Serbian President Calls a Meeting with Covic and Dodik “a talk between friends”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called the Monday evening’s meeting with leaders of Bosnian Serbs and Croats Milorad Dodik and Dragan Covic a talk between friends in a post on his Instagram account. 

Vucic’s photo shows him standing between Milorad Dodik (left) and Dragan Covic (right) making a toast. 

Earlier on Monday, Dragan Covic tweeted he was going to Belgrade to speak about Bosnia’s stability, development of bilateral relations, and the 25th anniversary since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. 

The meeting was condemned by the Bosniak leader Bakir Izetbegovic and Vice President of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity saying the two went to Belgrade in order to deny Bosnia’s institutions and annul the European Commission’s Report which does not recognize the institution of the leader of constituent people in Bosnia nor does it recognize the term legitimate representative of peoples in Bosnia’s institutions. 

Covic’s Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) said that interlocutors spoke about the EU’s Enlargement Package for 2020, but not for the importance of the EU accession process for maintaining a strong European perspective of the region. 

The European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina is unquestionable, Covic told during the meeting, stressing the need for a new intensification of efforts on the European path. 

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, officials unanimously stressed that the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina is of great importance for the entire region. 

EU Economic and Investment Plan for Western Balkans

The European Commission presented a nine billion Euro economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans which is intended to help the region move forward on its path to the Union and forge closer links between its economies. 

According to the plan, six of the nine million Euro will be directed towards the transport, energy, digitalization, agriculture, health care and education sectors in all the countries of the region. Another 1.5 billion is earmarked for the private sector and the remaining 1.5 billion for education. 

The Commission said that the coronavirus pandemic had a massive disruptive effect on the economies of the region which were already lagging behind in terms of economic convergence with the EU and added that the plan was intended to spur long-term recovery which would lead to sustained economic growth.   

It said that the countries of the region had to implement reforms in order to move forward and draw closer to the EU Single Market. The plan is intended to unleash the untapped economic potential of the region and the significant scope for increased intra-regional economic cooperation and trade.

The Commission said that it would mobilize up to nine billion Euro from IPA funds for the 2021-2027 period to support economic convergence with the EU primarily through investments and support to competitiveness and inclusive growth, sustainable connectivity, and the twin green and digital transition. It added that a new Western Balkans Guarantee facility should be put in place which could potentially raise investments of up to EUR 20 billion.

“There is much we agree with in today’s package for the Western Balkans, including the lack of progress on tackling corruption and the need for investments in sustainable renewable energy and a circular economy. But the European Commission’s blatant lobbying to expand fossil gas use in the region is utterly unacceptable and in conflict with the EU’s own 2050 decarbonization goals”, said Ioana Ciuta, Energy Coordinator for CEE Bank watch Network. “The predominance of hydropower in the flagship renewable energy projects is also worrying, given its environmental impacts and climate vulnerability”, added Pippa Gallop, Bank watch’s Southeast Europe Energy Advisor. “The region needs support to concentrate on energy savings, solar and appropriately-sited wind, not to be further distracted by 20th Century technologies.”

According to the Commission, better links between the economies of the region are a priority which requires a strong commitment to implementing fundamental reforms, deepening regional economic integration and developing a common regional market on the basis of the EU acquis. The priorities also include waste water management and moving from coal-based to renewable energy.

The commission warned of poor governance and limited progress in dealing with shortcomings in rule of law and the fight against corruption. It said that regional cooperation with the EU is essential in addressing fraud, corruption, money laundering, terrorism, extremism, trafficking in arms and people and smuggling migrants.

European Commission Report Says Serbia Made Little or No Progress in Key Areas

The European Commission said on Wednesday that Serbia had made limited or no progress in key areas on its path to the European Union. 

The section of the Commission’s progress report on the Serbian elections said that “fundamental freedoms were respected but voter choice was limited by the governing party’s overwhelming advantage and the promotion of government policies by most major media outlets, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR)”. 

