Tag Archives: Belgrade

NATO regrets Kosovo “ill-timed” army formation

Today, the Institutions in Kosovo have announced the adoption of the three laws initiating the process of transition of the Kosovo Security Force“-  Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO  said in an issued statement.

“I regret that this decision was made despite the concerns expressed by NATO. While the transition of the Kosovo Security Force is in principle a matter for Kosovo to decide, we have made clear that this move  is ill-timed. 

“NATO supports the development of the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate. With the change of mandate, the North Atlantic Council will now have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force.

“NATO remains committed through KFOR to a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and to stability in the wider Western Balkans.

“All sides must ensure that today’s decision will not further increase tensions in the region. All responsible political actors in the region need to focus on progress with reforms, and on dialogue. I reiterate my call on both Pristina and Belgrade to remain calm and refrain from any statements or actions which may lead to escalation. NATO continues to support the EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina as the only lasting political solution for the region.” – the statement concludes.

Sofia Summit: EU ‘waiting room ticket’ for Western Balkans

Aleksandar Mitić, OPINION

Eighteen years ago, as AFP correspondent, I attended the first EU-Western Balkans Summit, held in Zagreb in 2000. Enthusiasm and talk of fast entry into the EU dominated after the era of conflict in the 1990s. Almost two decades later, however, we are still talking about “European perspectives”, while EU investment in the region and its infrastructure is rather low, political conditionality has been toughened and enlargement fatigue in Western European countries has grown dramatically.

The official position of the European Commission is that the proposal for the new EU budget 2021-2027 does not include funds for new EU members, but that it includes an increase for the candidate states in the form of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). Although the European Commission has mechanisms to make amendments to the budget in case a country becomes an EU member in the meantime, the political message is quite clear: new EU memberships in the following period are quite unlikely. It means that the EU expects candidate states to stay longer in the “waiting room” – which is a perfect status from the point of view of EU and its member countries: the funds they have to give for candidate states are much smaller than if these countries become EU member states, while at the same time, the candidate states are much more vulnerable to EU political conditionality. In other terms, for the EU, having countries for a long period of time in pre-accession rather than becoming members means using a “powerful stick” with a “cheap carrot”. This is particularly important for policy towards countries such as Serbia or Turkey, which path into the EU is made extremely difficult by political conditionality.

The European Commission presented in February its “Enlargement Strategy”, which should be the backbone of the Summit in Sofia. Yet, this document is extremely weak and bland. It is also a document of the European Commission only, since the EU member states have been divided over it and have not given their approval. The EU is extremely divided over enlargement in general. Germany, France, the Netherlands are all against giving promises for the 2025 membership. Those most welcoming are countries of Eastern Europe, which still have openness for new members due to their own recent membership. But, it is clear that with German and French opposition, 2025 looks like a mirage.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently said he was against further enlargement before further strengthening of the EU core and of the current structures. He thus “killed” the EU enlargement strategy, at least its 2025 prospects.

Furthermore, when we look at the European Commission document itself, it is, for example for Serbia, an extremely negative document. Yes, it gives the possibility of the 2025 date, but at what cost? The document is tougher on Serbia than previous EU positions as it asks Serbia for an urgent signing of the legally-binding agreement with Kosovo Albanian separatists which would allow for an “independent Kosovo” to become an UN member. It is also calling for fast harmonization of Serbia’s foreign policy with the EU, which means imposing sanctions on Russia, something that Belgrade has said it would never do.

Dr.Aleksandar Mitić, President of the Center for Strategic Alternatives, Belgrade

Serbia-NATO: cautious cooperation

Aleksandar Mitic, OPINION

Serbia’s Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin is meeting in Brussels with the NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller to discuss further cooperation within the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme but his intention will certainly be to cement Belgrade’s commitment to military neutrality which excludes NATO membership. Serbia is implementing the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) within the PfP – which includes comprehensive cooperation – and is not willing to consider further integration into NATO.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has expressed his respect for Serbia’s position on military neutrality, which is due to almost non-existent support to the Alliance membership, as 9 out of 10 Serbs reject such an option. However, Brussels and Washington and are at odds with Belgrade over several key issues, such as Kosovo and Russia. NATO and the Pentagon have been pushing for the establishment of a Kosovo Albanian “army”, while Belgrade is firmly opposed to such a move which it deems illegal and a threat to fragile Balkan security. The two sides are also at odds over the fate of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center in the southern Serbian city of Nis. The Center is an important center for rescue and natural disaster operations, but Western diplomats have put doubts into whether it could transform into a center for intelligence services – a speculation which has been vehemently denied by both Belgrade and Moscow.

