Angola’s positions on non-recognition of Kosovo remain unchanged (Tanjug/RTS)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic met with the Angolan parliament speaker Fernando da Piedade Dias and discussed improving bilateral and economic cooperation between the two countries. Brnabic has said that the two countries are bound by traditionally friendly diplomatic relations, dating back to the period of struggle for the independence of Angola and cooperation in the Non-Aligned Movement. She expressed satisfaction that the communication between the two countries has been raised to a higher level, assessing that this visit is a good opportunity to further enhance bilateral cooperation as well as economic relations. She expressed her gratitude for a firm and principled stance on the non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence, as well as for respect for Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Dias stressed that Angola’s positions on non-recognition of Kosovo remain unchanged and that Serbia can always count on support and assistance. He added that relations between the two countries have been strengthened by decades of friendship, and said it was time for cooperation to be deepened and strengthened. The officials agreed that particular attention should be paid to further expanding economic cooperation, as well as cooperation in the fields of education, agriculture and defense.
Drecun: Kurti is not hiding greater-Albanian goals (RTS)
The Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun has told the morning press review of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that Albin Kurti is an immature political figure who persists on extreme political views and it will be difficult to talk with the so-called government in Pristina. Drecun says there is no readiness for dialogue here – these are blackmails, ultimatums and threats, and one cannot talk with this kind of man. “The statement that he is ready for dialogue is cynical and contradicts what he says on how he will conduct the so-called government, when somebody threatens with lawsuits for an invented genocide, when he introduces in the government a man who is a criminal who cruelly murdered border guards in the region of Kosare watchtower from ambush – you cannot accept the thesis that he is ready for dialogue,” says Drecun. He opines that Kurti’s government program in Pristina is such that disables resumption of talks or if it takes place under international pressure that it ends very quickly. “I don’t see here space for compromise, the possibility for finding a solution is not opened,” opines Drecun. In comment that Kurti expects resumption of talks but without abolishing taxes, Drecun says: “We have clearly stated from our side there is no resumption of talks until taxes are abolished and there is no possibility for compromise here.” He said that the framework for resumption of talks is for Serbia to recognize the self-declared state of Kosovo, but Serbia is not even thinking about that,” says Drecun. He says that President Vucic’s goal is to have on the other side a predictable interlocutor, who will have full capacity to sit and talk how to resolve the Kosovo problem in a peaceful way. “It is obvious that we will not have such an interlocutor in Kurti, because he is hiding greater-Albanian goals and he will do everything to prevent talks, he is moving on a dead ally and demonstrated bad intention,” concluded Drecun. According to him, the first test will be Pristina’s relation towards taxes.
Fila: There is no court before which Kurti can sue Serbia (RTS)
The new Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has announced in his expose compulsory military service and greater investments in the army, but also the adoption of a law on war crimes, genocide and aggression by Serbia. Should Belgrade attach importance to these announcements and do they have coverage in internal law? Lawyer Tom Fila tells RTS that filing a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice would require a state to be a member of the United Nations – while according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo and Metohija is a territory, not a state. Fila says that a naive person might say this is a case of “a child getting a toy, and this means power, and then playing with it. However, power is a wicked toy, many get burned by it, least of all those who play with it.” According to him, this is not the first time that war crimes and genocide have been fabricated against Serbia. “This started with Vukovar in 1991. The Croats are announcing a lawsuit for all that. Since Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic was hanging out with them, that’s probably where the idea came from. Izetbegovic has also been saying something similar. I don’t know which court Kurti thinks he will file the lawsuit before, such a court doesn’t exist,” stresses Fila. He notes that for a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice UN membership is required. “Kosovo, according to Resolution 1244, is a territory, not a state. Kurti has decided before which court, before the current war crimes court, but under