marks the 16th anniversary of the crime in Gorazdevac when innocent Serb children, swimming in the Bistrica River, were murdered and severely wounded – with no one ever being held responsible for attacking them. Ivan Jovovic (19) and Pantelija Dakic (12) were killed, while Djorde Ugrenovic (20), Bogdan Bukumiric (14), Marko Bogicevic (12) and Dragana Srbljak (13) were seriously injured. The attackers on the Serb children – who were in 2003 spending the day on a riverbank just 500 meters from the center of the village – have never been found, despite promises to the contrary. This is one of the four biggest crimes committed against Serbs since the arrival of international missions in Kosovo. Even the prize of one million Euros offered at the time by UNMIK did not help in finding the attackers. The parents of the children who were killed are disappointed that the perpetrators of the crime have not yet been brought to justice, although, as they claim, they are known. Years pass, memorial services with them – there is no answer yet. No one has ever been held responsible for the crime. EULEX, has closed the investigation due to a lack of evidence. EULEX took over the investigation from the UN mission, UNMIK, when they arrived in Kosovo. Kosovo police interviewed about 75 people in connection to this case, including the wounded children, and searched 100 houses. In 2016, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci for the first time laid flowers at a memorial dedicated to the murdered boys, promising to work to clarify and punish every crime, but also to determine the fate of the missing. The most serious crimes against Serbs in Kosovo (after the 1999 war) include the massacre of 14 farmers in Staro Gracko, the killing of three members Stolic family near Obilic, and the attack on a Nis Express bus near Podujevo that killed 12 passengers, who were traveling to Kosovo to visit the graves of their loved ones.


KFOR: Security situation in Kosovo and Metohija peace and under control (Danas)


The security situation in Kosovo and Metohija is peaceful and under control, while KFOR is always aware of the situation and regularly carries out security assessment – but is not involved in the fight against terrorism, says KFOR spokesman Pio Sabetta. “The security situation is the result of many factors, such as the economy, politics, prosperity… Everything that can affect the security situation is monitored on a daily basis, in order determine the measures that may be needed,” Sabetta told Danas, after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he could not rule out that incidents may occur in Kosovo and Metohija in the fall. Asked if KFOR has any knowledge of the terrorist Albanian organization B-13, which some media in Serbia claim plans to attack Serbs in North Mitrovica and Zubin Potok ahead of the elections in Kosovo, Sabetta pointed out that KFOR, in accordance with its mandate based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 has no role in the rule of law or law enforcement in Kosovo, and is not involved in the fight against terrorism, because that’s beyond the scope of its mandate – but KFOR is closely and constantly monitoring the situation. When asked if KFOR was ready to guarantee security to Kosovo residents on election day, Sabetta replied affirmatively. “KFOR contributes to ensuring a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all citizens of Kosovo, in an impartial manner, regardless of their ethnicity, and remains committed to the security and stability of Kosovo,” said Sabetta, adding that the current security situation is peaceful and under control. “KFOR cooperates closely with local and international security organizations. Should there be a warning of any kind about a potential security breach, KFOR is ready to take the necessary measures to protect security of Kosovo, in close cooperation with the Kosovo police and EULEX, for the benefit of every citizen living in Kosovo,” stressed Sabetta.




HNS calls for implementation of signed agreement and implementation of rulings of domestic and European courts regarding the Election Law (Vecernji list/HRT1)