Finally, Western officials have also been at odds with Belgrade over its military cooperation with Russia – with expected delivery of six MiG-29 fighter jets and the and Serbia’s participation in military exercises with Russia and Belarus, such as the joint anti-terrorist exercise Slavic Brotherhood 2017 held in June in Belarus. Serbia insists that its military cooperation with Russia is only a portion of cooperation it has with NATO countries. Despite differences, the Alliance and Serbia are set on a path of cautious co-operation, as long as Brussels fully respects Serbia’s decision to reject NATO membership.

MEPs call for more committment between Belgrade and Pristina

pristina

The recent progress in normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina, after months of little or none, was welcomed by MEPs on Tuesday. However, in two resolutions they call on both countries to show more commitment and sustained political will to achieve this goal, which is a condition for their accession to the EU.

“Serbia is on its path towards the EU. The Serbian government is tackling the challenges of creating jobs, enhancing competitiveness and boosting growth. Important economic reforms have been adopted to strengthen the business environment in the country”, said EP rapporteur David McAllister (EPP, DE). “In 2017, Serbia should continue to put special emphasis on strengthening the rule of law, as corruption and organised crime still represent an obstacle to the country’s democratic, social and economic development”, he added.

The resolution on Serbia, passed by 55 votes to 2, with 2 abstentions, welcomes the opening of negotiations on several chapters in 2016 including chapters 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom and security) which are key to the process. It also calls on Serbia to align its foreign policy with the EU’s, including its policy on Russia, to ensure judicial independence in practice and to revise its Constitution.

“Today’s vote again sends a strong signal that the future of an independent Kosovo lies in the European Union. With only a few steps to go on the way to visa liberalisation, the report  encourages all political parties in Kosovo to continue their work for Kosovo in a constructive manner and European spirit”, said rapporteur Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA, AT). “The two remaining benchmarks can and must be fulfilled by Kosovo soon: ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro and a track record of high-level convictions for corruption and organized crime”, she added.

MEPs welcome the entry into force of the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) on 1 April 2016 as the “first contractual relationship”, and the European Commission proposal to waive visas for Kosovan citizens, although to date a couple of important criteria have yet to be met. They express concern at the persistent extreme polarisation of the political landscape, regret the slow pace of Kosovo’s efforts to build an adequate and efficient administrative capacity and condemn the violent disruption of these efforts in the first half of  2016 in the country.

MEPs also take note that five EU member states have not yet recognised Kosovo, adding that if all EU member states were to do so, this would increase the EU’s credibility in its external policy and help to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The resolution on Kosovo was passed by 40 votes to 12, with 5 abstentions.

Mitrovica Bridge construcion

mitrovica-bridge

“The constructive commitment we have seen in the last two meetings of the Dialogue in Brussels today brings results, to prove once again that only dialogue and political leadership can deliver and for the better”, – says the statement of EU top diplomat Federcia Mogherini over the issue of the re-opening of the Mitrovica Bridge.

“The most important issues related to the pedestrianisation of King Petar Street and the reopening of Mitrovica Bridge have been successfully resolved in Pristina: the implementation of what was agreed began immediately and works have effectively started today. This will contribute to the freedom of movement, people to people contacts and ultimately reconciliation, and will benefit all citizens of North and South Mitrovica”, – continues the EEAS statement.

“Leaders in the region are demonstrating courage and vision by taking down walls and focusing on building bridges. This is very much the spirit of the EU-facilitated Dialogue for normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

The opening of the revitalised Mitrovica Bridge and the completion of the pedestrianised King Petar Street in the nearest future will be an important achievement in the implementation of the agreements reached in the Dialogue.

Progress on normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is more than ever of utmost importance to preserve peace and stability between the two sides and in the region; it is also crucial for advancing of both sides towards European Union. The EU will continue its facilitation with strong engagement and I am looking forward to continuing the Dialogue with the leaders of both sides”.

“This agreement is likely to be short-lived as the key will be in its implementation and its consequences. The so-called “wall” is being removed, but the core reason for tension the Albanian rush to put its claw over northern Kosovo – keeps on looming”, – said  Aleksandar Mitic, Belgrade expert, to @BrusselsDiplomatic, commenting on the EEAS declaration.

Brusssels-Belgrade-Pristina

pristina

Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has invited Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić  and Prime Minister Isa Mustafa to Brussels for another round of the High Level Dialogue for normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina on Wednesday, 1 February 2017.

During previous meeting on 24 January both sides agreed to leave the tensions behind and to focus on the work ahead within the EU-facilitated Dialogue.

The High Representative t is looking forward to the continuation of the discussions, on outstanding issues and on the state of play of implementation of past agreements as well as on the way forward in the Dialogue. Progress on the EU path is linked for both, Serbia and Kosovo, with progress in the Dialogue. (Photo: illustration Pristina)