“Self-Determination” Rehearses Protests

In protests under the motto “Protest rehearsal”, organized by the Self-Determination movement, about 2,000 people gathered (28.05) in the center of Pristina, calling for early elections after the March 25 vote of no confidence to the government of their leader Albin Kurti. The gathering at Skanderbeg Square ended peacefully, with the greetings from the window of the government building of the resigned Prime Minister Kurti.

For a long time, the protesters chanted his name and slogans: “We want elections”, “Yes to the elections, no to the thieves”, “Self-Determination”.

The protest was allowed only after several failed attempts by “Self-Determination” that were declined on the grounds of dangers related to the Covid-19 virus.

The political situation in Kosovo remains volatile following the no-confidence vote and the ensuing dispute between Prime Minister Kurti and President Hashim Thaci.

Thaci urged Kurti to step down and expressed his support for the forming of a new government by the Democratic League of Kosovo of Isa Mustafa, the “Self-Determination”’s former coalition partner. Kurti insisted that the constitution made it clear that after the party that won the most votes in the parliamentary elections could not form a government, following the no-confidence vote, new elections should be held. “Self-Determination” referred the matter to the Venice Commission of the EU, which refrains from taking sides in the dispute, and to the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, which gave the main institutions in the country (parliament, presidency and council of ministers) a deadline until May 8th to provide their opinion on the case and set May 29th as the date by which it shall take a decision.

Thaci Won’t Participate in Negotiations Led By EU Negotiator

Kosovo president Hashim Thaci advocate for US leadership in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, stating on May 26 that he has “no will to participate” in negotiations led by EU special representative Miroslav Lajcak.

Thaci welcomed the EU’s renewed engagement in the dialogue, but insisted he had not been in contact with the newly-appointed diplomat. “Any will from the European Union in this regard is encouraging”, he said. “But, personally, I am not in contact with Lajcak.”

He addressed the lack of connections with Lajcak to the diplomat’s relationship with acting prime minister Albin Kurti, who recently has communicated on several occasions with Lajcak and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, on the subject of the dialogue. 

“Kurti has been in contact with him for last three months and I do not know how far the talks have gone, Lajcak-Kurti-Borrell”, Thaci said. 

Tachi also expressed dissatisfaction that the EU’s two representatives were both representatives of countries that still don’t recognize Kosovo, Slovakia and Spain. “We must be aware that we are an independent and democratic country and in front of us we have two negotiators who have not recognized the independence of Kosovo”, he said.

However, the Kosovo president welcomed the participation of other EU leaders in future talks between Kosovo and Serbia, indicating he would respond to invites from the German Chancellor and the French President. “Personally, as a President, I will respond to invitations to summits led by Merkel, Macron etc.” Thaci said. “But I do not have the will to participate in the negotiation process led by Lajcak.”

Thaci also repeated his belief that the US should have “a leading role in the dialogue.” “It is encouraging to see the commitment of the US administration, President Trump and his Special Envoy Richard Grenell, to push things forward as fast as possible”, he stated, before stressing the need to “differentiate between the strategic partners” that have the capacity to both lead and conclude the negotiations, and implement the agreed deal.

“I have full trust in the US leadership”, he added, stating that only the US was capable of finalizing issues in the Balkans, particularly “the difficult and delicate issues between the states of Kosovo and Serbia.”

Thaci claims that Kosovo should soon be in a state to resume the dialogue following the coronavirus pandemic and recent political instability, but insisted that “no one can set the day or the week when the dialogue will continue between Kosovo and Serbia.”

Looming Recession in Western Balkans

The Western Balkans going to face a looming recession in as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report.

WB forecasts a negative regional growth between -3% and -5.6%. With the high uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, the report uses a baseline scenario, that assumes preventative restrictions will be lifted by the end of June and the economy will begin to recover in the second half of the year, as well as a downside scenario, that assumes restrictions will be lifted by late August, with economic recovery beginning only in the final quarter of 2020.

The report predicts a drop in domestic and foreign demand, while limited liquidity and an atmosphere of uncertainty leads to a drop in foreign investments. Social distancing measures and travel restrictions will have a large impact in tourism, which accounts for 50% of employment in the region. The aftershocks of this negative impact on tourism are likely to be felt in the long-term, with changes in consumer behavior being liable to change following the pandemic. Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro will be especially vulnerable in this aspect, due to their economies’ significant reliance on tourism. 