In two separate statements, the leader of Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) Dragan Covic and HNS called for reaching of the agreement regarding the changes of Election Law of B&H in a way to secure the legitimate political representation in the country. Speaking for HRT1 central news, Covic rejected the claims that changes of the Election Law would guarantee the ironclad position with Croats: “Political Sarajevo and parties, for some time now, when they have no other arguments, come out with such initiatives. What we want is for three constituent peoples to be legitimately represented at all administrative levels in B&H, which is very clear constitutional provision of B&H. As the smallest constituent people, we will insist on this representation”. Article reminded that earlier, SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic stated that it is not realistic to quickly change the Election Law in terms of satisfying of Croats’ demands, while Bosniak, left orientated parties stated that the legitimate political representation is made up, even despite the rulings of the Constitutional Court of B&H in case of ‘Ljubic’, which is being ignored for years. HNS also issued a statement stating that signing of the agreement, which contains request for changing the Election Law, under mediation of Ambassador (Head of EU Delegation and EUSR) Lars- Gunnar Wigemark, “represents a huge step in final solving of state authority level and forming of a new Council of Ministers”. The most important segment of legitimate representation is for winners from the three peoples to take over key posts. “HNS welcomes the efforts and political readiness which was invested by side of election winners, as well as assistance of our European partners and friends, who recognized the importance of such an agreement. Signed principles, with maximal respecting of stakeholders, represent the guidelines which in the end, should accelerate the processes, most notably in the context of internal political agreements, as well as solving of key issues, crucial for our Euro-Atlantic path”, reads HNS statement. HNS further stressed that the legitimate political representation is listed as part of B&H European agenda. “Compromise reached through this agreement is the ultimate example that respecting of all representatives of three constituent peoples is the founding assumption for strengthening of the state and rule of the law and laws. We especially want to underline that this agreement, in one of its items, calls for implementation of all rulings and decisions of domestic and European courts, which refer to election legislation in our country, in order to secure constitutional and institutional equality of constituent peoples with full respecting of their legitimately elected representatives. Legitimacy, as founding democratic principle, was recognized by side of all European bodies, especially by side of European Parliament, as well as latest report of the European Commission,” reads HNS statement. In the end, they called for swift implementation of all principles from the agreement.


Spiric says avoiding to apply agreement on formation of authorities at level of B&H pushes B&H into deeper agony and stalemate (ATV)


SNSD Vice President Nikola Spiric stated on Sunday that avoiding to apply the agreement on formation of authorities at the level of B&H, which was signed by SNSD leader Milorad Dodik, SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic on Monday, pushes B&H into deeper agony and stalemate. “It is particularly disputable that in the post-Dayton period Sarajevo has never conveyed such an ugly message to the RS and the Serb people, as no one counts on the RS and Serbs as the constituent people and the election will of the Serb people is disrespected. This means that Serbs got a message that they should turn to themselves and the RS,” Spiric stated. He concluded that all Serbs in B&H institutions should turn to the RS and try to jointly find an answer to the question what kind of future can be expected and to jointly pave a way to such a future. Spiric called on the representatives of Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks to unblock the process of authority formation. Spiric said that unless the Serbs turn to the RS, the whole country will face agony that will not be able to birth any solutions, and they might face a possibility of losing the RS.


Reactions to agreement on formation of authorities in B&H keep on coming; Opposition: This is capitulation; Dodik: There is no membership in NATO (RTRS)


RTRS reported that reactions to the agreement on formation of authorities in B&H signed by SDA, HDZ B&H and SNSD on Monday keep on coming. According to RTRS, the Article 3 of the agreement that mentions NATO integration is disputable. Leader of PDP Branislav Borenovic claims that Serb member of the Presidency of B&H and leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik promised full cooperation with NATO, but he does not dare to say it out laud. Delegate in the B&H House of Peoples Nikola Spiric (SNSD) responded by saying that Serb representatives in the Council of Ministers (CoM) of B&H led B&H practically to NATO’s doors. Some members of the opposition called it capitulation and joining NATO. Dodik said that there is no membership in NATO, as the agreement is in accordance with previously-adopted and previously-agreed policies of the RS. Dodik argued that precisely those who see things that are not part of the agreement – Serb ministers and representatives in B&H institutions from SDS and PDP – supported B&H joining NATO in the past mandate. Dodik called on the parties to prove what they desperately try to prove in the media that support them, adding that he can show documents that leader of SDS Mirko Sarovic and former leader of PDP Mladen Ivanic signed in the last four years regarding NATO. Dodik stated: “They voted for it and I do not know how they dare and how do they have the decency and the right to ask me anything, much less to make false accusations against me”. RTRS reported that documents that Dodik mentions are actually the work plan of the B&H CoM for 2019 and the B&H Foreign Policy Strategy. Allegedly, the first document approved by Serb ministers in March, clearly mentions B&H’s commitment to joining NATO. The second document, i.e. the B&H Foreign Policy Strategy from March last year – which refers to the period until 2023 – describes B&H path to NATO in details, saying that this is priority. Dodik noted that Serb representatives at the level of B&H also approved this document.


