Serbia’s president dissolves parliament and sets date for early legislative vote – Europe live | Europe – Freedom Voice


Vučić sets election for 17 December

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

Key events

Bojan Elek, deputy director at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, told us today that relations between Serbia and the EU “remain ambivalent” – but that 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 6 EUR billion 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,” Elek added, “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, he 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 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 official dissolved today, so it will certainly contribute to the ruling SNS party results in these elections.

When it comes to the complex issue of Belgrade’s relationship with western capitals, Elek outlined 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 (geo)political reasons for the lack of EU membership prospects.

He also said the EU and US have 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 that 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, head of the European Commission’s directorate-general for neighbourhood and enlargement negotiations, said today that 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 said.

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, 2023

Borjana Krišto, chair of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed optimism at a meeting with 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, 2023

Enlargement ‘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 European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s trip to the western Balkans, Bilčík said the commission’s chief’s message was clear in Belgrade that the EU wants Serbia to join but it must change and must deliver, in particular when it comes to foreign policy alignment.

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

The timing of the von der Leyen visit “was also extremely important,” he said, pointing to Serbia’s election announcement and the fact that enlargement will 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 have 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 Herzegovina

The 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.
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/EPA

Von der Leyen visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina an important step, top politician says

Borjana 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, shakes hands with the president of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Borjana Krišto, before their meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia, today.
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

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.
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/Getty

No more ‘appeasement of Vučić’, European parliamentarian says

The 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.https://t.co/IvVU0m15wG

— Viola von Cramon 🇺🇦🇪🇺 (@ViolavonCramon) November 1, 2023

Vučić sets election for 17 December

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

Welcome to the blog

Good 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 lili.bayer@theguardian.com.

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