Vucic: I am convinced Kosovo cannot become UNESCO member (RTS/Beta)
Addressing reporters following his speech at the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said there was no ‘fear’ that Kosovo could violate the international law since only UN member countries could join UNESCO. Referring to his speech, Vucic said that was “yet another opportunity to protect Serbia’s territorial integrity and to remind about the endangerment” of Serb monasteries and other cultural monuments in Kosovo. “I’m convinced that Kosovo cannot become a UNESCO member and that Serbia will succeed in preserving and defending its interests in this significant UN organization in the era of multilateralism,” Vucic said. “The example of Kosovo is an example of how UNESCO is important in protecting cultural heritage, especially in the most critical situations… The Serb heritage in Kosovo is of an unmeasurable value not only for Serbia’s national identity but as a part of the European and world heritage that needs additional protection,” Vucic told the conference. He also said that France wanted the Kosovo issue to be solved. “France wants it resolved as does the whole of Europe and Paris has a crucial role in that,” Vucic said, adding Serbia was satisfied with the European Union’s mediation in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations. He said that Serbia had never blamed Europe for the Balkans’ failures.
Vucic not to travel to Zagreb for EPP Congress (Tanjug/Blic)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has decided against travelling to Zagreb for a European People’s Party (EPP) congress to which he had been invited as Serbian Progressive Party leader.
In a letter to EPP President Joseph Daul, Vucic explained that one of the reasons behind his decision was that he did not want to contribute to a further deterioration of the position of Serbs in Croatia. In the letter, published by Blic, Vucic wrote that his decision not to attend was not a proof of weakness, but of strength and a desire to change things for the better. He pointed out that an outstretched hand and an open door to better relations between Serbs and Croats and Serbia and Croatia in the future were the most important part of the policy he was representing.
“I want to inform you that I have prepared what, to me, seems to be a serious analysis of developments in the region, as well as of what all of us together would have to do in the period to come. However…, a real media harangue against my coming to Zagreb and Croatia has been going on in almost all Croatian media for weeks,” Vucic noted in the letter to Daul, thanking him for the invitation to speak at the congress.
Dacic: Anti-Serb hysteria in Croatia because of Vucic’s possible visit (Beta)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that “the hysteria in Croatia because a possible participation of President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) at the European Peoples Party (EPP) gathering in Zagreb is not motivated by the election campaign in the country, as naively believed, but by general anti-Serb atmosphere. That, he added, legitimizes an old story about the Serbs as a disturbance factor which should be eliminated. “That atmosphere in Croatia has been systematically built up by denying the genocide in WW II, the rehabilitation of Ustashas. Lies about the alleged Greater Serbia’s aggression despite the fact that the Serbs lived there for centuries,” Dacic wrote in a statement. He also asked how Croatia would preside the EU in a few months when it was not capable of organizing an EU gathering with the Western Balkans and other regional events? Why is that so is up to them to consider? Serbia wants and thinks to look forward and that the tragedies from the past are lessons and not examples for future generations,” Dacic added.
Serbian government: Strengthening accountability of political entities in the electoral process (Tanjug)
The Serbian government adopted the Bill on Amendments to the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency and the Bill on Amendments to the Law on Prevention of Corruption, with the aim of strengthening the accountability of political entities as participants in the electoral process.
In addition to strengthening accountability in relation to the use and disposal of public resources, amendments to the law also address the clear separation of official and political functions, as well as prescribing offences for public officials who use public resources in an election campaign contrary to law. The aforementioned legal proposals envisage the introduction of a new term – “public resource” which means real estate, movable property and any other property that is publicly owned or in another form of property used by the Serbian authorities, autonomous provinces or local self-government units. The new regulations also prescribe prohibition of public officials from using public resources for the promotion of political parties, i.e. political entities, as well as the use of public gatherings for the promotion of political parties. At the initiative of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, the Bill on Amendments to the Law on Business Companies was established with the aim of further improving the business environment. World practice indicates that it is necessary for employees in companies to be stimulated in order to perform their jobs as best they can, by giving them the opportunity to become members of a company. This method of stimulation has proven to be effective in the information technology industry, which has great potential for rapid growth, as well as in other segments of the economy covered by these legal solutions.
