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The European Union’s engagement with the Western Balkans has been a critical component of its foreign policy. Central to this engagement is the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, aimed at achieving comprehensive normalization of relations in Kosovo which the official Belgrade considers its own territory.
The European Union’s influence in the Western Balkans extends significantly also in economic terms. The EU has been instrumental in fostering economic cooperation in the region, providing financial support, and facilitating reforms that promote economic growth, investments, and development. The prospect of EU membership serves as a powerful incentive for Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia to undertake economic reforms, align their economies with EU standards, and strengthen trade and investment ties with EU member states.
The EU has played a central role in facilitating the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell, has been actively engaged in the process, demonstrating the EU’s commitment to the Western Balkans. In April 2020, Mr. Miroslav Lajčák was appointed as the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues. His mandate includes achieving comprehensive normalization, improving neighbourly relations, promoting reconciliation, enhancing EU visibility through public diplomacy, and ensuring consistency in EU actions in the region. ì The EU continues to collaborate with international stakeholders in this endeavor. Recent events have posed significant security challenges in the region. The European Commission expressed its “readiness to impose sanctions on Serbia” following the attacks in northern Kosovo on September 24.
From what could have been read from the media, on September 24, a group of armed individuals wearing masks launched an assault on the Kosovo police, resulting in the death of one police officer. Following the initial attack, the assailants sought refuge within the confines of the Banjska monastery, where they continued their hostilities against the police force. During the subsequent operation to apprehend them, three of the attackers lost their lives, while eight others were taken into custody and subsequently charged with serious offenses by the Pristina authorities. This initiated talks within the EU to impose partial sanctionss against Serbia. However, any restrictive measures require unanimity from EU member states. The EU is awaiting the results of a thorough investigation and expects Serbia’s full cooperation. The EU’s presence in Kosovo – EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo), also came under scrutiny. EULEX rejected claims made by Serbian officials that it was not allowed to participate in the police operation on September 24 in Banjska, following an attack on the Kosovo police. “EULEX was in no way prohibited from participating in or observing the operations conducted by the Kosovo police on September 24”, said in its press statement. Kosovo’s Interior Minister has claimed that “Serbia was attempting to annex Kosovo’s northern region, and the attackers had been preparing for this for some time”. The September 24 clash near the administrative line with central Serbia resulted in one police officer’s death and another’s injury, escalating tensions. In response to rising tensions earlier in the year, NATO deployed additional troops to the KFOR peacekeeping mission in the area.
“After thoroughly investigating all the circumstances and facts surrounding the Banjska attack, member states of the EU will determine the appropriate course of action” stated Peter Stano, the spokesperson for the European Union. However, Stano stressed the importance of a comprehensive investigation into all the events related to the attack. He further stated that the “EU will emphasize the necessity of conducting a thorough and complete investigation. Once we have a comprehensive and clear understanding of the investigation’s findings, including what transpired, who is responsible, and the culprits behind it, we will then make informed decisions and determine the appropriate actions or consequences”.
Written by: Nenad Stekić