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Serbia at risk of authoritarianism?

02-05-2019

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of ...

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of authoritarian rule, attacks on independent media, electoral fraud and corruption. Although the protests only started recently, they highlight worrying longer-term trends. Press freedom has been in decline for several years, particularly since Vučić became prime minister in 2014. A large part of the media is now controlled either directly by the state or by pro-SNS figures. Independent journalists face threats and even violence, and perpetrators are rarely convicted. In the National Assembly, the governing coalition uses its parliamentary majority to systematically block meaningful discussions of legislative proposals. In protest, the opposition started a boycott of plenary debates in February 2019. The tone of verbal attacks by SNS politicians and their allies on independent media, the political opposition and civil society is often virulent. Criticising government policy is framed as betrayal of Serbian interests. The aim seems to be to marginalise critical voices while concentrating power in the hands of the SNS-led government. Elected to the mainly ceremonial role of president in 2017, Vučić nevertheless remains the dominant figure. If Serbia's drift towards authoritarianism continues, it could become a major obstacle to EU accession, for which 2025 has been mentioned as a possible date.

Serbia-Kosovo relations: Confrontation or normalisation?

12-02-2019

After fighting broke out between government forces and separatists, the formerly Serbian province of Kosovo was transferred to United Nations administration in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence. However, Belgrade continues to view its former province as Serbian territory. Over 100 countries, including 23 EU Member States, have recognised Kosovar independence, but full recognition and membership of most international organisations are still a long way off. Both Serbia and Kosovo aspire to ...

After fighting broke out between government forces and separatists, the formerly Serbian province of Kosovo was transferred to United Nations administration in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence. However, Belgrade continues to view its former province as Serbian territory. Over 100 countries, including 23 EU Member States, have recognised Kosovar independence, but full recognition and membership of most international organisations are still a long way off. Both Serbia and Kosovo aspire to EU membership – Serbia as a candidate country and Kosovo as a potential candidate. The EU insists that Serbia must normalise its relations with Kosovo before joining. Since 2011, with the help of EU mediation, the two neighbours have resolved some of the technical issues, but disagreements prevent normal day-to-day interaction between them in areas such as trade, energy supplies and cross-border travel. One of the main stumbling blocks is the situation of Kosovo's Serb minority. Around one in 12 Kosovars is an ethnic Serb, and nearly half of these are concentrated in the north. Despite efforts to integrate Serb-majority northern Kosovo into the rest of the country, Pristina still struggles to control the region. In 2013 and 2015, it agreed to establish an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, but progress on this is now deadlocked. In 2018, the Kosovar and Serbian presidents floated the idea of a 'border correction', possibly involving the exchange of northern Kosovo for Albanian-majority Serbian districts. However, the proposal has been criticised by Germany, which fears that any territorial exchange risks sparking instability by calling into question other Western Balkan borders. There is also strong domestic opposition to the move in both Kosovo and Serbia. Despite growing pressure on both sides to finally reach a deal that could unlock the door to EU membership, relations remain tense and progress towards normalisation is currently at a standstill.

Montenegro: 2018 country report

27-11-2018

The European Commission report on Montenegro, published in April 2018, makes a positive evaluation of the country's progress, with Montenegro leading the EU accession process in the Western Balkans. However, although Montenegro has been a stable country, on good terms with its neighbours for many years, the internal political situation has deteriorated over the past two years following a coup attempt in 2016. Parliament is due to vote a resolution on the report in plenary in November.

The European Commission report on Montenegro, published in April 2018, makes a positive evaluation of the country's progress, with Montenegro leading the EU accession process in the Western Balkans. However, although Montenegro has been a stable country, on good terms with its neighbours for many years, the internal political situation has deteriorated over the past two years following a coup attempt in 2016. Parliament is due to vote a resolution on the report in plenary in November.

Future EU-Turkey relations

23-10-2018

In June 2018, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected as president of Turkey, this time with extended powers under the revised Turkish Constitution. Over the previous couple of years, his country's relationship with the EU had been challenged by issues such as the ongoing management of the migration crisis and the EU-Turkey Agreement, the attempted military coup in Istanbul and Ankara, and the ensuing purge, which the EU and international organisations criticised for its disproportionate severity. With ...

