WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

EU DISCUSSES WESTERN BALKANS: The European Parliament yesterday discussed the enlargement reports of the four Western Balkan countries progress to EU accession. The key takeaway from the discussions are that the European Parliament supports integration, but expects the countries to meet the criteria set out by the EU.
  • Albania – MEPs called for the formal accession negotiations to begin without delay. In addition, they underscored the April 25 parliamentary elections are a key indicator of Albania’s democratic process.
  • Kosovo – MEPs urged Kosovo and Serbia “to refrain from any action that could undermine trust between the respective parties.” They also called on the five non-recognizing countries to do so and the European Council to grant Kosovo visa liberalization.
  • N. Macedonia – MEPs called for the EU to hold its first intergovernmental session with N. Macedonia, which would mean the opening of formal accession talks. They also urged Bulgaria and N. Macedonia need to resolve their bilateral issues, but noted that “previous recommendations regarding discrimination against citizens who openly express their Bulgarian identity and/or ethnic background have not been implemented.”
  • Serbia – MEPs highlighted the importance of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue for Serbia’s EU accession. But they were worried about the new government without an opposition. Finally, they highlighted the importance of Serbia aligning its foreign policy with the EU.

Go deeperEuropean Parliament discusses Reports on Western Balkans: Majority support for enlargement, but the criteria need to be met in European Western Balkans

SPEAKING OF THE EU…: Slovenian PM Janez Janša and Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti are set to take part in a debate hosted by the European Parliament’s Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group on issues in Slovenia. Slovenia’s PM Janša has come under scrutiny for his continuous attacks on the press including withholding funding from the state-owned Slovenia Press Agency.

LAJČÁK ON DIALOGUE: EU Special Representative to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák yesterday told RFE/RL’s Balkan service that he believes the next meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo’s new PM Albin Kurti could take place in the next few weeks. He noted both interlocutors willingness to meet when he spoke to them individually on his trip to the region at the beginning of March. He underscored that he thinks the technical aspect of an agreement could take a few months, but the speed of the dialogue and agreement is up to the two parties.

CHINESE DEFENSE MINISTER IN SERBIA: Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe started a three-day official visit to Belgrade yesterday. He met with President Aleksandar Vučić and Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović on his first day in Belgrade. Read the Serbian Defense Ministry’s press statement on the arrival HERE.

KURTI + ERNST: Kosovo’s new PM Albin Kurti spoke with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a Co-chair of the Senate Albanian Issues Caucus, about strengthening the relationship between Kosovo and United States.TURKEY MOUNTS PRESSURE ON KOSOVO: In Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s letter congratulating new PM Albin Kurti, he once again requested Kosovo rethink its decision to open the Embassy of Kosovo in Israel from Jerusalem. Kosovo has faced criticism from Turkey, the EU, and Arab nations for opening the embassy in Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv. Kosovo officially opened its embassy last month after agreeing to do so when it signed the Washington Agreement on September 4 in the Oval Office.

ALBANIAN PARTIES DEFY COVID RULES, LAUNCH CAMPAIGN: Albania’s main opposition party, the Democrats, and ruling Socialists launched their campaigns ahead of the April 25 parliamentary elections at two squares in Tirana. The rallies largely ignored Covid restrictions.

COVID CORNER:

  • Albania received 192,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine.
  • Bosnia received its first COVAX program deliveries. The country purchased 1.2 million vaccines through the program in total but hadn’t received any vaccines until yesterday. The country received 23,400 Pfizer BioNTech vaccines and 26,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses.
  • The Russian Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina offered to help procure vaccines for the government. A statement said, “In accordance with the existing competencies, the role of the Embassy is to provide possible assistance in establishing direct contacts between the BiH authorities, as well as certain commercial companies with the Russian Direct Investment Fund.”
  • The Kosovo Chamber of Commerce refused vaccinations from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce which has offered 10,000 vaccines to businesspeople from around the region.
  • Meanwhile, residents of Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, and N. Macedonia have been crossing the border to Serbia to receive vaccines.

INCIDENT IN MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT: Opposition MP Andrija Popović threw a set of the rules parliament at Speaker Aleksa Bečić after he was told he could not start a debate on protests in front of parliament. Then he abruptly left the session.

SARAJEVO SAYS BOGIĆEVIĆ IS THEIR MAYOR: Residents of Sarajevo made their voices heard – Bogić Bogićević is their mayor. A billboard in Sarajevo showed how much Sarajevans want the Social Democratic Party (SDP) politician to be their mayor. It said, “You are our mayor. Citizens of Sarajevo.” Bosnians have been using filters on social media with the same message. Bogićević withdrew his candidacy for mayor as an SDP candidate over potentially disrupting inter-party relations.

DODIK ON TRT WORLD: Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik went on Turkish news outlet TRT World to discuss the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He said that an agreement between Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs should happen, but reaffirmed his stance against the high representative participating in the discussions. He underscored peace is the most important word in Bosnia. Meanwhile, on cooperation between the three ethnic constituent people, Dodik noted, “It is possible. This is only about that no one wants to have anyone above them. So, we must be entirely equal, and then create circumstances to live in peace.”

CROATIA TO ASK FOR 200m EUROS FOR RIMAC: “Croatia will ask for a €200 million EU grant for the Rimac Automobili electric car company based outside Zagreb, to fund the company’s research and development of autonomous vehicles, the Jutarnji List daily reported on Thursday.”Croatia’s national recovery and resilience plan – which all EU countries are required to draw up in order to access EU funding to help boost their post-Covid economies – will make at least 30 percent of the funding available to privately-owned companies, according to government officials.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “Citizens’ Perception of Personal Data Protection” by the OSCE Mission to Serbia

OP-ED: “What it Means to Have a Responsible Political Opposition” by Ambassador Philip Kosnett in The U.S. Embassy in Kosovo

OP-ED: “Is a New Cold War Brewing in the Balkans” by Harun Karčić in The National Interest

OP-ED: “Three key foreign policy objectives for Kosovo’s new government” by Visar Xhambazi in Emerging Europe

ANALYSIS: “Serbia’s Vaccine Influence in the Balkans” by Heather Conley and Dejana Saric in CSIS

ANALYSIS: “Kosovo: Kurti In Driver’s Seat Of A Driverless Vehicle” by David B. Kanan in Eurasia Review

ANALYSIS: “The silent brain drain of the Balkans” by Halime Pehlivan in TRT World

CULTURE: “The other Sarajevo Haggadah — a Ladino communist musical Passover parody” by Theo Canter in The Jewish Telegraph Agency