Opposition’s political games do not threaten stability in the country (Dnevne novine)


Miodrag Vukovic, the DPS MP, says his party along with its coalition partners, has been working responsibly in the Committee on Further Reform of Electoral and Other Legislation, which cannot be said for the opposition. In an interview for the weekend edition of Dnevne novine daily, Vukovic says there is no need for the transitional government when the political situation in Montenegro is stable. According to him, these days we are witnessing the irresponsible and unnecessary actions of the opposition using media for their games with no other players but themselves. “We started with our work when the opposition was boycotting us and when we were continuously urging them to join us. Now when that happened, that is, when the largest opposition group joined us, we started from the very beginning,” Vukovic says.

He underlines that the opposition withdrew from the Committee for reasons that had nothing to do with his party and the electoral legislation. Fortunately, Montenegro has a stable parliamentary majority and its state stability and progress is not at stake, according to Vukovic.

The political parties in Montenegro should gather and agree on the conditions needed for the institutional and human resources changes that would result in the adoption of new laws. “But having in mind their [the opposition’s] behavior, I don’t think we will be able to ensure such an atmosphere and environment.”


Improvement of electoral legislation not possible without DPS (Dan)


It’s obvious that the work on further improvement of the electoral legislation is not possible without dialogue with the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS. Just as everything else must be voted in the parliament along with the DPS. I wish it could be different, but it is evident it could not, the leader of Demos, Miodrag Lekic said in an interview with Dan daily. When asked whether his party was going to take part in the work of the Committee on Further Reform of Electoral and Other Legislation, he said that “Demos has already participated in the work of the Committee which had several sessions. Demos will take part in the work of the Committee, and in all other institutional and democratic activities of the opposition.” On the growing crisis in the opposition, Lekic said it could and should have been avoided. He recalled that it had been previously agreed to have two vacant posts in the Committee in case the Democrats decided to join this body. “Their [the Democrats’] decision to enter the Committee could have been a good news for the opposition as it could become even stronger in its future activities. And that’s exactly what the public is asking from the opposition.” Lekic doesn’t think it’s impossible to reform the electoral legislation by the end of the year in the best-case scenario, that is, having in mind the current circumstances. He said: “It’s necessary to have a strong, thoroughly planned initiative, to set again the conditions that were previously defined, such as, for example, the work of the public broadcaster, which has been financed by the citizens, should be liberated from any party control…and in case a real democratic dialogue happens, we should continue with the serious work in the Committee.” Each party should assume responsibility for its own actions

As for his proposal for the current situation, Lekic said: “Demos suggests the whole opposition to enter the Committee so that we can jointly try to find the democratic solutions which would prevent the continuation of electoral fraud of the ruling coalition.” In case the opposition doesn’t manage to do this, each party should assume the responsibility for its own political actions.


Popovic: It’s tragicomic the opposition doesn’t take part in its own proposal (Pobjeda)


The opposition set out certain conditions for taking part in the work of the Committee on Further Reform of Electoral and Other Legislation and now, when they [conditions] have been largely accepted and when a compromise has been reached, it’s a little unserious and tragicomic that they themselves do not take part in something they requested, the leader of the Liberal Party Andrija Popovic assessed in an interview for Pobjeda. “It seems to me that all that fuss and threats that they won’t participate in the work of the Committee were made for nothing, and serve them to justify their unprincipled and demagogic policy before the public and their voters. I think the part of the opposition has already announced they are going to take part in the future work on reforms along with the parliamentary majority and the representatives of the civil sector,” Popovic noted. Commenting on the agreement between the DPS and the Democrats, he emphasized he supports any agreement if it’s going to contribute to the continuation of the reform of electoral legislation. “The Liberal Party supports any agreement even though it’s a surprising one, like the one we have now between the DPS and the Democrats, if it’s going to contribute to the continuation of the reform of electoral legislation and dealing with the challenge we have been struggling with for years – acceptance of the forthcoming elections as the democratic and fair ones.” He hopes the opposition will stop arguing with each other by autumn.