In June 2018, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected as president of Turkey, this time with extended powers under the revised Turkish Constitution. Over the previous couple of years, his country's relationship with the EU had been challenged by issues such as the ongoing management of the migration crisis and the EU-Turkey Agreement, the attempted military coup in Istanbul and Ankara, and the ensuing purge, which the EU and international organisations criticised for its disproportionate severity. With the constitutional referendum and the subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections, President Erdogan further reinforced his position at the helm of the institutional system and raised concerns among the EU and NATO about his commitment to Western institutions. Turkey deepened its relations with Russia, buying military equipment and coordinating with it on Syrian policies on the ground. At the same time, US-Turkish relations worsened due to the Syrian conflict and the imprisonment of a US pastor by Turkey, although he was subsequently released. Negotiations on Turkey's accession to the EU have nevertheless continued, despite an increasingly lively debate in some Member States about whether or not they should be halted. Some have proposed striking an economic agreement with Turkey as an alternative to membership. Others believe the outcome of the negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the EU might also provide a possible model for Turkey. Despite the numerous hurdles before it, accession not only remains the ultimate objective of EU-Turkey relations, endorsed by both the European Council and by Turkey, but it also provides potential for reform and dialogue regarding common standards, not least in the area of civil liberties.

Montenegro – a lead candidate for EU accession

28-09-2018

With most negotiation chapters open and a likely candidate to meet the 2025 accession date suggested by the European Commission's new 2018 enlargement strategy, Montenegro is in a leading position on its path towards EU accession, compared to the other five aspirants from the Western Balkans. In June 2017, the country also joined NATO, achieving another strategic foreign policy priority. Despite these favourable developments, Montenegro has a lot of work ahead in order to reach EU standards in areas ...

With most negotiation chapters open and a likely candidate to meet the 2025 accession date suggested by the European Commission's new 2018 enlargement strategy, Montenegro is in a leading position on its path towards EU accession, compared to the other five aspirants from the Western Balkans. In June 2017, the country also joined NATO, achieving another strategic foreign policy priority. Despite these favourable developments, Montenegro has a lot of work ahead in order to reach EU standards in areas such as the fight against corruption and organised crime, respect for the rule of law, and media freedom.

The European Council and the Western Balkans: Overview of discussions since the Lisbon Treaty

14-05-2018

The Western Balkans have regularly featured on the agenda of the European Council since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009. Three dimensions – enlargement, counter-terrorism and migration – have been at the centre of the EU leaders' discussion of the subject. However, the message has often seemed technical and EU leaders have appeared less inclined to offer a strategic view of future relations between the EU and the Western Balkans. The European Council has held only one strategic ...

The Western Balkans have regularly featured on the agenda of the European Council since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009. Three dimensions – enlargement, counter-terrorism and migration – have been at the centre of the EU leaders' discussion of the subject. However, the message has often seemed technical and EU leaders have appeared less inclined to offer a strategic view of future relations between the EU and the Western Balkans. The European Council has held only one strategic debate on the Western Balkans, in March 2017, when it discussed the then deteriorating security situation in the region and agreed to keep it under review. The strategy for the Western Balkans put forward by the European Commission in February 2018 sends a strong political message of openness and inclusiveness to the countries in the region. In April 2018, the Commission’s country reports for Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia recognised the progress made, and supported the opening of accession negotiations. In this context, EU leaders may consider enlargement at their next regular meeting, following a Council meeting on enlargement in June 2018.

Western Balkans: Enlargement strategy 2018

13-03-2018

With a resolute tone and a sense of urgency, the European Commission's new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans sets a clear direction for the region's six countries: it offers them a credible enlargement perspective and pledges enhanced EU engagement. It indicates 2025 as a possible enlargement date. However, seizing this opportunity remains a challenge, as the aspirants must each deliver on difficult, key reforms, and solve all outstanding bilateral disputes.

With a resolute tone and a sense of urgency, the European Commission's new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans sets a clear direction for the region's six countries: it offers them a credible enlargement perspective and pledges enhanced EU engagement. It indicates 2025 as a possible enlargement date. However, seizing this opportunity remains a challenge, as the aspirants must each deliver on difficult, key reforms, and solve all outstanding bilateral disputes.

