EU Council Extends Restrictive Measures in BiH

The Council of the European Union has adopted on Friday (18.03) a decision extending its framework for restrictive measures in view of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina until 31 March 2024. 

“The European Union will therefore keep its ability to impose targeted restrictive measures on individuals or entities who undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order and international personality of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Restrictive measures can also be imposed against those who seriously threaten the security situation in the country, or undermine the Dayton/Paris General Framework Agreement for Peace”, the Council said in a press release

It said that the Restrictive measures framework provides for a ban on travelling to the EU for natural persons, and an asset freeze for individuals and entities. In addition, EU persons are forbidden from making funds available to those listed. For the time being, no individual or entity is subject to restrictive measures within this framework. 

“The Council reiterates its unequivocal commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU perspective as a single, united and sovereign country. The Council deeply regrets the prolonged political crisis in the country, urges a full return to the State institutions, and calls on the country’s leaders to refocus on the implementation of the reforms necessary to advance on the EU path, including the constitutional and electoral reform and in the field of rule of law”, the statement said. 

The Situation in BiH is a Political Issue, Not a Security Threat

Despite the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina being worrying, it is a political issue, not a security crisis, British envoy to the Western Balkans Stuart Peach told Hina news agency, adding that Russia’s war in Ukraine is a “challenge” that must not spill over in the Balkans.

While stressing that the situation in BiH is a political, not a security issue, Peach welcomed the recent increase in the number of EUFOR troops in BiH from 600 to 1,100. He called it a “visible demonstration of presence.”

“The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is worrying. Of course, it is a political situation, a political issue, not a security crisis. We have to work together to prevent that from happening”, said the former senior commander of the British Air Force and former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Peach was appointed British envoy to the Western Balkans in December 2021. Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently a potential candidate for EU membership while neighboring Serbia has been in accession talks with the EU for eight years, but with reforms to bring the country closer to the Union, Belgrade’s relations with Pristina will be key he said.

However, Peach pointed out that the United Kingdom “encourages all governments in the region on their Euro-Atlantic path and the path towards the EU because they think it provides the best hope for the people in the region for a better future, free from war.”

“We respect if the countries in the region do not want to join NATO, but those who want to should get that opportunity”, Peach said, adding that the same goes for joining the EU.

MEPs Call for Halting Talks with Serbia

Nine MEPs from the liberal Renew Europe group have sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative Josep Borrell asking for a temporary freeze on negotiations with Serbia and a halt to EU financial assistance until the country aligns with the EU’s position on Russia. The letter was signed by Nikola Behr, vice-president of the European Parliament and a member of the ruling Free Democratic Party of Germany, Klemen Groselj of Slovenia, Ilhan Kyuchuk of Bulgaria, Petras Austevicius of Lithuania, Urmas Paet of Estonia and Bart Grotius of the Netherlands, among others.

In the letter, the MEPs say that Serbia is showing “a dangerous shift towards authoritarianism” which is in sharp contrast to its aspirations to join the European Union, and that this has been shown with Serbia’s refusal to impose sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression against Ukraine.

“That is why we call on the Commission to once again invite the Serbian authorities to join the EU’s common position on Russia. If Serbia once again decides to ignore this call, we demand a temporary freeze on EU accession talks with the Serbian government and deny EU financial support to the country until it takes credible, tangible, and unequivocal action to reconcile its statements, policies, and values with the European Union”, the letter states.

Despite calling for halting financial help to Serbia, the MEPs also voiced support for civil society and small enterprises in Serbia. They stressed that Serbia has every right to follow the model of Russian President Vladimir Putin if it wants to, but it must be clear in its intentions and stop pretending to have serious aspirations for EU membership.

Aleksandar Vucic SNS’ Candidate for President of Serbia

The Serbian Progressive Party has made the decision to nominate Aleksandar Vucic for the President of Serbia, the party vice president, Ana Brnabic, said on Sunday (06.03), following the session of the SNS Presidency.

„We did not hesitate, we think that the deeds decided on the candidate, that they speak best of everything and that we no doubt have by far the best candidate. Elections will not be easy, they are never a game, they are a serious matter, especially in these difficult and complex times. Although the elections will not be easy, our goal is to make history and win the most convincing victory so far, in the first round, without underestimating any candidate or option”, said Brnabic.

As she said, there are three reasons why they believe in a „historic victory”.
„The first is that the results show what kind of candidate Aleksandar Vucic is, the second because stability is the most important thing at the moment, and the third reason is his seriousness, commitment and dedication. Today, more than ever before, we need strength, seriousness, and security. All this is represented by our candidate. We respect our political opponents, the campaign will be positive and we will talk about everything that Aleksandar Vucic did, but also about what we are planning to do”, Brnabic stressed.

The presidential elections are scheduled for April 3, 90 days before the end of the term of the President of the Republic of Serbia. The deadline for nominations is midnight on March 12.

Serbia’s Decision on Sanctions Will Define Relations with the EU

European Parliament rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik said on Friday (25.02) that the Serbian authorities’ decision not to impose sanctions on Russia following its attack on Ukraine will define the country’s relations with the European Union.

“Everyone should understand that Serbia’s choice not to join the European Union sanctions is a defining foreign policy decision for much broader relations between the EU and Serbia”, Bilcik said in a Twitter post.

Putin’s attack against Ukraine is a watershed moment for the Western Balkans”, the MEP wrote.