Kosovo laws, it is intended for individuals, not for states. So he’s playing, the kid doesn’t know what he’s saying,” says Fila. He thinks the international community will withhold credits to Kurti. “They will exert pressure on him and I don’t believe that government will last long. Ivica Dacic gave him the best response when he told him that they drove out 200,000 people. The expulsion of Serbs begins with Tito. Tito passed a law banning Serbs from returning to Kosovo,” Fila said. He is announcing adoption of a law on war crimes. “They can adopt it, but it has to be written by someone. He’s alluding to Rambouillet. We were in Rambouillet Ratko Markovic, who was the greatest expert on constitutional law. Behind the Albanian delegation was a US legal team. I guess he is counting on them, just as when Haradinaj was defended in The Hague by the office of the wife of Tony Blair, who advocated the bombing of Serbia,” notes Fila. KFOR, he noted, is the only army that can exist in Kosovo. “International law is limited by the will of the powerful. It de facto exists for small states, for us, while for large states it does not exist. In The Hague, the first president of the court Antonio Cassese told us that whoever ignores the Security Council is committing a war crime, then America bombs us without a Security Council decision, and then that changes. If America and NATO want they will give them an army, we can’t go to war,” said Fila. There has been a special court for KLA crimes since 2017, but without a single indictment. “I’m a big pessimist as far as that court is concerned. I don’t want the executioners, those who personally killed those people, to answer before this court. I want those who gave the orders. Remember that it is a disgrace that Serbia extradited to The Hague two presidents and three chiefs of staff, the entire political, military and police leadership. We can’t now be getting some ‘goon’ who was held responsible with Haradinaj and took all the blame in exchange for money, and who was a direct executioner. We need the leaders,” said Fila. He stressed that he spoke with Carla del Ponte many times. “She told me that we hadn’t given them the KLA command structure. This time, we gave it to them. They have complete, by name and last name, and where each part is located. Drecun did it. Now they know who was able to give orders and who gave orders. The command responsibility has been established. I want to see the indicted at the level of command responsibility, and not executioners,” Fila concluded.
Jeremic: No halfway boycott, opposition has to follow through (RTV/Beta)
The leader of the People’s Party Vuk Jeremic has stated that the election boycott cannot be done halfway, adding that the entire opposition has to say clearly whether they will follow through with it. “If you’re not in favor of a boycott you can’t be on this side. I have no understanding for duplicity and calculations – either you boycott or you don’t. Who doesn’t want to doesn’t have to. We are not Vucic to be calling people traitors,” Jeremic told the state Radio and Television of Vojvodina (RTV). Asked about success or failure of the boycott, Jeremic said that the boycott has already succeeded because the entire true opposition has decided not to take part in the elections. “In my opinion, we will see a small failure, but not fatal, if anyone changes their decision and turns out for the false elections. The People’s Party will certainly not be doing that,” Jeremic said. He said the forming of new groups such as the Metla and Zvono movements is a marketing idea from the same source, adding that what he said are false elections will result in parliament having a ruling majority and “something calling itself the opposition”. “That will not be the normal state of affairs, nor will decisions taken by that parliament and government be legitimate. The institutional crisis will be obvious. No one can pretend to have a normal situation without the true opposition in parliament,” he said. Jeremic said the goal of the election boycott is to push “Vucic’s autocratic regime into the terminal stage of naked dictatorship with no opposition in parliament, no institutions”.
Incorrect allegations on decision by Strasbourg court (Blic)
The allegations from the statement by the Montenegrin government on decisions of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg are incorrect, and also unfounded are the conclusions of the government that the objections to the Law on Freedom of Religion are exclusively ideological and have no foundation either in domestic or international law, the Radic Attorney Office in Belgrade has announced. This office has submitted to the European Court initiatives for issuing temporary measures whereby Montenegrin state organs would be ban to implement the Law on Freedom of Religion. “The court in Strasbourg didn’t pass a decision on 31 January on rejecting the request that Montenegro is temporarily banned to implement the Law on Religion until the passing of a decision by the Constitutional Court or until the conclusion of a basic contract between the Serbian Orthodox Church and Montenegro, the Radic office states.
