Western Balkans Overview Dec 18, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Dec 18, 2023 – CWBS
  • EuCo Summit on accession of the Western Balkans to the EU

The heads of state and government of the European Union have decided to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, as well as with Bosnia and Herzegovina, once the membership criteria are met by the latter. Georgia also receives the status of a candidate for full EU membership. The decision was confirmed by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. The European Council proposed that the European Commission report by March next year on the extent to which Bosnia and Herzegovina meets the relevant criteria. The final document confirms unequivocal commitment to the prospects for the membership of the Western Balkans in the EU. European leaders have called for the acceleration of the accession process. They also emphasized that enlargement is a driving force for improving the economic and social conditions of life for European citizens, reducing differences between countries, and that it must nurture the values on which the Union is based. Candidate countries are encouraged to step up their reform efforts, particularly in the area of the rule of law, in line with the merit-based nature of the accession process and with the EU support.

On the eve of the summit, the European Council published its conclusions on enlargement – a document that assesses the situation in the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Turkey. Then the EU-Western Balkans summit was held, as a result of which the Declaration was published. This is the document, written in a traditional Brussels lingo, full of technical constructions, which lays down the main objections to the countries in question, especially Serbia and Kosovo. The conclusions state that enlargement is a geostrategic investment in peace, security, stability, and prosperity. The Copenhagen political criteria remain undisputed, and the Council confirms the need for fair and strict conditioning, the principle of own merits. Therefore, there will be no accelerated entry for anyone, not even for Ukraine.

It should be noted that the Western Balkans, as expected, did not succeed here. Therefore, the Council warned that resolute efforts are needed to promote reconciliation and regional stability, including the resolution of bilateral disputes between partners and problems rooted in the legacy of the past, in accordance with international law and established principles.

Montenegro has done well, the main challenge being the fight against corruption and organized crime, as in North Macedonia. Albania is criticized for the lack of internal political dialogue and, among other things, calls for strengthening the protection of fundamental rights. Turkey is asked to address the Cyprus problem. Recalling Turkey’s international obligations in this regard, the Council reiterated its grave concern at the continuing and deeply disturbing decline in the areas of democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights. The real problem is the three remaining countries of the Western Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina is yet to see the talks open, and the negative impact on the situation of Republika Srpska was emphasized. It is also required that the country implement the verdict of the court in the Sejdić-Finci case, so that representatives of national minorities, and not only constitutionally established ones, can run for all public positions.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, constantly speaks of his country as an example of democracy in the Western Balkans, but the conclusions refer to limited progress on the rule of law, the fight against organized crime and the fight against corruption. The Council notes that Kosovo must implement the decision of the Constitutional Court regarding the Decana monastery without delay. The decision to confirm the Orthodox monastery’s ownership of 24 hectares of land had been made back in 2016. The assessment of the Council was harsh also when it comes to the north of Kosovo, where the majority of Serbs live. It was stated that unilateral steps by Kosovo and Serbia have heightened tensions and it was reiterated that the Association of Serbian Municipalities should be formed. The message to Serbia is clear: progress in the area of rule of law and normalization of relations with Kosovo determines the overall pace of accession negotiations. In general, the situation is assessed as poor; there is a need to fight organized crime, corruption, insufficient protection of minorities, and promote media freedom and the rule of law. Brussels demands that the government in Belgrade speak objectively and unambiguously about the EU. Regarding the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Council reiterated its firm expectation that Serbia would join the bloc and that Belgrade would take a tougher stance towards Russia.

The final document of the Summit emphasizes that rapid and sustained progress is needed towards full compliance with restrictive measures, that is, the introduction of sanctions. Regarding tensions in the north of Kosovo, the Council is concerned about the fact that Serbia has not taken steps to prosecute the masterminds behind the attacks in May of this year on members of KFOR and in September – on the Kosovo police force. The conclusions establish that Belgrade retains massive influence over Serbs in northern Kosovo, so the Council recalls that, in line with its conclusions of 26 and 27 October 2023, the failure of the parties to de-escalate tensions will yield repercussions.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic expressed reservations about the EU-Western Balkans summit declaration, stating that Kosovo remains an integral part of Serbia. Brussels sees this reaction in light of the elections taking place in Serbia, as well as creating room for maneuver, because President Aleksandar Vučić did not attend the meeting and may later back away from this statement. However, it seems very doubtful that he will change his rhetoric after the elections where Vucic is winning. This, perhaps, reflects Brussels’s delusions since in Serbia, only 20% of the population supports European integration.

  • President of Kosovo: “Serbia is preparing new attacks on my country!”

