Leaders of the six Western Balkans countries, plus Croatia, Slovenia and the EU, discussed regional cooperation at a summit in Tirana on Thursday (9 May), as well as ways to bring the region closer to the EU.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini attempted to use the leaders’ gathering, held as part of the Brdo-Brijuni process, to relaunch the stalled dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, seen as key to regional stability.
Polish President Andrzej Duda and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini were guests of honour at the summit, hosted by Albanian President Ilir Meta, and the two co-chairs of the process, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and her Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor.
In a joint statement adopted at the end of the summit, the participants called on the EU to consider enlargement in the Western Balkans as a matter of high geopolitical importance. The full integration of Western Balkan countries into the European value system is a key factor for the overall stability of Europe, according to the summit conclusions.
Addressing the summit participants, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić urged the EU to say whether it wanted the accept the Western Balkan region or not.
The Western Balkans needs Europe and vice versa, Vučić said. But the region would like to hear “not only about enlargement fatigue but also encouraging messages and actions” from Europe, he added, saying there had been “none” so far.
A solution to the issue of Serbian-Albanian relations in Kosovo was still out of reach, he warned. And a definitive settlement will probably take many more years, he added, saying there had been no real support from the EU in that process.
Vučić arrived in Tirana a day earlier from Rome, where he met with Italian Deputy Prime Minister and far-right leader Matteo Salvini. The pair spoke about Kosovo and Serbia’s European integration.
“Today, Salvini is creating his network of allies in Central Europe with the countries of the Višegrad Group and Austria,” said Vučić, adding that Serbia should also form a network of allies to help put it on the European path.
In Tirana, Vučić’s visit was met with protests organised by a Kosovo political party. The protests were directed against him and the chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency, Milorad Dodik, an ethnic Serb. Vučić shrugged them off, saying he was used to demonstrations, a reference to ongoing protests in Serbia.
Rumours and conspiracies
Addressing reporters together with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana, Federica Mogherini dismissed rumours of a conspiracy aimed at partitioning Kosovo. Rama also rejected as “plain lies” claims that the EU and other international actors, including Tirana, were fomenting a conspiracy to divide Kosovo.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj had previously suggested in Priština that presidents Vučić and Thaci had spoken about dividing Kosovo with PM Rama, under Mogherini’s guidance.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief said that the Belgrade-Priština dialogue would resume as soon as Kosovo annulled import tariffs on Serbian goods. Last year, the dialogue had yielded “tangible results for Belgrade and Priština, and for the region too,” she pointed out, saying the dialogue must continue.
In a Facebook post, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said he had met with PM Rama on May 8 to talk about “the necessity of completely opening the border between Kosovo and Albania” and forming “an Albanian space without borders, under Euro-Atlantic patronage.
“We mentioned the need to rectify historical injustices, uniting the Albanian factor around sensitising the right to join Preshevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac to the territory of Kosovo,” Thaci said in the post.
President Aleksandar Vučić said after the meeting with Mogherini that there were some “strange goings-on” between Tirana and Priština. He further said that talks on unifying Kosovo and Albania did not just mean “opening a Pandora’s box, but rather something much more dangerous.” There could be no mini-Schengen between Priština and Tirana, and the whole story was ludicrous, Vučić said.
The Brdo-Brioni Process was initiated by Croatia and Slovenia in 2013, with the aim of helping the Western Balkan states achieve their common goal – membership in the EU – faster.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]