While Western Balkans governments have rolled out fiscal and social relief measures, a large part of the population in the region relies on self-employment, part-time jobs, and informal employment. These groups are difficult to support through conventional measures. Thus, extended financial support, designed to regional demographic specifics, may be necessary to aid these vulnerable groups. However, policymakers must walk a thin line between mitigating current impact and preparing for economic recovery.

Albania emerges as most vulnerable to economic recession in the heat-map drafted by the report. This comes mainly as a result of high rates of self-employment (34.7% of total employment) and informal employment (61% of total employment), as well as the large part the tourism industry takes up in its economy (48.2% of exports). The Albanian government has yet to provide a concrete financial relief plan for informal workers, but both its first and second financial relief packages have failed to comprehensively address the needs of tourism workers.

Positive effect to the economies of the WB countries could provide the EU Investment Plan for Western Balkan on a total amount of 3 billion Euros, which is expected to start to the end of 2020. All of WB countries, in exception of Serbia, congratulated the EU measures.

Serbia has to take loans because of the coronavirus crisis but the state has decided not to make use of any of the aid offered by the European Commission to the countries of the Western Balkans and has not applied for any of the 750 million Euros in loans under favorable conditions.

When the European Commission proposed a new three billion Euro package of macro-financial aid measures for the countries of the Western Balkans and other European Union partners late in April, Serbia crossed itself off the list.

Officials in Brussels said at the time that one of the criteria for countries to benefit from that package was to ask the IMF for emergency liquidity aid but Belgrade saw no need for that. Finance Minister Sinisa Mali also said that there is money enough in the budget to meet all obligations.

“At this moment, Serbia is completely stable, secure and we have no problem with our obligations. According to our projection that will remain the situation to the end of the year. We are following events in the world and we’ll see. Our projections and those of the national bank are always more conservative and we are completely prepared for an even worse scenario”, the minister said.

The national Fiscal Council said that the country should take loans from international institutions. “If there are loans from international institutions such as the European Union, that should be taken. We did not have that opportunity to date, that it is not easy to apply to the European Union if it wants you to prove that you are having balance of payments problems. Becoming indebted on the capital markets will certainly be a challenge, maybe that will have to be at some higher rates than in the past but unfortunately that is inevitable for Serbia and other countries”.

Tensions in Front of the Serbian Parliament

Independent Member of Parliament Miladin Sevralic went on hunger strike on Sunday in protest that the Assembly was ignoring his request to discuss Belgrade’s policy towards Kosovo. He was joined by Dveri leader Bosko Obradovic, who supported him and added that his protest was also against the June 21 elections. An hour later, two lawmakers from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP), Alexander Martinovic and Sandra Bozic, went on a hunger strike on the steps in front of parliament, protesting the prosecution’s lack of reaction to Obradovic’s “attack” on counterpart Marian Risticevic on Friday. On Monday morning, Sevralic called off the strike, saying it made no sense after the media focused on SPP and Obradovic lawmakers.

That afternoon, thousands of SPP supporters gathered in front of parliament in an organized manner to express their support for President Aleksandar Vucic and the two SPP strikers as they shouted, “Bosko is a fascist, Aca is a Serb.”
Several of Obradovic’s friends, mostly from his hometown of Cacak, were separated from the gendarmerie by SPP supporters to avoid clashes. However, a SPP sympathizer was filmed punching a woman and later arrested by police for hooliganism. Supporters of the largest opposition coalition, the Union for Serbia, later joined the protest in defense of Obradovic.

Hours after tensions between the two politically engaged groups in front of parliament, President Aleksandar Vucic urged people not to gather before the end of this month to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
“It is unacceptable to put our people at risk before we end the epidemic. Gathering SPP supporters and the Dveri opposition movement is not appropriate now and I would ask them not to do so,” Vucic told a news conference in an attempt to calm the situation.
Vucic said that “the SPP is not the organizer of the rally, but another organization. I love these people and I urge them to wait until the end of May, when we will have a chance to gather en masse.” He added that he was informed that “5790 SPP supporters and 64-65 opposition supporters have gathered”.