Western Balkans in the spotlight in 2018

15-01-2018

With positive messages and increased attention coming from the EU, 2017 seems to have ended on a high note for the Western Balkans. 2018 starts with the region being high on the agenda of Bulgaria's EU Council Presidency, and promises a favourable context for advancing its EU bids. For this to happen, however, the six WB countries need to show results on the core EU-related reforms.

With positive messages and increased attention coming from the EU, 2017 seems to have ended on a high note for the Western Balkans. 2018 starts with the region being high on the agenda of Bulgaria's EU Council Presidency, and promises a favourable context for advancing its EU bids. For this to happen, however, the six WB countries need to show results on the core EU-related reforms.

Serbia’s cooperation with China, the European Union, Russia and the United States of America

21-11-2017

Since 2000, Serbia has undergone a halting yet persistent reintegration into the global economy. However, Serbian foreign policy currently faces a dilemma, as (at least) four separate powers are vying for influence within the country. This study examines Serbia’s foreign policies towards the European Union (EU), the United States (US), Russia, and China, in particular examining the influence of each power with regard to foreign aid, trade, investment and security. Our analysis shows that each partner ...

Since 2000, Serbia has undergone a halting yet persistent reintegration into the global economy. However, Serbian foreign policy currently faces a dilemma, as (at least) four separate powers are vying for influence within the country. This study examines Serbia’s foreign policies towards the European Union (EU), the United States (US), Russia, and China, in particular examining the influence of each power with regard to foreign aid, trade, investment and security. Our analysis shows that each partner of Serbia has their own specific interest and comparative advantage in the country, with the EU focusing primarily on rule of law, aid, and increasing investment, the US on security, Russia on energy and foreign policy support, and China on infrastructure and markets. The scale of cooperation is divergent, however, and the EU accession process has pushed the EU to primus inter pares for the Serbian government. The demarcation across activities, however, means that Serbia may be able to keep its non-aligned status in the short-term. Unfortunately, the country is in an unstable equilibrium, as continued progress towards EU accession means that it will eventually have to sacrifice some independence in foreign affairs. The role of the EU in the coming years will be to emphasise the economic and security benefits that come with EU accession, while acknowledging that Serbia has its own cultural and historical links that need tending to.

Parlamendiväline autor

Christopher HARTWELL, President, CASE – Center for Social and Economic Research, Poland; Katarzyna SIDLO, Political Economist, CASE

Youth challenges and opportunities in the Western Balkans

12-09-2017

Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all candidates for EU membership, while Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo are potential candidates. To improve their chances of EU accession and secure their citizens a more prosperous future, one of the key priorities these countries need to address are the problems facing their youth, who hold the key to such a future. Challenges – albeit of a different nature from one country to the next – confront young people ...

Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all candidates for EU membership, while Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo are potential candidates. To improve their chances of EU accession and secure their citizens a more prosperous future, one of the key priorities these countries need to address are the problems facing their youth, who hold the key to such a future. Challenges – albeit of a different nature from one country to the next – confront young people across the entire region. Persistently high levels of youth unemployment are seen as a direct consequence of the region's difficult economic context, but equally so of its outdated educational systems that fail to deliver to the needs of the labour market. Deeply entrenched regional stereotypes, a lack of awareness of other cultures, demographic changes and a youth 'brain drain' are some of the pieces that make up this complex regional puzzle. Raising awareness about these challenges and the need for timely solutions is therefore crucial. The EU has been encouraging dialogue on the future of youth in the region through a number of projects and initiatives, including the Erasmus+ programme. In recent years, a series of conferences, including in the framework of the Berlin process, have given young people increased prominence, drawing attention to the difficulties they face and the opportunities they need to be given. The establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office in 2016 is a tangible development in this respect, seen as a positive step towards promoting dialogue, involving young people in joint activities and changing the regional narrative. Further crucial measures include modernising the educational systems, promoting mobility and exchanges both within the region and with the EU, and encouraging youth entrepreneurial skills and active youth participation in civil society.

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