Sarovic calls for urgent session of RS parliament, Govedarica says Dodik lied (BN TV)
NATO published on its official web page on Friday that together with the Republic of the North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) is within the Membership Action Plan (MAP) and two days after that, Serb member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik admitted this. Leader of SDS Mirko Sarovic called for holding of an urgent session of the Repubika Srpska (RS) parliament. He noted that after the NATO officially announced that B&H is in the MAP, it is clear that activation of the MAP was launched by delivery of the Program of Reforms of B&H to the NATO HQ. Sarovic said that thus, B&H and the Republic of the North Macedonia enjoy the same status, i.e. “B&H is waiting in line for membership about which we cannot longer decide”. He stated: “After the recognition of member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik that B&H is in the MAP, we need an urgent session of the RSNA. We can forget the last session of the RS parliament from 23 December because this was a session of five-hour-long lies of those who are the most responsible: member of the B&H Presidency, RS Prime Minister and RS President. The new session must be urgently scheduled and accountability of those who are the most responsible must be the key topic of the session”. Member of SDS Presidency Vukota Govedarica said that now, the situation is completely clear and Dodik did not even try to dispute the opinion of the NATO and he admitted that B&H is within the MAP. Govedarica added that thus, it is obvious that Dodik lied at the session of the RS parliament on 23 December 2019 and that the real reason why he hid the document titled Program of Reforms of B&H is manipulation. Leader of PDP Branislav Borenovic stated that now, all masks are finally off. He said: “Now, it is totally clear that B&H and the RS are within the MAP and that this process – that we are heading to – cannot be stopped thanks to exclusively a decision of the Serb member of the B&H Presidency and the B&H Presidency that still hides the document Program of Reforms, 2.5 months after it was adopted and approved in the B&H Presidency”. Borenovic characterized the story from the session of the RS parliament on 23 December as a circus, a farce that was obviously necessary for Dodik and SNSD to hide the real truth from citizens of the RS.
Dodik: I do not have support of other two Presidency members to withdraw from MAP (FTV)
The B&H Presidency convened in Sarajevo on Monday. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik addressed journalists after the session. Asked about the statement of President of SDS Mirko Sarovic, who announced he will request from the RS parliament to discuss the NATO path of B&H, that Dodik betrayed the RS by allowing B&H to activate the MAP, Dodik stated that the B&H Program of Reforms is not the Annual National Program (ANP). He added that he does not have the support of the other two B&H Presidency members in order to withdraw from the MAP. “If he has enough signatures he can convene the session immediately and do whatever he wants to. I am glad he is expressing such interest in the RS parliament, remember that recently Sarovic entered the RS parliament and said it does not mean anything to him,” said Dodik. Dodik recalled that back in 2010 the North Atlantic Council provided B&H with an opportunity of the conditional MAP with a condition that prospective military property is registered to the B&H Ministry of Defense. “We have been conducting those negotiations since 2013 and we did not allow that which is why all of that was on hold… But, what is important is that the MAP does not have what is the basis for its activation and that is the action, ANP,” Dodik underlined. “NATO officials stated that this cannot serve for integration, but only for partnership and cooperation,” Dodik said. Head of SNSD caucus in the RS parliament Igor Zunic recalled that MPs adopted the Resolution on Military Neutrality, adding that it is clear to everyone that there will be no moving towards membership in NATO without a decision of the Serb member of the B&H Presidency and the RS parliament. “It is clear that the Program of Reforms of B&H is not the ANP, which is a condition for activation of the MAP. If Sarovic again tries to manipulate the public, and especially tries to make a circus such as the one we witnessed at the last session of the RS parliament, as well as at the session at which we adopted the Resolution, I believe there is no need for a special session.”