“Unfortunately, Serbia is still ruled by those who want to take our region back to the 1990s. We must not allow such logic to win, and that is why we are working with our partners in the EU to strengthen security in Kosovo and especially in the aspect of security around the border with Serbia,” Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said in Brussels on the eve of the EU-Western Balkans summit. It was indicated that Pristina had tips about Serbia’s plans for new attacks on Kosovo. Osmani said she would brief European leaders on the details that Pristina has gathered with its partners on such plans on the part of Belgrade. She noted that it is necessary to take pre-emptive measures to prevent destabilization of the region from possible attacks by Serbia.

The President of Kosovo noted that the timing of the summit is challenging for Europe and the world in general due to ongoing global conflicts. However, she added, the summit proves the importance of peace in the Western Balkans.

Later, in her address to the parliament of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani devoted most of her speech to the attack that took place at the end of September in Banjska, as well as to the alleged threat that Serbia poses to the north of Kosovo and beyond. In her opinion, the attack on September 24 is a clear indication that Serbia is not interested in lasting peace, good neighborliness, or the completion of the dialogue process with Kosovo. “Unfortunately, today’s policy of Vucic is yesterday’s policy of Milosevic,” Osmani believes. According to the president of Kosovo, Banjska is “only a warning” and that “Serbia will not give up its dark plans.” “Hegemonic actions have not stopped. In fact, with these actions, Serbia is attacking the whole of Europe because it works in the interests of provocative factors, as well as factors that aim to torpedo both the EU and NATO through destabilization in the Balkans,” she said.

She also mentioned the Albanians in the territory of Serbia, in particular in the municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac, and Medveja. She urged them to remain “steadfast with Serbia” and unwavering in the face of “enormous security challenges”.

Thus, Vjosa Osmani again called for the introduction of restrictive measures by Serbia due to the events in Banjska, as well as the attacks on KFOR soldiers and journalists in May of this year, as their absence, in her opinion, only encourages further violence. At the same time, Osmani thanked the Kosovo police and security agencies, saying that the events of September 24 motivated the Kosovo youths to join the police force.

The leader of Kosovo also gave an assessment of the draft charter of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, which was delivered to Pristina on October 21 by European and American representatives. Osmani believes that Kosovo will definitely create such an Association, but only if the draft statute complies with the provisions of the country’s constitution, which will be verified by the Constitutional Court of Kosovo. In this way, Pristina is looking for a legal way of snubbing the proposal of Brussels and Washington in case Belgrade blocks the process of de facto recognition of Kosovo, which is also a requirement of the EU and the USA.

  • BiH court rejects Dodik’s appeal to move sessions from Sarajevo to Banja Luka

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina rejected the appeal filed by the defense team of President of Republic of Srpska Milorad Dodik, who asked to forward the case from Sarajevo to Banja Luka, his lawyer Goran Bubić confirmed, adding that a new hearing is scheduled for December 20.

The defense team requested that the trial be postponed, among other things, “due to doubts about the objectivity and impartiality of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” On December 6, the BiH court granted the motion by Dodik’s defense to postpone the main court session until the defense’s request to forward the case to Banja Luka is resolved. RS President Milorad Dodik and Acting Director of the RS “Official Herald” Milos Lukic were charged by the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a criminal offense: “non-implementation of the decisions of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, and the Court upheld the indictment on September 11, 2023.

It must be recalled that the RS Parliament this June adopted two laws that provide that the judgments of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall not be enforced on the territory of this entity, and neither shall the decision of the High Representative of the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, published in the Official Journal of RS. On July 1, the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Karl Schmidt, repealed both laws and amended the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Making these changes, the High Representative ruled that an official who fails to comply with or respect the decision of the High Representative may face imprisonment for a term ranging from six months to five years, and also be banned from performing any official functions in any body, fully or partially financed from the budget.

Thus, the legal issues are starting to strangle Milorad Dodik, who understands that the High Representative is creating legal grounds for his removal, although he also has the authority to do so without a court ruling. The actions of the RS president are becoming more and more radical in order to create chaos in Republika Srpska after the decision to remove him from office is eventually made. However, the EU and the USA react quite calmly to the “tricks” offered by the RS leader, realizing that he will soon be sacked absolutely legitimately, and it will be much more difficult for Banja Luka to accuse the High Representative of an arbitrary move. Although Dodik expressed full loyalty to the president of Serbia during the early parliamentary elections, publicly calling on people to vote for his party, this is unlikely to force Belgrade to openly enter into a confrontation with the European community and the USA against the background of the possible dismissal of the RS leader. It is obvious that Dodik is postponing his visit to the Kremlin in order to make it precisely at the time of the last court session, in order to just stay in Moscow and not come back. It is obvious that his accounts in Moscow banks have already been replenished, so he doesn’t have to worry too much.