Godfrey: EU membership for all in Western Balkans, NATO for those who want it (Beta)
Western Balkans in the EU is the strategic interest of not just the states in the region and in the EU, but also of the US, the newly appointed US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey stated at the Seventh NATO Week in Belgrade. The integration of Western Balkans with the West must be completed. For us, that means membership in the EU for all and membership in NATO for those states which want it, Godfrey stated. He assessed that this vision also occupied an important position in the strategic interests of the US, and said he hoped the challenge that was placed before the Western Balkan states by the European Council’s decision not to start the pre-accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, would soon be overcome. Godfrey praised Serbia’s progress in reforms and its economic results, but stressed that serious reforms were necessary in other fields – primarily in the rule of law, media freedom and fight against corruption. Serbia is currently at a critical point and political leaders in Belgrade must implement serious reforms so that Serbia can progress on its European path. Violence and threats against journalists is a critical issue in Serbia. The US Embassy and the international community will continue to support the improvement of the situation in the media in Serbia, Godfrey stated.
SSP claims internal struggle underway in ruling party (N1)
The Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP) said on Thursday that President Aleksandar Vucic and Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic are engaged in an internal struggle in their ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). “Nebojsa Stefanovic said last night (Wednesday) on (the pro-government) O2 TV that his father has nothing to do with the GIM company. In other words, Stefanovic said that Aleksandar Vucic was lying when he said that Stefanovic’s father was a GIM employee. Stefanovic realized after Vucic’s statement and the accusations against him made suddenly by (Serbian Radical Party leader) Vojislav Seselj that the president and party leader is “washing his hands of him” and has decided to defend himself,” the SSP statement said.
Minister Stefanovic’s father Branko has been named as one of the people involved in the export of munitions from the Krusik plant. A whistleblower leaked documents showing that the GIM company and Branko Stefanovic as its representative were given privileged prices by the Krusik management. The SSP added that “we have known for a long time that Stefanovic and (the president’s brother) Andrej Vucic are fighting for control over the Belgrade city branch of the SNS which is headed by Stefanovic”. “Aleksandar Vucic is using the involvement of Stefanovic and his father in the Krusik arms deal scandal to increase the pressure on his close associate,” the SSP said.
PIC SB rejects RS parliament’s conclusions, warns RS of wrongly interpreting Constitution of B&H (TV1)
The Ambassadors of the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) rejected the adoption of conclusions on November 11, 2019, by the ruling coalition in the Republika Srpska (RS) parliament as based on an erroneous interpretation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), the PIC SB said on Wednesday. “The interests of the RS are served not by rolling back essential reforms, but by implementing forward-looking reforms that support and strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), and reduce B&H’s reliance on international supervision” the PIC SB said. The PIC SB added they fully support the state-level institutions which are required for the effective functioning of both entities and calls upon the RS authorities to refrain from undermining them. It also fully supports High Representative (HR) Valentin Inzko, who supervises the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement, and his mandate, and commends his efforts in implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement. The PIC SB also recalled that B&H was recognized as a sovereign country in 1992, when it was defined by the DPA as a state consisting of two entities, while the RSNA’s conclusions contradict these facts. “B&H enjoys sovereignty and the B&H Constitution does not leave any room for any ‘sovereignty’ of the entities, which only exist legally by virtue of the B&H Constitution. This has been affirmed by the B&H Constitutional Court on many occasions. The RS has no right to secede and operates under the DPA which recognizes the territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty of B&H” reads the statement. The PIC SB underlined that the entities are obliged to act in line with decisions of state institutions. “The RS is obliged by the DPA to comply with the decisions of the B&H institutions and to provide all necessary assistance to the government of B&H in order to enable it to honor the international obligations of B&H” the PIC Ambassadors said in a statement. Explaining its stance, the PIC SB mainly referred to decisions of the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H. The PIC Ambassadors stressed that the B&H CC, in its decisions, developed a comprehensive jurisprudence on B&H, its competencies and the status of the constituent peoples. “The decisions of the B&H Constitutional Court are final and binding, and it does not belong to the RS parliament to select which decisions it chooses to apply. The presence of the international judges in the Constitutional Court is regulated by the B&H Constitution and it belongs to the B&H Parliamentary Assembly to decide on their presence,” PIC stated in a press release. The Embassy of Russia to B&H issued a press statement on the statement of the PIC SB and noted: “We could not agree with the assessment of seriousness of the situation and true ways out of it, which were proposed by the OHR and PIC partners. We believe that the issue related to finalization of formation of B&H institutions, following last year’s elections, has acquired exclusively urgent character”. The Embassy of Russia to B&H also noted that uncertainty paralyzes the work of institutions, delays reforms and causes damage to the international position of B&H.