Komsic: B&H is moving towards NATO and no one can stop this path (Hayat)
Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic said on Monday that B&H is moving towards NATO and no one can stop this path. He argued that the entire story is no longer a foreign-policy story, but this becomes a basis for internal showdowns. Komsic said that he no longer sees the need to explain anything to anyone about this issue. Komsic added: “There is also no need to explain these things to malicious people and malicious attacks on what was done about the Program of Reforms of B&H. Obviously, this is about daily-political purposes and political showdowns between the authorities and the opposition, depending on about which part of B&H you talk about. The Presidency did its part of the job, although this was not the job of the Presidency. Drafting of this type of act is a job of a commission for cooperation with NATO that existed and which did not want to send a document that they drafted to NATO due to a number of reasons and to avoid all this. Of course, the reasons are deeply-political. The B&H Presidency took over this obligation to, I would say, ‘break the ice’ when it comes to the MAP and progress of the B&H towards NATO.”
Kozljak: B&H has paved its way to NATO long time ago (O kanal)
Former Military Representative of B&H to NATO Alija Kozljak stated that B&H has paved its way to NATO long time ago. He said that SDS’ statement according to which B&H will no longer be asked about the NATO membership as someone else will decide on this issue is untrue, explaining that B&H institutions will be the ones to decide on further NATO path of B&H. According to Kozljak, B&H does not have the same status as North Macedonia because this country was already invited to join NATO. He stated that the Program of Reforms of B&H represents a document which is sufficient to activate the MAP, as its structure is similar as the structure of the ANP for NATO. Asked to assess how far from the NATO membership B&H is, Kozljak assessed that it is crucial how B&H institutions will implement reforms they mentioned in the current ANP and through next ANPs. He said that in case that B&H leaders realize the importance of the NATO accession, the country will get closer to the membership. Kozljak added that theoretically speaking, in this case B&H can be invited to join NATO in two years, but the current situation and internal political relations do not indicate that this process will be so fast, concluding that thus B&H could keep the current MAP status for the next 15 years.
B&H Presidency agrees to invite Macron to pay official visit to B&H; Dodik refuses to give consent for Djukanovic’s visit to B&H (N1)
A session of the B&H Presidency was held in Sarajevo on Monday. Members of the B&H Presidency ratified 28 agreements, contracts and amendments. The B&H Presidency also agreed to invite French President Emmanuel Macron to pay an official visit to B&H. Following the session, Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik told the media that B&H Presidency members did not vote on problematic topics at Monday’s session. Dodik further stated that he did not agree to the proposal of Bosniak and Croat member of the B&H Presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic, to invite Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to pay an official visit to B&H. Dodik voted against Djukanovic’s visit because of the Law on Freedom of Religion that was recently adopted in Montenegro. “The Montenegrin President was supposed to visit B&H one of these days, but I disagreed having in mind the internal developments in Montenegro. I think we should wait and make a decision on this issue later on. The other two members think that it should happen immediately,” Dodik explained. Dodik also said that he will not boycott the sessions of the Presidency, after Dzaferovic takes over chairmanship, arguing that his post in B&H Presidency serves to protect those who elected him and it is very important for him to participate in sessions. “I did not elect Dzaferovic nor he elected me. If you are referring to what SNSD was doing in B&H House of Representatives, of course we have not forgotten about that and we know that. We worked very hard to locate the responsibility of Dzaferovic,” said Dodik.