The report said that a number of ODIHR recommendations were not implemented, adding that the Serbian authorities should address long-standing electoral shortcomings through a transparent and inclusive dialogue with political parties and other relevant stakeholders well ahead of the next elections. “The newly constituted Serbian parliament is marked by the overwhelming majority of the ruling coalition and the absence of a viable opposition, a situation which is not conducive to political pluralism in the country”, it said. 

It said that Serbia is moderately prepared in the area of public administration reform. “No progress was made overall as the excessive number of acting senior manager positions was not sizeably reduced. Lack of transparency and respect of the merit-based recruitment procedure for senior civil service positions is an issue of increasingly serious concern”, it said. Serbia’s judicial system has some level of preparation. No progress was made over the reporting period, the report said. 

“Serbia has some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. Limited progress was made over the reporting period,” the report said. 

“In the fight against organized crime, Serbia has some level of preparation with limited progress over the reporting period related notably to structural reforms and interagency cooperation. … Overall, Serbia has yet to establish a convincing track record of effective investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in serious and organized crime cases, leading to an increased amount of confiscated assets. 

Serbia needs to increase its efforts in dismantling large and internationally active criminal organizations”, the report added. “The legislative and institutional framework for upholding fundamental rights is broadly in place. However, its consistent and efficient implementation still needs to be ensured. Human rights institutions need to be strengthened and their independence guaranteed, including via the allocation of the necessary financial and human resources”, the EC said. 

It recalled that the government adopted a new media strategy, which identifies the main media freedom challenges, but its implementation has not yet started and no progress was made yet on the ground to improve the overall environment for freedom of expression. 

It expressed concern over the continuing threats, intimidation and violence against journalists and the failure to establish transparency of media ownership and of allocation of public funds, especially at local level. Serbia continued to significantly contribute to the management of the mixed migration flows towards the EU by playing an active and constructive role and cooperating effectively with its neighbors and EU Member States. It also continued to effectively implement the integrated border management strategy and its action plan. 

“On the economic criteria, Serbia made some progress and is moderately prepared/at a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. … By reducing the budgetary deficit and maintaining a prudent fiscal stance, Serbia has significantly improved debt sustainability. Labour market performance has improved, with the lowest unemployment rates in the last decade; however, this was also due to large-scale emigration”, it said. Serbia made some progress and is moderately prepared to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Serbia overall remained committed to bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and neighboring EU Member States and an active participant in regional cooperation. 

Regarding the normalization of relations with Kosovo, Serbia needs to make further substantial efforts and contribute to reaching a comprehensive legally binding agreement with Kosovo. 

As regards its ability to assume the obligations of membership, Serbia stepped up its work to align legislation with the EU acquis in the economic and internal market chapters. The country made good progress in economic areas such as company law, intellectual property law, competition and financial services. However, limited progress was made on public procurement. 

Serbia continued to develop intense relations and strategic partnerships with a number of countries worldwide, including Russia, China and the US. Cooperation with China increased during the COVID-19 crisis and was marked by pro-China and EU skeptical rhetoric by high-ranking state officials, the report said and added that Serbia aligned with 60% of the EU CFSP positions in 2019 and needs to step up its efforts in order to progressively align its foreign and security policy with that of the European Union in the period up to accession. 

European Commission says Kosovo Made Limited Progress

The European Commission said in its latest progress report for European Union candidate countries that Kosovo made limited progress on reforms. 

“As regards Kosovo, limited progress was made on EU related reforms and it is important that Kosovo authorities redouble their efforts to advance on the European path, including through the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement”, the Commission said. Speaking after the report was adopted.

Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said the political context in Kosovo “over the last year has been volatile and not been favorable to making bold progress on EU-related reforms”. “In order to put back focus on reforms, I am looking forward to launching with Prime Minister Hoti in the coming days a second phase of Kosovo’s European Reform Agenda”, he said. 

Varhelyi said that the EU welcomed the lifting of the 100% tariff on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as a crucial decision which allowed the resumption of the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. 