Vucic’s speech came hours after the NGO Transparency Serbia criticized him for “dramatic nationalist speeches” and his involvement in issues outside his presidential jurisdiction.
Asked about the latest Freedom House report, which sharply criticizes corruption in Serbia, Vucic said: “I read the report. It’s extremely unserious and full of incorrect information. I thought the authors were experts, but then I saw it was one man, a journalist of BIRN.” (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network)

Vucic asked Aleksandar Martinovic and Sandra Bozic to stop the hunger strike. At the same time, Martinovic addressed the rally, saying Bozic would stop, but he still had to think about it. The SNS crowd started dispersing immediately after his address.

Serbia to Held Elections During Pandemic

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that parliamentary elections would be held on June 21. Speaking after a meeting held on May 4-th with officials of parties planning to field candidates, Vucic said that he accepted a proposal from some of those parties because they need to have 38 days to campaign before the elections.  

The president said that it’s certain that there will be no large-scale gatherings in May, “especially not in closed spaces”. He added that the holding of gatherings in June will depend on the views of epidemiologists and on the health of the nation.  

Vucic said that the availability of notaries public to notarize the signatures parties need to collect to field candidates is a problem. He said that the parties agreed that municipal officials can also notarize those signatures.  

The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic, Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) leader Ivica Dacic, United Serbia leader Dragan Markovic-Palma, Nova Stranka leader Zoran Zivkovic, SPAS leader Aleksandar Sapic, Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Milos Jovanovic, Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM) leader Istvan Pastor, Freedom and Reconciliation Party leader Muamer Zukorlic, representatives of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Movement “Zavetnici”, United Democratic Serbia coalition and “1 in 5 Million” Movement. Nine lists of candidates have been submitted to the Republic Election Commission.  

Serbian opposition leader Dragan Djilas declared that the conditions are not in place to hold free and fair elections in Serbia. “The population of Serbia has been living in a dictatorship for the past eight years which is why the opposition has decided to boycott the elections. I read EU High Representative Josep Borell’s statement that a boycott is not the solution. Of course it isn’t. The solution is to allow all citizens to express their free will”, he said.

The European Union’s top diplomat Borell expressed concern (04.05) over the political situation in Serbia and called for a lowering of tension prior to what he said are important elections. Speaking about the opposition decision not to field candidates in the coming parliamentary elections, Borell said that he thinks a boycott is not a viable option.

The member of the European Parliament Tanja Fajon made an advise that  it would be wise not to organize elections in Serbia before the coronavirus pandemic ends because the situation is not suitable for quick elections. Fajon, Chairwoman of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, said that a decision on the elections is up to the Serbian authorities and warned of what she called a serious escalation of tension through the media. We see protests and a serious escalation on the streets and rooftops, she said. “Society is very much divided. We should say clearly that politicians bear the responsibility to avoid using inflammatory language, oppose hate speech, avoid more social divisions and not deceive the public during and after the election campaign”, she said. According to her, the first thing that has to be done is improve election conditions. “A radical step needs to be taken in regard to the media, the role of public broadcasters along with an urgent de-escalation of tension”, she added.

The opposition Alliance for Serbia (Savet za Srbiju) leader Janko Veselinovic told (07.05) that the organization’s decision to boycott the coming elections is final. “We decided at a SzS Presidency meeting three days ago to remain firm in the boycott because the conditions have not changed and are much worse than in April”, adding that another important reason not to change the decision is because of the ongoing pandemic. “Everyone from the authorities and opposition who calls voters to turn out for the June 21 elections is consciously risking their health”, Veselinovic said.  

The leader of the Movements for Free Citizens (Pokret Slobodnih Gradjana), a famous actor Sergej Trifunovic, announced (08.05) his party would take part in the forthcoming general, provincial and local elections due on June 21. “We are aware that not a single election condition has changed for a better. On the contrary, all is six fold worse. But, the vote during the rule of (Serbia’s President) Aleksandar Vucic will never be fair”, Trifunovic said, explaining the latest decision. He called on other opposition parties to unite and run in the elections.

However, the largest opposition umbrella group, the Alliance for Serbia has reiterated it will boycott the ballot.

Some analysts believe the PSG decision may hamper the boycott, but SzS says that won’t happen and insists the voting can jeopardize people’s health since the coronavirus won’t be over by June. According to Bojan Klacar, the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) Executive Director, change mind of PSG and take part in the elections was not surprising, but might affect other opposition parties to reconsider the boycott.

