EP Glad to Help, as It Did in 2019 Upon Belgrade’s Invitation

Vladimir Bilčík, the European Parliament (EP) Rapporteur for Serbia, told N1 on Thursday (25.02) that Belgrade invited the EP to facilitate the inter-party dialogue in the country in 2019, ahead of the previous elections, and added he was looking forward to the new talks hoping those opposition parties which boycotted the 2020 vote would take part in the 2022 race.  

He confirmed March 1 as the date of the online dialogue. He said the EP delegation would include the Chair of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee David McAllister, the Chair of the Delegation for relations with Serbia, Tanja Fajon, and former MEPs Eduard Kukan and Knut Fleckenstein. 

The four current and former MEPs already worked together to establish the Inter-Party Dialogue and its first phase. 

On the Serb side, Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic will take part in the online meeting. 

Dacic said he would have talks with McAllister, and that no party’s representatives would take part. He also said the dialogue would not be held under the EP’s auspices, but under Serbia’s Parliament, i.e., his patronage backed by the EP. 

Bilčík said he hoped the dialogue would enable wider inter-party talks about better election conditions and that the opposition parties that did not want to take part in 2020 general elections after they said the EP’s facilitation did not bring satisfactorily changes and that Serbia’s authorities did not implement what was agreed. 

Asked if he believed that the authorities and the opposition would reach an agreement, Bilčík said the only credible option for Serbia was in Europe and the work needed to be done for that to happen. 

Commenting on his report on Serbia adopted by the EP Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET), he said the MEPs had a detailed discussion and that the report resulted from a compromise. 

The report noted some progress Serbia had made but warned there was a lot to be done, particularly in judiciary reform and the rule of law. 

Bilčík said that the report was still not in its final version and suggested more talks later. 

He also said the Belgrade – Pristina relations were one of the critical issues but that the rule of law and judiciary reform was a challenging topic since some needed Constitutional changes. 

Bilčík reiterated that Serbia had to adjust its foreign and security policies with the EU as a crucial point in the bloc’s accession negotiations. 

EU&US Insist Serbia Recognize Kosovo

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said his country would be exposed to “all possible pressures, campaigns and untruths” regarding Kosovo.

„It’s important to understand the gravity of the position we are in, particularly after the US administration change. We can expect concentrated pressure by the EU and US on Serbia to meet the demands that Washington bluntly says should be Kosovo’s recognition. The EU uses a bit different vocabulary but with the same aim”, Vucic said after his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Presidency’s meeting late on Tuesday (23.02). 

He added there would also be attempts to abolish the political powers of Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

„When you add the whole regional context in which it is not easy to preserve Serbia’s position as an economically fastest-growing country… Everyone else will try to describe Serbia as a hegemon”, Vucic said. 

He added the SNS Presidency also discussed the announced visit by Miroslav Lajčák, the EU envoy for the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations, saying that the party’s body debated about what Serbia could do, what it wanted „and what we don’t even think about.”

Dodik Sees the Independence of Republika Srpska as Realistic

The idea of Bosnia’s Serb-majority Republika Srpska (RS) entity becoming an independent country is “realistic”, the Chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, said on Tuesday (23.02), adding that he expects increased pressure on BiH from the United States and Europe. 

Despite this pressure, he stressed that no decision can be made regarding the country without local authorities and legitimate representatives of the constituent peoples. 

“Bosniaks can dream what they want and that is not forbidden. However, I wish Republika Srpska to be independent, which is very realistic. I believe in the reality called Republika Srpska, and I do not believe in the imagination called BiH”, Dodik said. 

Dodik said that statements that BiH is “unfinished business” but that, at the same time, the existing borders in the region are final, can often be heard coming from the United States. 

“How can you say that the job is not finished and that the borders are definite? What was finished then? You want to force us into a ghetto in which Sarajevo will decide on everything to the detriment of Serbs. Well, that is not possible”, Dodik said.

SNSD Wins a Majority in Doboj and Srebrenica Repeat Election

Bosnia’s election watchdog published its first preliminary results Monday (22.02) for repeat elections in Doboj and Srebrenica for the city and municipal council saying the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) won the majority in both towns. 