Dodik: RS parliament did not adopt conclusions to be approved or rejected by PIC (Srna)
Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik told Srna the RS parliament did not adopt its conclusions for the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board to reject them or uphold them, because the PIC Council is not a body that is even envisaged by the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) or the B&H Constitution. “The Conclusions were adopted by the RS parliament, which draws the possibility and right from all valid regulations to adopt them. The PIC is a self-organized body of a certain number of countries and organizations, which does not have its articles of association, nor any document on its functioning, which means that it is a body that is not based on international law or documents,” Dodik replied when asked to comment on a statement by the ambassadors of the PIC Steering Board rejecting the parliament’s Conclusions. That the PIC is total legal nonsense was stated back in 1995 by Pauline Neville-Jones, the then political director of the British Foreign Office, at a conference in London, when the body was self-founded, Dodik emphasized. “‘Everybody knew it was a trick’ was how Pualine Neville-Jones described the PIC formation at the time. The high representative does not have any kind of obligation towards the PIC, either under the Dayton Agreement of the UN Security Council resolutions, and that’s why I believe their actions in the past, including this one today, bypass the DPA or any other legally binding document,” the Serb member of the B&H Presidency emphasized. He noted that the forum of ambassadors within the PIC Steering Board, who occasionally meet in Sarajevo, has neither any legal grounds nor any meaning, especially if one takes into account that they keep interfering in B&H’s internal matters without any legal grounds, citing the preservation of the sovereignty of the very same B&H. “It is clear to us that force is on their side, but force and law are not one and the same thing, and that’s what I want to say to them today. In order to interpret the Agreement and the Constitution, we do not need anyone from the international community, for even if they find us little and small in number, we have enough capable people who can interpret all treaties and decisions competently” said Dodik.
Other RS officials comment on PIC SB stance on RS parliament’s conclusions (RTRS)
Representatives of all political parties from RS that supported the adoption of the RS parliament’s conclusions and stressed that the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) does not have mandate to reject the RS parliament ‘s conclusions. RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic agrees that the PIC cannot reject RS parliament’s decisions. “It is important to say that Russia was against that stance of the PIC,” Viskovic underlined. RS parliament speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic said that foreigners cannot make decisions instead of legal institutions within B&H, noting that the conclusions of the RS parliament are not an attack on B&H, nor pose a threat that could cause a conflict. Leader of NDP and former RS President Dragan Cavic said that such stance of the PIC has one goal only – preservation of international presence in B&H. “I want to remind you that in March 2006, the PIC Steering Board reached a decision to close down the OHR in 2007. Ever since, the work of the OHR has been artificially extended and thus the agony in relations within this country,” Cavic underlined. RSNA Deputy Speaker Milan Petkovic stated that B&H is internationally recognized, but nobody can say that entities do not have certain, constitutionally guaranteed rights, as well as sovereignty. “As a politician and a jurist I deem that interpreting of DPA by the side of the RS parliament, as the highest legislation body of the RS, is far more relevant than of certain ambassadors or politicians from the international community”, Petkovic told Srna. Commenting the stance of PIC SB Ambassadors who said that RS parliament conclusions are based on wrong interpretation of DPA, Petkovic said that the RS would not be reaching mentioned decisions and conclusions if it did not have sovereignty. Leader of United Srpska Nenad Stevandic said that democracy is not in danger because of adoption of RSNA conclusions, but because of the failure to implement the election will of voters, which is obstructed by leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic and the Alliance for Changes.