The noise protests at 8:05 pm for 14-th night were staged across the country to express dissatisfaction with the way the authorities were handling the coronavirus pandemic. The state of emergency and the catastrophic running of the state has shown Serbia’s regime’s character which has gone from the dictatorship to a bold tyranny, and it is time for a revolt, according to a civil activist Srdjan Milivojevic.

The nightly Noise Against Dictatorship protest was held in front of the Serbian presidency building in Belgrade on May 7th, the first night without a curfew. A University professor Cedomir Cupic said that “Everything in this country is subjected to one man. The quarantine period showed he became the owner of our lives and deaths… He was on TVs with national frequency all the time. That deserves a revolt, regardless of how many people will turn out.”

The Youth Organization of Serbia’s opposition Democratic Party (Demokratska Stranka) wrote an open letter to Tanja Fajon, warning her about the continued deterioration of democracy in the country. They clarified there was a threat of “an escalation of the new atmosphere” in the society, created, by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska Napredna Stranka), led by the head of state Aleksandar Vucic. “It’s clear he will continue with the autocratic rule and that he sees the Parliament as a tool to legitimize his will and decisions, and not as the highest legislative body”, the letter to Fajon said.

European Parliament members Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik called for a lowering of tensions between parties and the media in Serbia and the country’s return to pro-European policies. In a reaction to recent incidents, including a violent event in front of the Serbian Parliament and the announcement of elections on 21 June, they said that the role of the media is more important than ever. “Due to the consequences of the COVID-19 that will lead to restrictions on the normal conditions for carrying out the electoral campaign, the role of media is more important than ever. In this regard, a step-change in addressing the area of media and the role and regulation of the public broadcasters is crucial for a successful electoral process”, the statement said and expressed concern about the polarization of the media, their use for political and personal attacks and an escalation of tensions.

“Let us be clear, it is the responsibility of all politicians to avoid inflammatory language, to counter hate-speech, to avoid aggravating social divisions by respecting political opponents, and not to mislead the public with disinformation in the media before, during and after the electoral campaign”, they said.

“We call on politicians in public and through the media to de-escalate tensions and re-focus on putting forward policy agendas that are pro-European and in the spirit of democratic society and that promotes development of the country and prosperity of the Serbian people. We call on the media to report objectively and professionally in the interest of the citizens.

“We call on all political forces and citizens to engage in the electoral process as to ensure the widest possible representation and promotion of different ideas and contributions which reinforce pluralism and strengthen democracy. As the country emerges from the extraordinary COVID-19 lock-down, it is more important than ever that all political forces and citizens have full confidence in the integrity of the electoral process. Nobody should be exposed to any unnecessary risks when performing their political campaigns and in casting their votes”, they added.

“We continue to monitor closely the conditions for holding parliamentary elections and expect the authorities to fully implement all of the commitments made in the three rounds of the Inter-Party Dialogue”, the statement said.

The European Union Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said (07.05) the next report on the development of the situation in Serbia would be published by the end of June and would refer to the MEP’s letter. In his answer to the letter, which is a form of control of the European Parliament (EP) over the European Commission, Várhelyi said the Commission was carefully monitoring the situation in Serbia, adding the current priority was the fight against the pandemic.

“The media freedom is essential at any time”, Várhelyi said, adding the EU accession process with Serbia continued. “Bearing that in mind, we continue to oversee the situation in Serbia and assess its progress. The conditions for the EU membership haven’t changed. As you are aware, the overall speed of Serbia’s process in negotiations with the EU depends on the implementation of reforms in the key area of the rule of law. We’ll assess the situation in the light of the latest development in our annual reports to be published in June”, Várhelyi said.

“Partition of Kosovo” Must be Agreed with Serbia and Approved by UN SC

Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Alexander Botsan Kharcenko has told that “Partition of Kosovo” must be agreed by Pristina and Belgrade, and once Serbia has accepted it, the agreement has to be confirmed by the UN Security Council.

Kharcenko was asked in an interview for “Politika” newspaper about Russia’s “red lines” in the dialogue, and whether the division of Kosovo is still a relevant idea.

“The relevance of the idea ​”Partition of Kosovo”, as well as any other idea, can be assessed only by Belgrade and Pristina. The sustainable outcome of the Kosovo issue is achievable only as a result of taking into account balanced mutual interests, compromises – on the basis of international law, without imposing external schemes or time frames. The main criterion for us is that the solution should be acceptable for Serbia”, he replied.