Carl Bildt, the European Union special envoy for the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, said that Serbia’s official stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine disqualified it from the EU accession process. “With this stance, Serbia de facto disqualified itself from the EU accession process. There should be no room for new EU members not sharing our fundamental values and interests”, the former Swedish Prime Minister said.

Draft of „final agreement” with Serbia

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) leader Ramush Haradinaj, will send a draft of the “final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia” to the Parliament.  

His party requested a parliamentary session today (25.02) dedicated to dialogue with Belgrade. 

Haradinaj, former Kosovo Prime Minister and a leader of the 1998-1999 wartime Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), suggests the recognition of citizenship and non-interference in internal and international affairs and advocates that the future agreement is in line with three basic principles: sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutionality. 

„The Republic of Kosovo is committed to reaching an agreement in line with the idea of reaching a major solution at an international summit organised under the auspices of US President (Joseph) Biden, representatives of the EU and the United Kingdom”, the draft added. 

Haradinaj said that “the ‘grand solution’ should provide a final agreement and pave the way for an ongoing dialogue between the parties on all open issues after reaching a final agreement.” 

He believes that, after that agreement, the dialogue on other open issues should continue, with guarantees from the US, EU and UK. 

Putin Sends Top Security Envoy to Belgrade

Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending his top security envoy to the Balkans where Moscow has been trying to maintain influence mainly through its ally Serbia. 

Serbia’s pro-government media said Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, is due to arrive in Belgrade in the coming days for talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Moscow hasn’t made an announcement about Patrushev’s trip. The talks are reportedly to focus on Moscow’s claims that “mercenaries” from Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia are being sent from those Balkan states to fight on the Ukrainian side against the pro-Russian rebels amid fears of a Russian attack. 

Officials from Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia have rejected those claims, which were made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week. 

Vucic on Monday (21.02) called a meeting of Serbia’s top security officials who reportedly also discussed the reports of “mercenaries” from the Balkans going to Ukraine. Dozens of Serb fighters have in the past fought in eastern Ukraine, but on the side of the pro-Russian rebels. 

Serbia has formally declared neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that threatens a major war in Europe. However, Serbia’s state-controlled media is squarely supporting Moscow in the crisis, carrying Russian propaganda without any questions raised. 

Illustrating growing ties between the two Slavic allies, Serbia and Russia have recently formed a “working group” tasked with combating popular revolts known as “color revolutions” that the two countries’ top security officials described as instruments of the West to destabilize “free states.” 

Western officials have accused Kremlin of “malign” influence in the Balkans that has helped fuel a wave of nationalism which threatens to undo peace in Bosnia after its 1992-95 war, reignite armed conflict over Kosovo that split from Serbia in 2008, and stir up political troubles in NATO-members North Macedonia and Montenegro. Moscow has repeatedly denied those claims, although maintaining that Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo must never join NATO. 

Early Parliamentary and Local Elections to be Held on April 3

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic dissolved parliament and called early parliamentary elections for April 3 on Tuesday (15.02). Vucic signed a decree to dissolve parliament and called elections for members of parliament on April 3, 2022.

Both decisions take effect with their publication in the Official Gazette. Vucic said that this parliament completed important things for the country, especially in terms of rule of law. He called the population of Serbia to turn out and show the country’s democratic capacities, that plans can be implemented in a civilized manner, adding that he wishes that the election winners will lead the country in the best possible way. He said he is sure that the people of Serbia know how to choose the best.

Meanwhile, the Serbian Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic on Tuesday (15.02) called local elections in two cities and 10 municipalities for April 3. The last local elections were held in Serbia in the summer of 2020. He said that he would call presidential elections early in March, 90 days before the president’s term in office expires.

Montenegrin Parliament Relieves Speaker

The Montenegrin parliament relieved Speaker Aleksa Becic in an open vote on Monday (07.02), three days after passing a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic.The vote was by roll call.

Becic was the speaker for just under a year and a half. The initiative for his dismissal was signed by 38 of the total of 81 MPs. It said that there was no fundamental political dialogue while he held the post “because of which we are witnessing the greatest ever social and political divisions which threaten to destabilize the state”.

The MPs recalled the European Commission’s negative annual report on Montenegro’s progress on integration into the European Union. “A significant contribution to that report came from parliament under the leadership of this speaker”, they said.

Serbia Expects CSM Formation

In the meeting with the US and EU special envoys for the Western Balkans and Kosovo, Gabriel Escobar and Miroslav Lajčák, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said her country expected the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) as envisaged by the Brussels Agreement and which Pristina had been refusing to do since 2015. Brnabic thanked Escobar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs responsible for the South Central European portfolio and Lajčák, EU Special representative for the dialogue Belgrade and Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations, and other Western Balkan regional issues, for helping the two sides in searching for a compromise, her office’s statement said.

It quoted Lajčák as saying the EU put a big effort to help resume the dialogue and called on Belgrade to continue to be committed to the process, adding that it was important for the whole region. The statement cited Escobar as saying that the US carefully watched the process under the EU auspices and strongly supported it. He added that he believed that both sides could only solve all open issues through dialogue.

Brnabic told the envoys that Belgrade was unhappy with Pristina’s ban on local Serbs’ voting in Serbia’s Constitution changes in the January 16 referendum. She pledged with Escobar and Lajčák to do what they could to enable the Serbs living in Kosovo to vote in the April 3 elections.

Escobar and Lajčák spent three days in Pristina earlier this week and arrived in Belgrade on Wednesday (02.02) evening. They met President Aleksandar Vucic and other Serbia’s top officials.