SDA commends PIC SB’s reaction, criticizes lack of action (N1)
SDA stated that they welcome the clear stance of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) where the Ambassadors presented justified, fact-based criticism of anti-Dayton and unconstitutional conclusions of the RS parliament. “We call on PIC to support the High Representative and translate words into action, which their mandates oblige them to. Lack of concrete reaction will only continue to encourage anti-Dayton activities and lead to further destabilization” reads SDA’s statement. “It is no surprise that the Russian Ambassador is left alone in supporting a part of political parties from the RS in their anti-Dayton activities,” reads the SDA statement. SDA further noted that the PIC mandate is not only to register anti-Dayton activities, but to finally undertake adequate and concrete measures regarding undermining of DPA. SNSD representatives stressed that it is sad to see that 25 years after the signing of the DPA and B&H’s establishment, SDA continues to beg the PIC and the High Representative to intervene against the RS and the Serb people in B&H, adding that the time of unconstitutional decision-making by foreigners and the High Representative has passed. “Instead of constantly looking at strangers and waiting for them to fulfill their wishes and political program, it would be much smarter for them to finally accept reality and realize that the future of B&H will be decided exclusively by sovereign entities and constituent peoples in B&H, as is written in Annex 4 of the DPA, i.e. in the Constitution of B&H” Spokesperson for SNSD Radovan Kovacevic underlined. Kovacevic noted that SNSD’s message to SDA is that they should first turn towards talks with the Croat people and solve numerous issues in the Federation of B&H, and then carefully read the RSNA’s Conclusions and open dialogue with SNSD on functioning of B&H.
Bratic: Bosniak Caucus in RS CoP has obligation to block conclusions adopted at special RS parliament session (Fena)
Representative of the ‘Together for B&H’ in the RS parliament Senad Bratic believes that Bosniak Caucus in the RS Council of Peoples (CoP) has an obligation to block conclusions adopted at the special RS parliament session earlier this week. Those conclusions, according to Bratic, endanger not just the rights of Bosniaks, but the rights of other peoples as well, as they bring in question security and the overall situation in both entities in B&H. Bratic reminded that during the special RS parliament session, he warned that the majority of conclusions is in collision with the Constitution of B&H and the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), and also that they violate the Annex 10 of the DPA. “Entities neither have sovereignty nor the right to self-determination” said Bratic. He also believes that conclusions undermine the dignity of the RSNA, and that it will not be easy for the ruling structure in the RS to explain why it was necessary to pass those conclusions. Bratic concluded that for as long as such attacks on the Constitution and the DPA are happening, the Office of the High Representative is necessary in B&H. “It would be good if local politicians are working for the prosperity and better standard of citizens,” concluded Bratic.
First round of presidential elections set for 22 December (Hina)
The government on Thursday decided to call the first round of the presidential elections for 22 December, and deadlines relevant for the procedure start running on 21 November. The official campaign in the run-up to the first round of the elections will take a fortnight.
Presidential hopefuls can collect signatures of voters for their candidacies from 22 November until midnight of 3 December, and the minimum number required is 10,000 signatures. The State Electoral Commission has a 48-hour deadline as of 3 December to announce the official list of eligible candidates. The official campaigning starts with the publication of that list and ends at the midnight 20 December. A ban on electioneering is imposed on the day before election day and until the closure of polling stations. The second round of the elections is envisaged for 5 January. In the event that not one of the presidential candidates wins more than 50% of the votes on 22 December, the two first candidates will compete in the run-off vote in two weeks’ time.
The incumbent president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic won her first term on 11 January 2015. She has recently officially confirmed that she would run for a second term. Her main contenders are Zoran Milanovic, a former prime minister and former leader of the Social Democratic Party, as well as Miroslav Škoro, a singer-turned-politician who is perceived as a conservative candidate. Croatian member of European Parliament, Mislav Kolakusic, a judge-turned-politician, has also announced his candidacy, and he is perceived as the candidate of anti-establishment movements. Also, a former diplomat Ante Simonic said he would compete in the elections. An independent candidate Dejan Kovac has been supported by the HSLS party, and the unofficial list includes also lawyer Dalija Oreskovic, who was at the helm of the Conflict of Interest Commission, starlet Ava Karabatic, three members of parliament Ivan Pernar, Tomislav Panenic and Vlaho Orepic, and filmmaker Dario Jurican.
Maas says French demand to change enlargement process should not block Macedonia’s EU accession talks (Republika)
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas supports the proposal that Macedonia is allowed to open EU accession talks while the changes to the EU enlargement process which France insists upon are agreed and implemented. Macedonia made this request after France vetoed the opening of EU accession talks, citing the need to reform both the EU and the enlargement process.
“The federal Government and I personally as the Minister, will strongly support the opening of accession talks with “North” Macedonia at the European Council. You can rely on Germany,” Maas said in Skopje, after meeting with Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. The social-democratic German politician added that the French request to amend the enlargement process must not be used as an excuse to block the accession talks. Maas said that France still hasn’t given Germany a finished proposal of what changes it wants to see in the enlargement process.