“The final solution of the Kosovo issue should be determined in the UN Security Council by passing a new resolution that would replace the current Resolution 1244”, he added.

Asked whether Russia would be engaged in mediating a deal alongside the US and EU, Kharcenko said that would depend on Belgrade’s request.

“Now it is too early to consider. I don’t think imitating other players is a reasonable and justified strategy. Moscow has an independent vision of the situation. Our engagement requires, above all, an invitation from Belgrade. At the same time, the negotiation process itself should be conducted in a clear international legal framework [that is] acceptable to us, based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244, and should have an acceptable form and content. Let me add, without any malice, that so far the results of diplomatic activities are not too obvious. For now, on the contrary, there is only more chaos in Kosovo itself”, he said.

The United States and the European Union have appointed special envoys for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue that is officially mediated by the European Union.

In 2018 President Vucic asked the Russian President Putin, Russia to join the dialogue if the US got involved. Whilst the request was welcomed by Putin back then, Vucic has not been reported to have voiced the same request in public until now.

A few months later, allegations about a possible land swap deal between Kosovo and Serbia had appeared in the dialog for the normalization of the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, held in Brussels  under the mediation of the EU former chief diplomat Federica Mogherini.

Bosnian Local Elections Will Take Place on October 4th

Central Election Commission (CIK) of Bosnia and Heregovina, decided on May 7th that local elections will be held across the country on October 4, 2020 – with exception of the city of Mostar, which is populated mostly of Bosnian croats.

According to the Bosnian top electoral authority, the total of 3,374, 364 citizens, without Mostar residents, are eligible to vote.

Citizens will elect 64 municipal councils in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and 56 in municipal assemblies in Republika Srpska, as well as 40 city councils in the Federation, 7 city assemblies in RS, 22 mayors in the whole country and the Assembly of Brcko District, which has a separate administrative unit.

CIK Secretary said the elections in Mostar would be called once the conditions for that are met. The local elections in the City of Mostar were last held in 2008. Two years later, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina acted upon motion of Croat representatives in the state Parliament, assessing as unconstitutional parts of the Bosnia’s Election Law which refer to the City of Mostar.

The court tasked the state Parliament in 2010 to amend the Election Law regarding the provisions which treat the electoral rules in that city, but this did not happen to date and Mostar elections remain the subject of political disagreements in the country and the permanent objections and recommendations by the international community to be done as soon as possible.

Josep Borrell Is Not Opposed to a Land Exchange Deal Between Kosovo and Serbia

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has refused to rule out land swaps as an option for a deal between Kosovo and Serbia.

In a statement to a journalist from the Western Balkans, Borrell said (05.05) that the EU “should not be more Catholic than the Pope” and ask the two countries to exclude the exchange of territories from a potential deal, the Kosovo newspaper “Koha Ditore” reported.

On a question, whether he personally or the EU is against the swap of territories between Kosovo and Serbia, Borrell have responded: “…This is an issue that needs to be resolved in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. I see no need for us to be more catholic than the Pope. It is not up to us to tell Serbs and Kosovars what they should agree on or not. Our role will be to facilitate the dialogue. But as I said we should not be more catholic than the Pope”.

However, Borrell added that any deal between the two countries must be carefully examined by the EU in terms of its potential impact in the region.

“If they agree on something, we should study that agreement anyway, because every agreement between Serbia and Kosovo has an impact on the region. But in principle this should be a free and fair dialogue between the two sides”.

Asked again to clarify whether this means that the European Commission will oppose Germany’s position, which opposes any deal involving an exchange of territories, Borrell said his role was to facilitate dialogue and assess the side effects of the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.

“Let me say that I am more eclectic [than Germany]. We need to facilitate dialogue and, as I said, consider the collateral effects of any kind of agreement in other parts of the region, where the problem of border movement has always been sensitive. I personally understand the position of Germany and other countries, but my role, and that of my Special Representative [Miroslav Lajcak], is to facilitate the dialogue”, Borrell insisted.

The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia are in favor of the idea of ​​concluding a deal based on the exchange of territories between the two countries, which was discussed in 2018, during the talks in Brussels with the mediation of former EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini. The plan was declared dead by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic after the Berlin Summit hosted by chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron in the summer of 2019, but it reappeared on the agenda after president Donald Trump appointed ambassador Richard Grenell as Special Envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in October 2019.