French Ambassador calls for urgent steps to tackle the corruption scandal, warns about the country’s “EU dossier” (Republika/TV 24)


French Ambassador to Macedonia Christian Thimonier called for an urgent response from the judiciary with regard to the growing corruption scandal revolving around Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva. This is the latest in the series of such calls from Thimonier, which has prompted concerns that Macedonia may be rejected in its request to open EU accession talks, given French pre-existing skepticism. All necessary steps need to be taken in the shortest possible time, so that assurances are made that a credible investigation is being conducted, without concern whether those involved have high positions. It needs to be shown that the time for impunity is over, Thimonier said in an interview with TV 24, while calling for a trial that would put all the issues to rest. The investigation is mired for three weeks, after the initial arrest of Bojan Jovanovski – Boki 13 and Zoran Mileski – Zoki Kicheec, who likely acted as mere intermediaries and bag-men for the more powerful politicians and prosecutors extorting money from businessmen. Ambassador Thimonier acknowledged that Macedonia’s case is now “less firm” compared to what it was before the scandal. Time goes by quickly and there is not much of it left till October, when credible results need to be shown. It is necessary that the government and the opposition find a way toward a more stable dossier for the country, so we could say that, while there are some problems with the rule of law, there is still the necessary will to act and not just declare intent. A will that would deserve the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 from the accession talks, the Ambassador added. He insisted that it is up to Macedonia to prove that it has a dossier that is credible enough for it to demand the opening of EU accession talks.


US Ambassador Byrnes demands a serious, thorough, transparent and timely investigation into the scandal (Republika)


US Ambassador to Macedonia Kate Byrnes tweeted out a call to the Zaev government and the prosecutors to act on the major corruption scandal centered around Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva. This is the second such call made by the Ambassador. As we have said previously, these are serious charges that require a serious response that is thorough, transparent & timely. Now is the time for North Macedonia to demonstrate commitment to adherence to the rule of law, Byrnes said while sharing the similar, although more watered down call from European Commissioner Johannes Hahn. Acting US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker noticeably ignored the major scandal during his recent visit to Macedonia. Shortly after, his assistant charged with the Balkans Matthew Palmer made a direct call that Janeva is investigated. Ignoring the scandal is becoming more and more difficult as tapes proving Janeva’s involvement and even Zaev’s and Radmila Sekerinska’s likely knowledge of the affair became available.


Meta: EU/one year wasted: Elections to be held on 13 October (ADN)


Albanian President Ilir Meta spoke this Monday on the current political situation, for which he declared that the parties are far from the dialogue, while pointing out that Albania wasted a year regarding the opening of negotiations and that of a sudden it all turned into a “power struggle”.

President stresses that on 13 October all parties should participate in elections and make possible that on October 18 another hope for the citizens of Albania lights up. Among other things, Meta invites political parties to be more responsible and work for the interests of the country.

“I will remind you of my public stance on 27 June 2018, the day after the General Affairs Council’s conclusions on Albania’s accession negotiations with the European Union were announced! Not only a year went wasted without cooperation, concentration and responsibility, but everything only got worse in the interest of the power struggle. In the meantime more than two months have passed since the day I gave both parties the opportunity to hold comprehensive local elections. We still have the opportunity to use these days to hold elections on October 13, 2019, as an obligation, not only legally, but also as a necessity to avoid having zero chances for Albania to open accession negotiations with the EU on October 18, 2019. No one has to find excuses and alibi unless they reflect. Anything can be lobbied in the EU, but not the ignoring the Copenhagen criteria. Free and fair elections are an inevitable part of them. Therefore, the willingness of OSCE officials to help overcome this crisis urgently needs to be taken advantage of by recognizing this readiness now, in order not only to hold local elections on October 13, 2019, but also to reach an agreement on the electoral reform as soon as possible so that that our country can open negotiations on October 18, 2019,” said President Meta in his remarks.