EUD’s Sattler, heads of EU missions to B&H meet B&H Presidency members (O kanal)
Head of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H Johann Sattler and the heads of the EU missions to B&H met with B&H Presidency members in Sarajevo on Monday. They discussed efforts to use a political momentum for B&H’s progress on the EU accession path, in the light of 14 key priorities from the European Commission’s (EC) opinion. International officials said that they expect unobstructed holding of this year’s local elections in B&H, including Mostar, as well as the improvement of democratic processes and election standards. The Ambassadors of the EU member states stressed that B&H needs concrete economic reforms in order to make B&H economy more prepared for Europe. They stated that ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May, authorities of B&H should use the chance and show readiness to improve lives of citizens and undertake true efforts in reconciliation and overcoming heritage of the past, as an inevitable part of the process of accession to the EU. The Ambassadors also said that reconciliation, promotion of peace and tolerance should mark 2020 as the year that marks anniversary of important events for B&H. Addressing media following the meeting, Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik mentioned that Ambassadors of the EU member states mentioned preparation of fair and transparent elections as one of the priorities. Dodik said: “No one is running away from this, but the key issue is how the local elections will be held in Mostar. I informed the Ambassadors that an attempt to impose a totally new constitutional position here, for B&H, will not succeed. Therefore, B&H cannot change its essence”. B&H Presidency members reiterated that membership in the EU is the most important foreign policy priority and strategic goal of B&H. B&H Presidency members also expressed expectation that support and assistance of the EU member states will continue in the future in the context of obtaining the EU candidate status.
Bosnia won’t become parking lot for migrants, says minister in Zagreb (Hina)
B&H Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic on Monday said in Zagreb that economic migration is not a humanitarian issue and that he would do everything so that Bosnia and Herzegovina does not become a parking lot for migrants. “We have deliberately chosen Croatia for our first bilateral meeting to show that relations with Croatia are strategically important for us because we share more than one thousand kilometers of border,” said Radoncic who was recently appointed as the country’s new Security Minister. “B&H finds it exceptionally important that Croatian border is absolutely impenetrable for illegal migrants for security and other reasons” Radoncic underscored. “Not only will Croatia achieve its objectives with regard to entering the Schengen Area in that way, but it will also achieve a pragmatic position in that the route across Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be that attractive for migrants and they will bypass us,” he explained.
Croatia’s Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic agreed with his counterpart but added that it is not in anyone’s interest for another or third route to exist. “We need to come to an agreement at the EU level about the objective and intention with regard to economic migrations,” Bozinovic added.
“Solidarity of everyone in B&H and the region is necessary. If the EU and we do not come to an agreement, there will be problems. I will do everything for Bosnia and Herzegovina to not become a parking lot for migrants,” Radoncic underlined and called on Brussels to not treat the migrant crisis merely as a humanitarian issue but one of security too. He added that 93 percent of EU support for B&H is used for humanitarian aid and only 7 percent is allocated for security issues. Bozinovic said that he and his counterpart had agreed to stronger cooperation between border police while Radoncic warned of the alarming situation, in his country in that regard.
“Each border police officer patrols 25 kilometers of the border. In the past three years, there has not been one new police officer employed in the border police,” Radoncic stressed and added that the country urgently needs 400 police officers and in the long run 1200. Bozinovic said that today almost all security issues are transnational and that cross-border cooperation is essential. He underlined that last year Croatia arrested a thousand smugglers and added that this is one of the fastest growing forms of organized crime in these regions. “We have already arrested 95 people since the beginning of the year. That is certainly one area where cooperation has to be additionally strengthened with the relevant services in Bosnia and Herzegovina and also elsewhere,” Bozinovic added. In the end, Radoncic thanked Croatia for its support to B&H and invited Bozinovic for a visit.
Zaev: No elections if anyone tries to block PPO law (Republika)
All parties had agreed to complete processes over the public prosecution law, the NATO accession protocol, and the defense law until parliament dissolves on February 12. If anyone violates this agreement parliament won’t dissolve and schedule elections, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev said Monday, after testifying in a “Monster” case trial at the Criminal Court. Asked if elections could be postponed if the public prosecution law is not adopted, Zaev said no, but stressed that it was very important to pass it in parliament. “When voting in parliament it may or may not be adopted. There is no other option, but parliament should be dissolved on 12 February. If the opposition tries to block its adoption in any way then parliament will not be dissolved until the process of enactment of the prosecution law, as well as the NATO protocol or the defense law or similar laws, is completed,” said Zaev.