“The Commission remains committed to achieving visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens. We maintain our position that Kosovo fulfills all criteria, and we continue to call on Kosovo to make sure that all benchmarks continue to be met”, he said. 

European Commission Report on BaH Finds Little to No Progress in Key Areas

The European Commission presented its 2020 report on the Western Balkans, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Tuesday, saying the country was blocked politically and that it had no progress in the Public Administration Reform. The Commission also found little to no progress in the reform of the judiciary, fight against corruption or fundamental rights of minorities. 

“During most of the reporting period the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina was blocked for political reasons, which resulted in a legislative backlog”, the report said, adding that the government was only formed “in December 2019, 14 months after the general elections.” 

“The Federation entity government is still in a caretaker function. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Constitution remains in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as per the Sejdic-Finci and related cases. No progress was made in improving the electoral framework in line with European standards and ensuring transparency of political party financing”, the report said among other things. 

The European Commission said Bosnia and Herzegovina is at an early stage with public administration reform (PAR) and there was no progress on ensuring a professional and depoliticized civil service and a coordinated countrywide approach to policymaking. According to them, the country is at an early stage in the area of judiciary. 

“No progress was made in this area during the reporting period. No appropriate action was taken to address the findings of the Expert Report on Rule of Law issues. Integrity reforms have met resistance from within the judiciary. Evident signs of deterioration require urgent measures to strengthen the integrity and regain citizens’ trust in the judiciary, starting with a credible and rigorous system of verification of financial statements of judicial officeholders”, the report states. 

Corruption remained widespread, the report noted, and is a serious concern, with all levels of government showing signs of political capture directly affecting the daily life of citizens. 

“There are systemic shortcomings in the operational cooperation of law enforcement agencies and very limited exchange of intelligence. The police is vulnerable to political interference. Financial investigations and asset seizures are largely ineffective”, the report concluded. When it comes to fundamental rights, the report noted that the legislative and institutional framework was largely in place but noticed that a comprehensive strategic framework remains to be adopted. 

“Some steps were made – notably, the Constitutional Court repealed the provision on the death penalty in the Republika Srpska entity Constitution, and the first LGBTI Pride Parade took place peacefully in Sarajevo. Challenges remain on freedom of assembly, notably in the Republika Srpska entity”, the European Commission said, adding: 

“There was no progress on guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the media and the protection of journalists by ensuring the appropriate judicial follow-up to cases of threats and violence against journalists and media workers, and ensuring the financial sustainability of the public broadcasting system.” 

The Commission urged Bosnia to urgently take all necessary measures to prevent a humanitarian crisis regarding the migrant situation from unfolding.

“As regards the economic criteria, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made limited progress and is at an early stage of establishing a functioning market economy. The public sector remained oversized and inefficient. The financial sector remained stable and lending increased, while unemployment has declined, partly due to a substantial labor force outflow”, the Commission’s report said. 

Liberal Democracy Index says Serbia is Electoral Autocracy

A leading researcher at the Swedish V-Dem Institute announced that Serbia’s ranking on the Liberal Democracy Index which is used to assess the state of democracy in individual countries. 

“In 2009, the index value was 0.53 and in 2019 it dropped to 0.25”, Institute Deputy Director Anna Lührmann told the daily. She said that Serbia is now among the countries in which autocracy has strengthened significantly. The V-Dem Institute described Serbia as an electoral autocracy, ranking 139th of 179 countries which is the worst rating in the Western Balkans.   

Lührmann said that Serbia’s bad standing is mainly due to media censorship and the government’s attempts to influence the media as well as the reduced space for civil society and academic institutions. She also cited concern over the quality of the election system. 

The V-Dem Democracy Report 2020 said that “while censorship has been a long-standing problem in Serbia, the other indicators concerning the media, civil society and civil liberties also worsened before electoral integrity suffered and this nation slipped back to authoritarianism in 2015”.

Serbia is also listed among the countries “that have autocracy the most over the last 10 years” together with Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Brazil and India. 