“We are prepared to talk about reforms to the process, but we don’t want that to be a pre-condition to before opening the accession talks. We believe that the procedure with “North” Macedonia is so well advanced that we can now finally make a decision to open the accession talks,” Maas added. Maas also met with President Stevo Pendarovski and outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
Mickoski raised issue of corruption and stalled EU integrations during meeting with Maas (Republika)
VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski met with the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to discuss the situation in Macedonia, including the major corruption scandals involving the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev government and the EU integration process, the opposition party said in its press release. Mickoski pointed out that the country is about to undergo changes, caused by the economic but also the political failings of the current Government which have badly affected the lives of the citizens. The Euro-agenda of the Government is at a dead end, even as joining the EU remains the top strategic priority of the Republic of Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE said in its press release. The party also says that “President Mickoski discussed to the high-level crime and corruption cases which need to be dealt with resolutely”. “The new, VMRO-DPMNE led Government will work to improve the living standards of the citizens and initial results will be felt in its first 100 days. We see a sincere and strong ally in Germany and we stand ready to deepen our cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, especially in driving the European agenda forward,” Mickoski told the German Foreign Minister.
Bregu: ‘Mini-Schengen’ is a developing story that should be considered (Nezavisen vesnik)
The initiative promoted in Ohrid and Novi Sad in relation to the so-called ‘mini-Schengen’ is a developing story that should be considered, said Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperating Council (RCC). “Regional cooperation becomes meaningful once the final end is EU integration. As enlargement is about connecting markets and people, we believe every initiative to the resolute dismantling of the barriers within our region is a must and to be considered,” said Bregu. Noting that the RCC had been asked to comment on the Novi Sad and Ohrid meetings, the so called “mini-Schengen” and its role in this, she mentioned that all six economies in the region – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – in 2017 pledged for establish the Regional Economic Area. Bregu also said that in July at the Berlin process summit the RCC launched the idea of the ID-card based travel agreement throughout the region. “We are aware that bilaterally this is something quite difficult to attain, but we succeeded all together with the roaming agreement, where all 6 economies signed. That political will can be replicated,” said Bregu.
Meta-Austrian Chancellor Bierlein: Grateful to Austria’s contribution to Albania’s independence and firm support along the EU integration process (Radio Tirana)
In the framework of participating in the proceedings of the Paris Forum for Peace, the President of the Republic, Ilir Meta had a meeting with the Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein. Both interlocutors shared the same view on the traditional historic and very friendly relations and the decades-long cooperation between our two countries and peoples, and stressed the need to further strengthen and intensify them in the future. Meta thanked Chancellor Bierlein for the firm and unreserved support that Austria keeps giving to Albania’s European integration process and the European future of the Western Balkans region. “Always grateful to Austria’s extraordinary contribution to Albania’s independence and for its strong and firm support within the EU integration process. Historical, cultural and human commonalities encourage the further enhancement of cooperation between our two countries, for the benefit of peace, security and stability in the region,” said President Meta.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Germany’s Maas says Western Balkan states belong in EU (DW, by Rob Mudge, Adelheid Feilcke, 13 November 2019)
Heiko Maas aims to hammer home the point that EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania are crucial to the bloc’s strategic interests. But will that convince those opposed to further enlargement?
Germany’s endorsement for EU enlargement has become increasingly visible since it launched in 2014 the so-called Berlin process, an annual summit of all six Western Balkan states, designed to help pave the way for future accession talks into the bloc. Germany’s vested interest makes Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ stop in the Balkans this week even more important. But it comes against the backdrop of a number of EU states putting a spanner in the works by snubbing memberships talks for North Macedonia and Albania. Maas will endeavor to offer a sliver of hope to the Western Balkan countries by telling them that they are an integral part of of Europe.
“Their future lies within the EU. A majority of EU countries are in favor of opening membership talks and have recognized their strategic importance. However, we need a majority within the EU and that’s what we’re working on to try and reach a common position,” Maas told DW. One of the stumbling blocks, and a formidable one at that, is France. President Emmanuel Macron is opposed to further EU enlargement until those accession procedures have been reformed. Above all, he says the timing isn’t right, saying that the bloc will need 20 years to deal with the continued fallout of the financial crisis in 2008.