After processing 81.13 percent of the votes, the SNSD received 11,673 votes in Doboj. The “Doboj in Our Heart” Coalition received 2,400 votes, while the “DS-DEMOS-PDS” won 2,143 votes. The Socialist Party received 1,500 votes, while the “SDP BiH-HS BiH” received 1,466 votes. The sixth is the DNS with 1,140 votes, while the seventh is the PDP with 1,098 votes, the Central Election Commission of BiH said.  

The SNSD also won most of the votes in Srebrenica – 2,276. The “My Address: Srebrenica” coalition won 2,019 votes while the SDS got 1,033 votes in total. 

Turnout on Sunday (21.02) was 55.43 percent of voters in Doboj and 42.87 percent in Srebrenica. All polling stations were closed at 7 pm, except for three in Doboj, which were closed a little later due to delays in the opening, and the last of them closed at 7.40 pm. 

Bosnia Needs Stronger Migration Management Capacities

The European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, told reporters after meeting Bosnia’s ministers on Friday (19.02) that the migration problem will not go away and that, according to her recent proposal, migrants may in the future has to fill out their asylum applications at the external border of the EU. 

Johansson said she recently presented the ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’ to the EU, calling it “a fresh start to find a compromise that all member states can agree on.” 

“Migration is something that has always been here and will always be here. The migration will not be over so we have to manage migration”, she said. 

The flow of migrants has changed significantly since 2015, when some two million refugees from Syria arrived in Europe fleeing the war. 

“Now we have totally different patterns, very much fewer irregular arrivals but they are coming from other countries and many of those coming to the European Union are not refugees”, she said. 

“That’s why I am proposing in my pact that all those coming from countries with a low recognition rate when it comes to asylum, probably not needing international protection, should have their asylum application processed already at the external borders – the so-called border procedures”, Johansson said. 

Authorities have to distinguish those who are eligible to stay and those who are not. And those who get a return decision have to return to their country of origin. “That’s why we also have to focus on readmission”, she stressed. 

Johansson said that she believes that these three priorities from the migration and asylum pact are also applicable in Bosnia. 

“I’m here with two strong messages: first, the European Union is a strong and reliable partner to Bosnia and Herzegovina in developing structures to manage migration. Second, migration management is a national responsibility and for me, it’s clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to develop a better and stronger capacity on the national level to manage migration and also make sure that the whole country takes responsibility for managing migration”, she said. 

The Chairman of Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, Zoran Tegeltija, said that they agreed that migration must be managed and that it is a process that lasts forever and that it must not take place spontaneously. 

“The position from Bosnia and Herzegovina is that BiH bears too much of the migrant crisis given its size and population and that there are more migrants on the territory of BiH than BiH can accept given its size. The key things for solving the problem of migration are border controls, readmission of those who do not meet the conditions to receive international protection but are entitled to humanitarian aid. It is not possible for BiH alone to protect its borders, but for other countries to be protected before they appear at the BiH border. The readmission process should be accelerated, simplified and all people who do not meet the conditions should be returned to the countries they came from”, Tegeltija pointed out. 

EU Launches Project to Support Western Balkans Vaccination

The European Commission said on Friday (19.02) that a new European Union project has been launched to support vaccination efforts in the Western Balkans. 

“The European Union in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new regional project worth over Seven million euros to support safe and effective vaccination of the populations across the Western Balkans”, a press release said. It added that the project will help prepare the region for the effective reception and administration of COVID-19 vaccines, including those received from COVAX and through the EU vaccine sharing mechanism with the EU Member States. “It will also help improve the region’s resilience against health emergencies, and support it in moving towards sustainable funding for universal health care”, it said. 

The press release quoted Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi as saying that the project shows that the EU “continues to deliver on its commitment to support our partners in dealing with the pandemic since its start”. “The project comes on top of our 70 million packages to support access to vaccines for the region and to procure the necessary equipment for the campaigns”, he said. 

Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Can’t Be a Top Priority for Kosovo

Albin Kurti, the leader of the Self-Determination (Vetevendosje) party which won the early parliamentary elections in Kosovo said that Pristina’s dialogue with Belgrade can’t be the number one priority. 

Kurti told Thursday’s (18.02) issue of Belgrade weekly Vreme that all opinion polls conducted in Kosovo show that the dialogue to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina is not a priority. The dialogue can be priority number three or four in order to compromise, he said. “I want to engage primarily in a social dialogue with the Kosovo Serbs and that should be with ordinary people, not politicians who want to sell the outcome to their public”, he said. 

According to Kurti, Serb and Albanian farmers should be brought together to discuss “seed, machinery, production, fuel subsidies….”. “We have to think outside the identity register since wherever there is development, there is integration, people talk. Look at the fight against the mini hydro-power plants which the Albanians and Serbs are waging together”, Kurti said.

Bishop Porfirije Elected the New Head of Serbian Orthodox Church

Serbian Orthodox Church elders elected Bishop Porfirije Peric as the new Patriarch on Friday (19.02). 

Bishop Porfirije was the Church’s Zagreb-Ljubljana Metropolitan and was viewed as one of the favorites to head the church before the session of the Holy Synod in the crypt of the St Sava Temple in Belgrade. 

Some media in Serbia said that Porfirije is openly close to the Serbian authorities and that his view of the independence of Kosovo is not as hardline as that of other bishops. 

Porfirije is one of the younger bishops. He was born in 1961 and is a graduate of the Orthodox Seminary University in Belgrade in 1986 a year after he took on the name he goes by today as a monk. He was accepted into the brotherhood of monks by Bishop Irinej Bulovic at the Visoki Decani monastery in Kosovo and was ordained by the late Patriarch Pavle who was Bishop of Raska and Prizen at that time.  He did postgraduate studies in Athens and returned home to become abbot of the Holy Archangels monastery in Kovilj outside Novi Sad. 

Porfirije was appointed to the Council of the Republic Radio Diffusion Agency by parliament as a representative of all churches and religious communities in 2005 and went on to chair that Council in 2008. He was the military’s head chaplain in 2010-11 and coordinated relations between the church and Serbian military.

EU Convinced Belgrade, Pristina Can Normalize Relations

The European Union’s special envoy Miroslav Lajcak told on Wednesday (17.02) that the EU is convinced that Belgrade and Pristina can normalize their relations. 

“The European Union is convinced that a comprehensive normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is absolutely possible”, he said, adding that this is in the interest of the both sides, the region, and the EU. 

Lajcak said that the EU and USA “have a long and productive history of close cooperation in the Western Balkans as well as in the process of normalization between Serbia and Kosovo”. “This cooperation has brought tangible positive results over the past few years and I am frequently in contact with my American colleagues to draw up a joint strategy and activities and we look forward to renewed closer trans-Atlantic cooperation”, he said. 

“The EU message is clear: We are prepared to continue the (Belgrade-Pristina) dialogue where we left it in December as soon as the new Kosovo government takes office. The EU has clearly said that the dialogue is the only way to go on the European path of Serbia and Kosovo. Continuing the dialogue without delay is in everyone’s interest”, he said. 

Serb List Will Play an Important Role in Kosovo Government

Serbian Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic said on Tuesday (16.02) that a large number of Kosovo Serbs voted for the Serb List at the early parliamentary elections because that party is their link to Serbia. 

Dacic told that the fact that the Serb List won all 10 seats reserved for the Serb minority in Kosovo turned that party into an unavoidable player in the forming of the next Kosovo government. According to him, there isn’t any Kosovo government to the liking of the Serbs in Kosovo but that it’s in their interest to be represented in institutions. 

Dacic, leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), said he isn’t surprised by former Kosovo Prime Minister and Vetevendosje party leader Albin Kurti’s statement that the dialogue with Belgrade isn’t a priority for him. Vetevendosje won the most votes in the elections. Dacic said that if Kurti is Prime Minister, the dialogue won’t be easy. “He was never too optimistic about relations with Serbia. The important thing is that we have unity among the Serbs which means we can conduct serious policies”, he said.