– President’s statement on June 27, 2018 –

As a day passed, a year will pass too!

Yesterday’s conclusions of the General Affairs Council on Albania’s accession negotiations with the European Union should be received with realism and responsibility. We should all appreciate the positive will with which both the European Commission and all member states welcome the process of Albania’s and the region’s EU integration. This approach should encourage us to have a fair and realistic reading of the serious challenges ahead, especially in the area of the rule of law. A year goes by fast. Our exam next June will be very difficult and demanding as the European Union itself will have its electoral exam at the same time. So, I invite everyone to exude focus, responsibility and cooperation.




The Berlin Process and why the EU remains a political dwarf in the Balkans (New Eastern Europe, by Ivan Pepic, 12 August 2019)


While the European Union is busy working out a long term strategy in the Western Balkans, other state actors are expanding their influence in the region.

On the fourth and fifth of July 2019, the city of Poznań, Poland hosted the sixth Western Balkans Summit within the Berlin Process. The Berlin Process has affirmed itself as the most important link between the European Union and the Western Balkans countries (WB6). Since its inception, it has endeavored to solve vital challenges for the WB6: youth and employment, digitalisation, infrastructure building, women’s empowerment, education, connection and the regional free market. For centuries, the Balkans have been reliant on foreign powers. Many empires have had control over the region — the Ottomans, Central Europeans and Russians have all ruled the Balkans’ regions and countries. A similar dependence on foreign influences is inherently present even today. In contrast to their past tendencies, present-day influences interested in the region prefer to keep some distance from the Balkan’s internal political processes. This is particularly true for the EU. Why has the EU not shown concrete political solutions or preferences towards the WB6 in the past couple of decades? Instead, the EU insists on local ownership. However, is this approach beneficial if we consider politically difficult and unresolved questions? It seems that the EU has three options. First, to continue with the nonsensical approach of withholding any political solutions to the crises. Second, accuse the WB6 leaders of unaccountability while maintaining the illusion of accession among the population through Poznań-like summits. And third, face reality and admit their mistakes while advancing concrete political solutions and new policies towards the WB6 that has the power to counteract non-EU actors.