The majority of EU and Western Balkan experts disapprove a possible deal that would involve exchanging territories and delineating ethnic lines, with part of Kosovo’s Serb-populated territory joining Serbia and in return, the two Albanian-populated municipalities of Presevo and Bujanovac in Serbia to join Kosovo. There are serious concerns that this move could create a chain reaction, as almost all countries in the region have ethnic minorities outside national borders in neighboring countries.

Freedom House: The SPP Erodes Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Media Freedom

The report of the influential American organization Freedom House for 2019 summarizes the situation in the region: “Anti-democratic leaders in Central Europe and the Balkans – including some who unceremoniously concentrated power in their hands beyond constitutional limits –  continued to undermine institutions defending freedom of expression, association and the rule of law”.

With regard to the deterioration of democracy and political freedoms in Serbia, the following is stated: “In recent years, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) has been continuously eroding political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on the independent media, political opposition and civil society organizations. Despite these trends, the country is still moving towards EU membership”.

Serbia is ranked among the other Western Balkan countries in the group of 59 partially free countries in the world “due to deteriorating election processes, ongoing attempts by the government and pro-government media to undermine independent journalism through harassment of journalists and campaigns for denigration, as well as the actual accumulation of executive powers in the hands of president Aleksandar Vucic, which conflicts with his constitutional role”.

Freedom House’s latest report “Nation in Transit” also underlines that one of the biggest problems in Serbia is the decline in media freedom, with most of the country’s print and electronic media being under control of the ruling SPP party.

With regard to the overall quality of democracy and the conditions under which elections are held, the main problem facing Serbia again is the deterioration of media freedoms, which has led to an additional fall of 6 more positions in Freedom House’s ranking compared to 2018.

“In the worst case, media such as TV Pink and the tabloid Informer serve as propaganda units of the SPP, used to praise the ruling party and its leader, while demonizing critics and opponents. In the less extreme case, media such as public television RTS or the printed edition “Politika”, offer more subtle pro-government propaganda combined with extremely limited space to cover the activity of the opposition”, the report said.

Freedom House adds: “Although there are critical voices, such as N1 cable or the “Danas” daily, their coverage is limited. Broad-range media rarely offer material with a more balanced political coverage”.

The report states that “in 2019, attacks and threats against journalists criticizing the government continued” and that “attacks on journalists usually remain unsanctioned”, citing examples of threats against N1 journalists and investigative journalist Slobodan Georgiev from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

The EU Reaffirms its Support for the European Perspective of the Western Balkans

The European Union reaffirmed its support for the Western Balkans European perspective in a statement issued after the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb held via video conference on Wednesday, May 6th.

“The EU reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The Western Balkan partners reiterated their commitment to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice”, the statement said.

The EU also reaffirms its “strong solidarity with our partners in the context of the coronavirus crisis … which calls for unity and solidarity” and recognizes the valuable support that the Western Balkans have given to their neighbors during the pandemic.

The EU stated its determination to strengthen its commitment at all levels to support political, economic and social transformation in the region and welcomed the commitment of regional states to uphold European values and principles and to carry out the necessary reforms diligently and vigorously. “Increased EU assistance will be linked to tangible progress in the rule of law and socio-economic reforms”, the statement said.

“We reaffirm the EU’s position on the European perspective for the Western Balkans. It is important to continue reforms, the rule of law, democratic values, the fight against corruption – they are essential”, European Council President Charles Michel told a news conference after the summit. “After leaving behind this tangible phase of the pandemic, the EU will present an investment plan later this year”, added European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The declaration also said greater efforts would be made against disinformation and other activities aimed at undermining the region’s European perspective. “Following the immediate steps to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, a new phase of close cooperation will follow to deal with the significant socio-economic impact of the crisis”, said Charles Michel, urging the European Commission to create a stable economic and investment plan for the region to strengthen economies while improving their competitiveness, to better connect them within the region and with the EU.

The declaration also calls for better cooperation on key security issues, including the development of regional cooperation instruments based on EU instruments and frameworks, warned that the focus should be on combating terrorism and extremism, human trafficking, drug and arms trafficking and money laundering.

The EU will continue to support the region in tackling the issue of migrants, including improving reception capacity, and looks forward to further deepening cooperation on the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the declaration said, and called for progress towards full alignment with the EU’s foreign policy positions.