More effort needed
However, Maas says he remains undeterred. “One of the EU’s strengths is that we usually find a way to overcome even the most difficult issues and end up with a viable solution. I am confident that we will succeed here, too.” “Macron has made it clear that he wants the enlargement process to be overhauled and has called on North Macedonia and Albania to intensify their own reform efforts,” he added. Both the outgoing EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his successor, Ursula von der Leyen, have criticized these stalling tactics. The US envoy to the West Balkans even went as far as calling it an “historic mistake.” That support has been welcomed in North Macedonia and Albania, but it also puts the ball in their court to earnestly press ahead with their reforms. Maas says those efforts not only pave the way for possible accession talks but are also “in the interests of the people. Strengthening the rule of law, cracking down on corruption and organized crime — those issues should be the core priorities of any government that has the interests of its voters at heart.”
Separate accession talks?
While the EU has made positive noises about North Macedonia’s progress, the same cannot be said of Albania. The country has been mired in a political crisis for over a year. The opposition is boycotting parliament and wants fresh elections. Indeed, one of the EU’s key demands is an overhaul of the country’s election law. Still, Maas says it was right to offer Albania the prospect of accession talks. “Albania is a model for the region in terms of its efforts to reform its justice system. What we need to see now is that all sides allow the constitutional court to get on with its work. We’re optimistic that the reforms that include recommendations from the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights can be implemented swiftly.” Nevertheless, it throws up the question whether the EU should tackle North Macedonia and Albania separately. In 2018 the EU Commission came to the conclusion that both had fulfilled certain reform criteria to allow membership talks to go ahead. “This year the Commission reassessed the situation and confirmed its recommendation. The German government shares that assessment which is why we pushed for those accession talks,” says Maas.
After last month’s EU summit, critics accused the bloc of not sticking to its pledges and that its enlargement aspirations regarding the Western Balkans were lukewarm at best. Instead, a number of alternative arrangements have been making the rounds, such as a mini-Schengen model or the so-called Norway option; Norway is not an EU member but enjoys close ties with the bloc through its membership of the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area. However, Maas is quick to dismiss those ideas. “We do not see any viable alternatives to EU accession, particularly if we want to offer incentives for those countries to stick to their reforms permanently. That’s not to say that EU rapprochement and regional cooperation are mutually exclusive.” “All six Western Balkan countries benefit from strengthened neighborly relations and economic ties; it makes the Western Balkans as a whole more attractive.”
Hopes for the future dashed: Balkans security after the French veto (European Council on Foreign Relations, Commentary by Beáta Huszka, 14 November 2019)
The European Council’s failure to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania could mark a turning point for peace in the Western Balkans.
The European Council’s decision to block membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania last month caused outrage in those countries, and beyond. The council took its decision in spite of the European Commission’s recommendation to proceed. Most member states actually agreed with the commission, but three – France, Denmark, and the Netherlands – withheld support. And, among these, the French were the most vocally critical, ultimately moving to block any progress towards enlargement at that meeting. France received wide criticism for its actions, both inside and outside the EU. It countered that potential member states should not be able to carry right on through the accession process even when their performance falls short in key areas, especially on rule of law matters. Indeed, analysts have raised similar concerns, identifying faults in the current arrangements. Chief among these are inadequacies in the rule of law, including democratisation and human rights. The French are right that there are problems with enlargement policy. This is a debate that, by now, has a long pedigree: observers have pointed to Turkey to show that opening membership negotiations does not necessarily lead to progress. But critics have got much of this the wrong way round: the Turkish case is more of a warning of how things can go wrong once the EU fails a candidate state. Susanne Fraczek’s extensive work on human rights conditionality towards Turkey shows that between 1999-2005 Turkey pursued significant human rights reforms because of the incentive of starting accession negotiations. From this perspective, therefore, the EU’s decision to open talks with Turkey was justified. The credibility of EU policy at this time was also visible in its threat to Turkey in 2004 to postpone this decision if Turkey failed to adopt the new penal code in line with EU standards. In doing this, the EU was effectively applying negative conditionality in the rule of law area. After this, however, the EU’s conditionality policy began to break down, becoming highly inconsistent as member states would block individual chapters and cite bilateral reasons as they did so. This was accompanied by arguments that suggested that Turkey’s identity and culture were fundamentally different from the rest of the EU, being a Muslim country partially situated in Asia. As such behaviour continued, domestic reforms in Turkey slowed down. When the European Council blocked the opening of eight chapters in 2006, the justification it made was not that Turkey had made insufficient progress on human rights and the rule