Serbia Has Sold Arms to Both Armenia and Azerbaijan

The Armenian diplomat Sosi Tatkidzan told on Wednesday September 30, she had checked several times before talking and has evidence that Serbia exported arms both to Armenia and Azerbaijan as well, and that same went for Russia. 

“Serbia exported much more weapons to Azerbaijan than to Armenia, and that’s clear by the number of arms that arrived in Azerbaijan which received more advanced weapons”, Tatkidzan said. 

She added that “Russia and Israel” are two main arms suppliers to Azerbaijan. Can you imagine, Israel, whose people also suffered a genocide like Armenians! That’s why we think they shouldn’t do that, especially since they sell them modern arms.”

“So, it’s not true that Serbia had been selling weapons to Armenia only. What appeared in the media was the newest contract, but the fact is that Serbia sold arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan”, Tatkidzan added. 

She said that as soon as “Azerbaijan start using money from gas and oil to support its army, they thought they could solve the situation in an armed conflict”, the diplomat said and added that the propaganda against Armenia is “quite normal” in Azerbaijan. 

Tatkidzan said her country was ready for a solution acceptable to all three sides (including Nagorno Karabakh, the disputed area) and claimed the latest conflict was not spontaneous. 

“The world may wrongly assume that it is about the state of war. That translation is incorrect. Our Constitution contains the Declaration about war in which, thanks to God, we are not yet. We also have a war situation, translated as military situation, meaning you have only several restrictions introduced during coronavirus pandemic not only in Armenia but in Serbia as well”, she said. 

The measures include: the Prime Minister becomes the army chief-of-staff; ban on spreading unchecked information; all military equipment mobilized, and all reserve military personnel recruited”, the diplomat who cooperates with many Armenian and international NGOs, has said.  

Tatkidzan added that there was a curfew in Azerbaijan, the Internet was almost completely blocked, apart from Twitter and all civilian flights were grounded. 

Tens of Thousands of Bosnians Plan to Emigrate

Bosnia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of emigration and the total number of Bosnians abroad amounted to around 1.7 million at the end of 2019, said the results of a study conducted by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation called “Sustainability of emigration from Bosnia and Herzegovina”. 

“The emigration from Bosnia is not just the result of job search and efforts to ensure existence, that is, it is Bosnia is not just suffering from economic migration. It is conditioned by a combination of economic (lack of jobs, low wages, poor business environment), political (corruption and nepotism, crime, privileges, legal uncertainty, lack of rule of law, discrimination in human rights, political uncertainty, inefficient and inaccessible public administration) and social factors (poor treatment of work and workers, underdeveloped social services – health, education, welfare and pension system)”, the research states. 

According to this research, 87.3 percent of the interviewed people cited working conditions as the reason for leaving the country, followed by corruption and nepotism 77.4 percent, poor public services 73.9 percent, a better future for families and children 73.3 percent, the better quality of life abroad 65.8 percent, desire to achieve success and progress 63.9 percent, political uncertainty 62.9 percent, lack of perspective 61.4 percent, and fear of uncertainty 57 percent. 

During the observed four periods of migration, researchers observed a transformation of reasons for emigration, from existential to the factors of the well-being of individuals and entire families. Before leaving the country, 51.6 percent of respondents felt discriminated against. The most common form of discrimination was based on ethnicity (20.2 percent of respondents), political affiliation (17.6 percent), and the possibility of getting or starting a business (16.9 percent). 

One of the more important indicators of the quality of life abroad is the attitude of the respondents about the quality of life of children. Some 96 percent of respondents believe that the general quality of life of children abroad is better than in Bosnia. 

When it comes to those who plan to move out of the country, as many as 97.5 percent said they would take their children abroad, and 91.2 percent of respondents would not want their children to return to Bosnia. Most of them want to immigrate to Germany, followed by Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, USA, and Slovenia.

The reason – 99 percent of respondents believe the children’s quality of life is much better abroad than in Bosnia, the research said among other things.