WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

DAS PALMER ON EXPECTATIONS FROM THE NEW ADMIN: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matt Palmer reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to Bosnia and the region.

  • He called on elected politicians and party leaders to “commit to a reform agenda and make progress on key reforms.” He pinpointed reforms for Bosnia to make including: “electoral reforms, limited constitutional reforms to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and the BiH Constitutional Court, targeted reforms to improve the integrity of the judiciary, and sound economic reforms that will create opportunities for people.”
  • He said the reforms should be based on European standards since the country aims to join the EU.
  • Palmer praised Milorad Dodik for removing the name of Radovan Karadžić on a school in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity, but expressed strong support for the Office of the High Representative.
  • Finally, he said the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and the situation in Bosnia were separate. He noted that the U.S. is heavily invested in the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and Washington fully supports the EU-facilitation dialogue.

DAS MONTGOMERY ON THE KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE: Newly appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Molly Montgomery reiterated America’s commitment to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue with the outcome based on mutual recognition while working in tandem with the European Union.

  • She said, “We certainly continue to support the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, and to look toward a comprehensive agreement, a normalization agreement that would lead to mutual recognition, or on the basis of mutual recognition. And so that will be our goal moving forward.”
  • And added, “We’re really committed to working with the EU, which facilitates the dialogue, and with our partners in tandem. This is, I think, a very important principle for our engagement in the Western Balkans. We know that we have been most successful there when we have worked hand in glove, or shoulder to shoulder with our European allies and partners, and so that’s going to be our approach.”

VUČIĆ SEES THE WEST’S HARDLINE STANCE ON RECOGNITION: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić understands the U.S. and EU will apply pressure on Belgrade to recognize Kosovo’s independence in a comprehensive agreement.

  • On Tuesday, he said, “We expect joint pressure from the EU and the US on our country to meet the demands of, as the Americans say, recognized Kosovo, since the recognition of Belgrade by Kosovo means nothing to us and is a bit funny. At the same time, the EU will use a different vocabulary, but goes towards the same goal. A difficult period is ahead of us.”
  • Vučić yesterday doubled down on his view the U.S. and EU will play. “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,” said Vučić.

AFET PASSES REPORTS ON 2019-2020 FOR KOSOVO, SERBIA: The European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted reports for Kosovo and Serbia.

  • The report for Kosovo highlights Kosovo’s strong desire to join the European Union but faced challenges in accountability, transparency issues, and political interference. The MEPs highlighted the importance of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and called on the five states (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain) that do not recognize Kosovo to do so. This prompted the Serbian Foreign Ministry to release a statement condemning calls to recognize Kosovo.
  • Rapporteur for Kosovo Viola von Cramon said, “This result shows that the majority of the European Parliament does support Kosovo in its European path. We clearly see the potential of this country also for the European Union. But there is still a lot of work ahead in Kosovo. First of all, we need political stability to implement all the necessary reforms. However, we are aware that we all have to do our homework: Therefore, the majority of the Committee called the Council to finally adopt the visa-free regime for the citizens of Kosovo.”
  • Meanwhile, Serbia’s report calls on the opposition to return to dialogue with the ruling parties, politicians to adopt a more pro-EU stance in public, Serbia to adopt legislation to bring it more aligned with the EU foreign policy, and the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue.
  • Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilčík said, “My first report as Standing Rapporteur comes in a difficult time when Serbia is battling an ongoing pandemic. A large majority of MEPs supported this realistic report, which outlines Serbia’s main accomplishments and tasks for the country’s reform process. I want to underline that the report sends a clear message that the European Parliament stands ready to support Serbia on its EU path.”

SLOVENIA’S EU PRESIDENCY: The Central five (Austria, Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia, and Slovenia) are meeting on Monday in Brdo pri Krajnu to discuss Slovenia’s EU Presidency during the second half of this year. FM Anže Logar will be joined by  Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, Czechia’s Tomaš Petriček, Hungary’s Peter Szijjarto and Slovakia’s Ivan Korčok.

BULGARIA + N. MACEDONIA: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani yesterday met with Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva in Sofia after wrapping up an official visit to Paris. Osmani and Zaharieva discussed an action plan to resolve outstanding issues and an intergovernmental session to increase bilateral relations.

SERBIA + UAE: Serbian Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović yesterday met with Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at the Index 2021 arms fair in Abu Dhabi. They discussed increasing military cooperation between the two countries.

POKLUKAR TAKES OFFICE: Slovenia’s Janez Poklukar was appointed Health Minister by a vote of 50-31 in parliament. He has a big task ahead of him with Covid vaccine rollouts and adding staff.

KOSOVO’S AGRICULTURE MINISTRY IN CORRUPTION BUST: Twelve members of Kosovo’s Ministry of Agriculture have been arrested and nearly 400,000 euros in cash was seized by Kosovo Police. They are accused of misuse of agriculture subsidies, bribery, and misuse of official duty or authority. Local media reports that the head of the ministry, Agim Nuha, was one of the twelve people arrested.

HDZ THREATENS TO SUE INDEX.HR: The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) threatened to sue Index.hr after the website of the news outlet had a pop-up asking if the reader was a human or a member of HDZ. The party wrote on Facebook, “Since the use of audio and/or audiovisual media services for incitement of hatred or discrimination on the grounds of political or other convictions is prohibited in Croatia, we expect the competent authorities and the Croatian Journalists Association to act accordingly, and HDZ will take appropriate legal action.”

MONTENEGRO’S PARLIAMENT DRAMA: “The new parliamentary majority in Montenegro, which won in the elections at the end of August 2020, announced on February 3 that it would repeal the existing Law on the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office and pass a new one, but the postponement of the extraordinary session of the Parliament of Montenegro during which the change of the systemic prosecutorial laws was supposed to be discussed, came after several warnings from the EU.

“The EU has expressed reservations about the intention of the new parliamentary majority to adopt the law on the prosecutor’s office for organized crime and corruption, and thus annul the current Law on the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office from 2015, which is harmonized with European standards.” (EWB)

FBiH VENTILATOR CASE KICKS OFF: “The trial against the Prime Minister of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity, his deputy, the former head of the Civil Protection and a businessman in connection with the procurement of 100 ventilators that are allegedly unfit for COVID-19 treatment has started on Wednesday.

“Reports about the multi-million contract authorities in the Bosnia’s semi-autonomous FBiH region granted to FH Srebrena Malina, a fruit processing company, to import 100 Chinese ventilators caused public outrage in the summer of 2020 and prompted an investigation into the procurement procedure by police and prosecutors.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Kosovo must use this moment to reframe the narrative of the past” by Sidita Kushi in Kosovo 2.0

ANALYSIS: “By Weighing In on Long-running Serbia-Kosovo Dispute, Biden Signals Interest in Europe” by Keida Kostreci in VoA

ANALYSIS: “What were the elections like for Kosovo Serbs?” by Nevena Radosavljević in Kosovo 2.0

HUMAN INTEREST: “‘Tonight will be a great feast’: My mountain rescue in Croatia” in The Guardian

CULTURE: “Slovenia wants to fake balsamic vinegar” in European Food Agency News

ENTERTAINMENT: “Serbia has a local theatrical hit on its hands with The Only Way Out” by Vladan Petković in CinEuropea