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Serbia’s President Dissolves Parliament And Sets Date For Early Legislative Vote – Europe Live

Vučić sets election for 17 DecemberSerbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, dissolved parliament and formally set a parliamentary election for 17 December. Local elections will be held in some municipalities on the same day, including Belgrade.

“We are living in a time in which it is necessary for all of us to be united in the struggle for vital … interests of Serbia, in which we will be under numerous pressures, both because of our position on Kosovo, and because of other regional and global issues,” the president said after signing the decree, Reuters reported.

The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, yesterday. Photograph: Anadolu/GettyKey events

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Corina Stratulat, head of the European politics and institutions program at the European Policy Centre, told us today that a roadmap is still missing on how to actually deliver on the EU’s membership promises to the western Balkans.

Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to the region “somewhat feels like an ‘explanatory note’ ahead of the release of the enlargement package next week,” she said.

The Commission’s usual verbal gymnastics in the country reports could stick out like a sore thumb this time around, given all the grand political statements in favour of enlargement and the salience acquired by the policy since Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Should the reports again tread carefully between rewards and big asks/conditions – and they most probably will – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone now after her visit: yes, enlargement is in our fundamental security interest in the new geopolitical context but, as she explained during her tour, the EU gives and supports only in exchange for reforms.

So despite the exceptional circumstances and exceptional hype regarding enlargement, we can probably expect the same unexceptional and slow-burning (aka merit-based) process.

The Commission president’s trip does send a “strong political message,” Stratulat said, but much depends on what concretely comes next.

A roadmap – still missing – on how to deliver the membership promise would be infinitely more reassuring and motivating for the enlargement countries.

It is hardly enough any more to simply recognise that both the EU and the enlargement countries need to do their ‘homework’. What exactly has to be done, who does it, and when must be clearly spelled out, including for the EU, if all the big talk about enlargement (and the 2030 target date) is to be credible.

Likewise, as experts argue, more ‘grants and loans’ – as opposed to structural and cohesion funds or some other zero-priced capital before membership – will hardly suffice to help the Balkan countries offset their huge trade deficit and start (trying to) catching up with the EU.

In a similar vein, one has to wonder whether the Balkan countries are actually prepared to access (parts of) the Single Market or whether there are also potential costs involved that have not yet been properly addressed.

And, she said, questions remain about the regions’ reforms.

All the reforms outlined as prerequisites for EU support (e.g. normalisation of relations b/w Belgrade and Pristina or democracy/corruption/rule of law) are the type of conditions that have proven especially difficult to fulfil so far, for a very long time.

Will they suddenly be quickly resolved now, including if the incentive(s) is/are not substantial or credible enough? We cross our fingers, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Bojan Elek, the deputy director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, has said relations between Serbia and the EU “remain ambivalent” but he expects a “rapprochement” between Belgrade and Pristina.

“Ursula von der Leyen’s trip to the region comes with the official aim of promoting the €6bn-worth growth plan for the western Balkans, just days ahead of European Commission’s publication of country reports for EU candidates in the region,” he said.

“It is widely expected that the new enlargement package will offer some sort of ‘integration without membership’ that should, in theory, help the countries move closer to the EU.”

But, Elek said, “in order for that to happen a few stumbling blocks should be removed, the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue being the most obvious one”.

Von der Leyen tackled this issue during her visit to Pristina when she reiterated the position of EU leaders made last week that Serbia should work towards the ‘de-facto recognition’ of Kosovo, while encouraging Pristina to move ahead with the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities. Ms Von der Leyen’s visit to Belgrade was more tongue-in-cheek, and she even complimented the media reforms being currently undertaken in Serbia. The visit happens just a month and a half before the snap elections, and the Serbian parliament was officially dissolved today, so it will certainly contribute to the ruling SNS party results in these elections.

On the complex issue of Belgrade’s relationship with western capitals, Elek offered a mixed outlook.