of law, but was instead linked to the Cyprus issue. Member states increasingly began to criticise Turkey on human rights grounds, especially from 2011 onwards, but nevertheless continued to reject the commission’s recommendation to open Chapter 23 – a move which could have allowed for greater engagement on human rights. The story of Turkey is reminiscent of the current situation in the Western Balkans. In 2018, North Macedonia signed the Prespa Agreement with Greece, effectively giving to a neighbouring country a veto over its own identity. It did so for the sake of EU accession. Yet, this year North Macedonia was denied the reward of talks, not because of its actual progress to date, but because of France’s and others’ argument that the EU enlargement policy itself is flawed. This is a dangerous game, in which many things could go wrong if the EU perspective fades for the countries of the Western Balkans. The Prespa Agreement is a particularly important case, as the enactment of its provisions could now suffer as a result of North Macedonia’s rejection. This is not only because a different government could come to power in the election planned for the spring – which is taking place because of France’s move – but also because Prespa’s implementation is specifically linked to the EU negotiation process: as more accession chapters are opened, the agreement’s provisions are to be carried out in an increasing number of areas. The close link between EU integration and domestic stability is highly visible in the case of North Macedonia. Once the country’s EU integration process and accession to NATO stalled after 2009, internal political destabilisation gradually increased, accompanied by a rapid deterioration of democratic governance and media freedom. Violent ethnic incidents with the local Albanian minority also accelerated prior to the 2016 election, when the nationalist VMRO DPMNE government lost power and the country began its journey towards an agreement with Greece. The EU also represents a strong influence in relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Despite the fact that many Belgrade-Pristina agreements have only been partially implemented, or have gone unimplemented altogether, the two parties have at least been talking to each other. Although the process broke down a year ago, a return to fighting remains unlikely for the time being. What politically might not seem much of a success appears very different when looked at through the security lens. If Serbia held out no hope of ever joining the EU, then it may well have begun following a very different path. Despite all the shortcomings in the area of democracy and human rights, the Serbian government continues to appear committed to EU integration. It is worth remembering that the ruling SNS party split from the Serbian Radical Party over EU integration in 2008, with the departing SNS fraction leaving to pursue a pro-EU policy. The bottom line is that the EU’s enlargement policy has had serious security benefits in the region – something which European leaders appreciate too little, and which may now have gone irretrievably out of the window following the French veto. Indeed, besides preparing candidates for membership by supporting reforms in various areas – chief among them the rule of law, democracy, and the protection of human rights – the objectives of EU enlargement also include “fostering peace and stability in regions close to the EU’s borders”. The especial importance of France’s decision is that it has exposed a long-standing tension within enlargement policy, and probably now rendered it inadequate to the task of even fostering peace and stability. This is at least in part because the EU’s worries about a breakdown in security in the Western Balkans have, over many years, now led it to inconsistent application of the membership process. Candidate countries may, for example, make progress on security issues, with the promise of opening new chapters – such as with the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations. But, over time, the EU has declined to press some of the Western Balkans states much harder than it has on rule of law issues, shying away from applying sanctions and from refusing to upgrade relations with candidate countries – with all the increased risks to security that such moves would entail. Now, Western Balkans countries may not even seek to make progress on security issues, never mind the rule of law. There is a certain perverseness to what has happened: countries like France point to issues around democracy as reasons not to proceed, when in fact the EU’s uneven application of its own policy is one of the reasons Western Balkans countries have made poor progress on precisely these matters. Without the power of EU integration conditionality, relations between some countries in the region could deteriorate as politicians feel readier to fuel tensions with their neighbours to boost nationalist credentials. A significant move in 2018 saw Kosovo and Montenegro agree a border demarcation agreement. But this would have been much more difficult without EU pressure pushing back against fierce resistance in Kosovo from opposition parties claiming the deal would wrongly hand over some 8,000 hectares of territory to Montenegro. Amid the increasingly taut debate about reform of enlargement policy, EU leaders should recognise – urgently – its merits in the area of security, as well as its internal contradictions. Conditionality has been a difficult balancing exercise, where legitimate concerns about security have limited what the EU has done to ensure compliance even from candidate states. By halting or slowing down the enlargement process, these limits will not disappear. In fact, they may only grow as Western Balkans governments weigh up the worth of meeting the EU’s requests and then trying to sell this to their electorates – voters can all now see that domestic pain may not be worth it if the EU prefers kicking the can down the road. Securing power by other means may become the order of the day.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.