Serious challenges: political backslides and lack of EU awards in the WB6

Notwithstanding the modest progress that has been achieved, the WB6 continues to face at least two serious challenges in its relations with the EU. First, the EU ignores the political relations on the ground and political backslide in the WB6. Complex relations between and inside communities are destroying larger society and mutual trust. In this regard, the EU has demonstrated, again and again, that it is “an economic giant and a political dwarf” — as defined by the former Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mark Eyskens, in 1991. Even worse, political giants and serious economic players are present in the WB6 now more than ever. Although the Berlin Process was not designed to be a purely political process, six years after its inception, it has not tried to address the burning issues that hinder all the Berlin Process’ efforts. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a serious stalemate occurred after the Bosniak Muslims elected a Croat member of the tripartite presidency of BiH in 2018, for the third time after the war. Although constitutional provisions guarantee full equality for the three constituent peoples in the Bosniak-Croat Federation of BiH — Bosniak Muslims, Croats and Serbs — the most numerous constituent people, Bosniak-Muslims (70 per cent of the entity’s population), elect the representatives of Croats (22 per cent) for the state’s and entity’s executive and legislative institutions. While the EU pushes for the implementation of the ECHR’s Sejdić-Finci judgment, it completely ignores that Mostar has not had elections since 2008. The last elections were held after the decision of the Constitutional Court of BiH against the electoral rule imposed in 2004 by the High Representative Paddy Ashdown who also acted as the EUSR in BiH. The main EU institutions have been calling for a fast formation of executives at the state level and in the Federation of BiH while completely ignoring that the Election law provisions, necessary for the final formation of executives, were proclaimed unconstitutional in 2016. These unconstitutional provisions were imposed by the EUSR who at the time had executive (Bonn) powers at the same time as the EUSR and High Representative. Thus, the EU has to share accountability with BiH’s leaders. Another example is the Serbia-Kosovo relationship. Rumors concerning some members of the Trump administration that pushed for a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia have become a reality. Merkel and other EU diplomats almost angrily opposed this idea, which was carefully and secretly considered by Belgrade and Pristina. But what is the EU’s counterproposal? Apart from periodical reports on progress and Berlin-Process-like discussions, no political solution has been advanced by the EU. The last attempt dates back to the 2013 Brussels Agreement, which was never implemented. Moreover, in April, Berlin encouraged talks between the two sides but without any concrete political proposal on the table. The second challenge regards the rewards for WB6 progress, which remains under the EU’s radar. After decades, North Macedonia has agreed to compromise with Greece over the name dispute that was the reason for contention, which kept the former Yugoslav republic from beginning negotiations with the EU. Analysts and diplomatic circles know that the compromise was never planned or backed by the US. On the other hand, instead of rewarding Macedonians and their country, which accepted to remain blind over invalid referendum result, by opening negotiations, the EU ascribed the name dispute as their own victory and as a demonstration of good practice that should be considered by other regional leaders. Although the EU played a role, it is well known that without the US any compromise would be difficult to reach. Curiously, no EU leader has explained how a name dispute could be applicable to the BiH and Serbia-Kosovo conflicts since these cases are incomparable. Again, the US — in this particular case the very experienced diplomat Matthew Nimetz — solved another challenge in the Balkans, while the EU remains a political dwarf.


Uncomfortable non-EU actors

Efforts undertaken by the EU are going to be in vain if it does not even try to put long-term political solutions on the table. All funds will never get to the ground, and tens of thousands will leave the WB6. On the other hand, actors such as China, Russia, Turkey or the Gulf countries will invest through their proxies, religious organizations and favorite political parties. In the long-term, this will destabilise the countries in the region. For instance, in 2018, the International Republican Institute (IRI) polled BiH’s citizens who claimed that Turkey is their greatest ally (29 percent), followed by Russia (15), Germany (13) and the US (8). Similarly, Turkey’s influence has been evaluated as positive by 53 percent of the population, followed by Russia’s (45) and the US (39). Moreover, 38 percent of the Bosniak Muslim population think that Turkey is its single biggest donor, even though the EU invests in BiH ten times more than Turkey. Although Turkey is an important donor, it is also trying to become an infrastructural investor. Indeed, Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently promised a 3 billion euro investment for the Sarajevo-Belgrade highway. Turkey is not only providing financial aid to BiH but it is exercising political influence too. Several times, Erdogan was hosted by Bosniak’s main political party — the Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Today, Erdogan’s AKP and SDA are cooperating more than ever. Moreover, Erdogan has often stated, and the Bakir Izetbegovic has confirmed that BiH has been consigned to him by Alija Izetbegovic on his deathbed. A similar process has happened to the entity Republika Srpska, whose main political leader, Milorad Dodik, has attracted Eastern autocrats, especially Putin. Dodik is now participating in the tripartite presidency of BiH.


A new EU policy for conflict resolution is needed

The EU has to decide which strategy to apply towards the WB6: a nonsense illusionary one or concrete political solutions. Political conflict resolution must become one of the top priorities for EU policies in the Balkans. If this does not happen, the EU will face more serious challenges from the presence of non-EU actors, and those actors are always ready to present illiberal or even anti-EU solutions for the political tensions between actors that represent their own nations in the WB6. It is time for the EU to improve its standing in the region. The new commission should take its position in the Balkans seriously while taking into account the political weakness in all other neighboring regions, including Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and the Mediterranean.

Ivan Pepic is Head of the Expert Team at The Institute for Social and Political Research in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He holds a Master Degree in Political Science from the University of Zagreb and a Master Degree in European Studies from the University of Geneva. His research interests include comparative politics, theories of conflict resolution, political systems in divided societies and South-Eastern Europe.

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