The relations between Serbia and the EU remain ambivalent, therefore, with both parties expressing commitments to EU enlargement, albeit at a declaratory level, with the support for the EU membership among the Serbian citizens currently sitting well below 50%.

Serbia still receives heavy criticism regarding the non-alignment with the EU foreign policy towards Russia, EU visa policy, as well as on the Kosovo issue, and these seem to be geopolitical reasons for the lack of EU membership prospects.

He also said the EU and US had more leverage at the moment:

After the skirmish in north Kosovo in late October, the negotiating position of Belgrade was damaged and the dialogue with Pristina will now became a more level-playing field, with the US and the EU now having an increased leverage.

This is why developments on the ground suggest there will be a rapprochement between Belgrade and Pristina, with both sides moving step by step and Serbs in Kosovo returning to the political life after the boycott of local elections earlier this year.

This would be a clear win for the EU and US mediators and a nice trophy on the shelf before the European elections next summer.

Gert Jan Koopman, the head of the European Commission’s directorate-general for neighbourhood and enlargement negotiations, has said Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress “must continue” and “in particular” on rule of law.

The country “should seize the momentum around enlargement & focus its efforts on the outstanding reforms”, he added.

,

Today in 🇧🇦Sarajevo to accompany @vonderleyen.

We saw progress on key priorities in 2023. This must continue, in particular on RoL.

🇧🇦 should seize the momentum around enlargement & focus its efforts on the outstanding reforms.

We will continue supporting 🇧🇦 on its 🇪🇺#EU path! pic.twitter.com/MpmPZYSf9o

— Gert Jan Koopman (@GertJanEU) November 1, 2023Borjana Krišto, the chair of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed optimism at a meeting with the EU commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, about the country’s accession prospects.

During tête-à-tête meeting with President @vonderleyen, I expressed my strong belief that the opening of the negotiation process at the end of this year will have the same positive impact on #BiH as obtaining candidate status did last year. pic.twitter.com/1njbvD6gC0

— Borjana Krišto (@KristoBorjana) November 1, 2023Enlargement ‘top priority’ for EU, parliamentarian says“What is very clear is that enlargement is very much a priority for the EU,” said Vladimír Bilčík, a Slovak MEP who is the European parliament’s point person on Serbia.

It’s a “top political priority for the union in a way we haven’t seen in many years”, he told the Guardian in a phone interview.

Asked about the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s trip to the western Balkans, Bilčík said her message was clear in Belgrade that the EU wanted Serbia to join but it must change and must deliver, in particular when it came to foreign policy alignment.

The messaging to Serbia and Kosovo on normalisation was also “very clear”, he said.

The timing of Von der Leyen’s visit was also extremely important, he said, pointing to Serbia’s election announcement and the fact that enlargement would be a top issue on the agenda in Brussels next week.

“The ball is also very much in the hands of our partners,” he said, adding that while there had been “question marks” in the region, “the partners have to commit”.

“The way the EU is united around enlargement … is unprecedented,” the parliamentarian said.

We cannot accept backsliding on values, Von der Leyen says in Bosnia and HerzegovinaThe European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has said during a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina that her message is “re-emphasising that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future is in the European Union, and how much we want to have you as a full member of the European Union, and how strong our support is on your path forward towards this goal”.

Now indeed the goal should be to make resolute progress on the 14 key priorities that you know very well. This will make you move forward with the accession process and bring you closer to the European Union – and again we are here to support you. The cooperation with you has been excellent, I thank you for that. And building on that, the cooperation and closely linked work together will continue.

We all know that to reach this objective to move forward, we need Bosnia and Herzegovina to speak and move with one, as one. With one voice and move forward as one. What we cannot accept is a backsliding on our common values or divisions in any part of your country.

Von der Leyen also underscored that “Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future is in the European Union as a single, united and sovereign country” and that “we should bring our economies closer to each other”.