Spasovski joins Zaev in his new push to postpone the elections (Republika)
Interim Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski echoed his leader Zoran Zaev in his call that the 12 April elections be postponed unless laws which the ruling SDSM party wants to see adopted are pushed through parliament. Spasovski told Telma TV that he still thinks elections will take place on 12 April, but that they also might be postponed for a few months. The main excuse SDSM cites now is the law on state prosecutors, which is blocked in parliament. “We can argue, and we can debate the political issues, the parties are here to compete, but I expect that we have the minimum of consensus on some issues. I believe that the members of Parliament will be up to the task and show personal responsibility and through dialogue achieve consensus on these legal proposals,” Spasovski said. Zaev raised the issue of cancelling the elections unless the law is adopted. His SDSM party and VMRO-DPMNE are on opposite ends of the law, which should repair the enormous damage caused to the Macedonian judiciary over the past several years, and especially with the major corruption scandals involving SDSM ally Katica Janeva. For months SDSM insisted that the law is no longer necessary, after they got Janeva to dismantle her SPO office with handwritten orders sent from detention, while charged with abuse of office. But as this improvised and highly controversial move is not seen as legitimate by the expert public, and as EU member states are pushing for a serious solution to the crisis in the judiciary, SDSM is now using these calls to renew its push to get out of the elections. Polls show SDSM trailing behind VMRO-DPMNE and the public attempts to avoid the vote have done little to encourage Zaev’s supporters and activists.
Rama receives Sassoli (Radio Tirana)
Prime Minister Edi Rama received European Parliament President David Sassoli. Rama considered him “A friend of Albania and Albanians”. At a joint press conference in Tirana, Rama said that he discussed with Sassoli the reforms carried out by the government he leads, in particular the Anti-“Catch Whatever You Can” package. “Today I am here with EP President David Sassoli who, besides being one of the most important figures on the political scene in Brussels,I can say that he is a long-time friend of Albania, and a staunch supporter of the enlargement process of Albania in the EU. I would like to point out that he has been for several years the head of Albania’s EP group of friends, with a very valuable contribution to trying to shape a true image of Albania. We have discussed openly, he is a good friend and as a friend he has expressed all his opinions, positive or critical, about what we have done and what we should do. We have been at the center of the discussion on the integration process, new dates, and in view of this discussion, we have exhaustively talked about the special Anti-“Catch Whatever You Can” law. I am pleased that the President’s visit today coincides with the first law enforcement operation on the ground, which I believe will convey a clear message with facts rather than words about how serious and determined we are to radically change this country,” Rama said. EP President David Sassoli told lawmakers in the Assembly that the Anti-Catch Whatever You Can package contains both Italian and European elements, praising it as the right way to fight crime and corruption. “The fight against corruption, organized crime, I come from a country that knows crime well, I was pleased to see that some experiences from my country can be useful for your country. The reform carries with it something Italian, something European, the possibility of being strict within the rule of law. This is a fair way to fight corruption. Some remarks were made, we are convinced that in their reflection some countries did not attack on your faith and we noticed this,” said Sassoli.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Trump’s envoy urges Kosovo to drop taxes on Serbian goods (AP, by Dusan Stojanovic, 4 February 2020)
BELGRADE, Serbia — U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Kosovo and Serbia on Tuesday urged the new Kosovo government to abolish punitive tariffs on Serbian goods that have blocked negotiations between the two Balkan rivals. Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said that “we expect the tariffs to be dropped immediately.” “We made clear to all the (Kosovo) party leaders that dropping the tariffs was in the best interest of Kosovo and its economy, and the desire to attract new businesses,” he said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. A European Union-mediated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo over normalizing ties stalled after the previous Kosovo government imposed the 100% taxes on Serbian goods in protest of Serbia’s blockade of Kosovo in the International Red Cross and other international organizations. Kosovo’s parliament on Monday voted in a new prime minister after nearly four months of talks between the country’s two main parties. Albin Kurti, the new premier, told the parliament the tariffs won’t be dropped and that Kosovo will insist on “reciprocity” in its trade with Serbia. He gave no further details. Grenell last month brokered tentative deals to resume railway and air links between the two states that have been suspended for 21 years. “We are making historic progress,” Grenell said. “There are more announcements coming soon because both sides are eager to move forward. These moves will create a better life for the people of the region.” Serbia’s intervention against Kosovo’s independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in 1998-99 prompted NATO to intervene and stop the conflict. Serbia and its allies Russia and China don’t accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, although Serbia’s former province has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the U.S. and most EU nations.
Brussels opens way for member states to halt EU enlargement talks (Financial Times, by Michael Peel in Brussels and Valerie Hopkins in Tirana, 4 February 2020)
Draft plan sets stage for battle over North Macedonia and Albania accession hopes
Brussels has set out plans to streamline the sprawling EU enlargement process and give member states stronger powers to halt or reverse accession talks, in response to concerns in Paris and other capitals. The draft plan, set out in a paper seen by the Financial Times, was triggered by a contentious France-led decision to stop North Macedonia and Albania from opening negotiations to join the bloc. The European Commission document, due to be published this week, sets the stage for a potential battle between EU member states over whether to give Skopje and Tirana the green light for accession talks. North Macedonia’s government faces a strong challenge in elections in April from Eurosceptic opponents, who say the country has been betrayed by the EU despite meeting demands from the bloc, including changing its name to end a longstanding dispute with Greece. The draft commission enlargement plan acknowledges “strong calls” from member states, as well as western Balkan aspirants to EU membership, for greater clarity on what the bloc expects of applicants and what the consequences are of meeting or failing those tests. It says backsliding or delays on necessary reforms by aspirant countries in accession talks could lead in the most serious cases to negotiations being put on hold or suspended, or to closed chapters of discussions being reopened or reset. The paper also calls for improved incentives for well-performing aspirant countries, including increased funding and investment and closer integration with EU policy, markets and programmes in areas where progress has been made.
EU officials and diplomats stressed the document was still the subject of debate, including on how many member state votes would be needed to reverse enlargement talks once they had begun. The rules would apply to accession talks launched after the plan was adopted, with an idea under discussion to allow an opt-in for the slow-burning negotiations under way with Serbia since 2014 and Montenegro since 2012, should the countries wish it. The promise of greater clarity may appeal to the six western Balkan countries that have long wanted to join the EU, but they are also likely to be concerned the plan will increase the possibility that they could be barred from accession. France provoked widespread anger in other EU states and the commission in October when it blocked the launch of accession talks with North Macedonia and — with the Netherlands and Denmark — Albania. Paris argued the countries had not made sufficient progress with reforms to cut corruption and strengthen the rule of law. Supporters of Skopje’s cause hope for a last-minute pivot from Emmanuel Macron, the French president, at a meeting of EU leaders next month, following local polls in France and shortly before the general election in North Macedonia. But diplomats warn that electioneering in other countries sceptical about enlargement — such as the Netherlands, which goes to the polls next year — could further complicate the debate. Nikola Dimitrov, North Macedonia’s foreign minister, said a decision on whether to open negotiations ahead of April elections in his country, was “essentially a response to the question of what Europe wants to with the Balkans. If it wants a democratic and reconciled region, it should deliver when countries deliver on difficult reforms and resolve longstanding disputes.” He said any new enlargement strategy should focus on capitalising on pro-European political will, which should not be taken for granted. Edi Rama, Albania’s prime minister, said Mr Macron’s push to reform the accession process was “a breath of fresh air in a process that seems to be stumbling and seemed to become more and more schizophrenic between technicalities and political decision-making”. He said he hoped the new process would bring “more clarity, more fairness, although it may seem and it may be borne out of a long process of deeper and deeper unfairness”. Making a distinction between the Balkan countries that had already initiated negotiations and those that followed was in principle “very unfair” and “geopolitically wrong”, said Mr Rama. But it would not change Albania’s pro-EU orientation or his generally favourable opinion about the new methodology.