From left: Denis Bećirović, a member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and a member of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Željka Cvijanović, before their meeting in Sarajevo today. Photograph: Fehim Demir/EPAVon der Leyen visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina an important step, top politician saysBorjana Krišto, the chair of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has said Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to the country is an “important step” for its accession path.

The visit was also an opportunity for Bosnia to learn more about the EU’s growth plan for the region, she said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s council of ministers remained committed to delivering on reforms, Krišto added.

Ursula von der Leyen, left, greets the president of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Borjana Krišto, before their meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia, today. Photograph: Armin Durgut/AP‘It is the only way forward’

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, pressed Serbia’s leadership yesterday to normalise relationships with Kosovo, underscoring that it was the only way for Belgrade to access the EU’s growth plan and a future as part of the bloc.

Serbia and Kosovo must normalise relations.

Vital that both urgently take steps to implement existing agreements.

The EU dialogue is here to support these efforts.

It’s the only way forward.

To access the Growth Plan.

And towards a future in which Serbia is part of the EU.… pic.twitter.com/e1l62PAvKQ

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 31, 2023

Lisa O’Carroll

The Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić’s decision to dissolve parliament confirms a December election that had been widely expected.

It is also, Kosovars believe, the reason why he did not agree to a new US-EU solution for managing northern Kosovo after five hours of meetings in Brussels last week involving the French president, Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell.

Though Kosovo agreed to all parts of the plan, which was put to the leaders in Serbia and Kosovo in separate meetings the previous Saturday, Vučić refused to sign it.

Kosovo has long suspected that Serbia would not sign any agreement for self-management of the northern municipalities, where the population is Serbian dominated, because that would be a step on the road to official recognition of Kosovo by Belgrade.

The European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, told Vučić and Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, yesterday that the EU expected Serbia and Kosovo to respect the agreements they made in Ohrid, Macedonia, this year to normalise their relations.

Von der Leyen met Vučić in Belgrade a day after she asked Serbia to “deliver on de facto recognition of Kosovo”.

After their meetings in Brussels, the three EU leaders called on Kosovo’s leadership to press ahead with the self-management plan, known as the association of Serb-majority municipalities, and for Serbia to deliver on recognition.

The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Serbian leader, Aleksandar Vučić, at a joint news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, yesterday. Photograph: Anadolu/GettyNo more ‘appeasement of Vučić’, European parliamentarian saysThe German Green MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel has called on Brussels to be clearer about Serbia’s democracy problems.

The EU should have clarity about shortcomings in the rule of law, media freedom and democracy in Serbia, the parliamentarian wrote on social media today.

“Call a spade a spade – we need democratic Serbia, not further appeasement of Vučić,” she said, referring to the country’s president.

I welcome the clarity from @vonderleyen on 🇷🇸 relations with 🇽🇰.

Yet, would be good that the same clarity was re: 🇷🇸’s shortcomings in RoL, media freedom and democracy.

Call a spade a spade – we need democratic Serbia, not further appeasement of Vučić.t.co/IvVU0m15wG

— Viola von Cramon 🇺🇦🇪🇺 (@ViolavonCramon) November 1, 2023Vučić sets election for 17 DecemberSerbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, dissolved parliament and formally set a parliamentary election for 17 December. Local elections will be held in some municipalities on the same day, including Belgrade.

“We are living in a time in which it is necessary for all of us to be united in the struggle for vital … interests of Serbia, in which we will be under numerous pressures, both because of our position on Kosovo, and because of other regional and global issues,” the president said after signing the decree, Reuters reported.

The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, yesterday. Photograph: Anadolu/GettyWelcome to the blogGood morning and welcome back to the Europe blog.

Today we will be looking at the latest developments in the western Balkans.

European capitals, along with Washington, are keeping a close eye on the region amid concerns about tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as questions about western Balkan countries’ EU membership bids.

Send comments to [email protected].

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