Serbian Prez Vucic to attend Balkan summit, edges closer to West on EU security policy

Will he or won’t he?

That was the question with regard to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s decision to travel to the Western Balkans Summit today (Dec. 6) in Tirana, Albania—as the president has fumed in recent days over less-than-democratic decisions made by the government of Kosovo in the wake of the narrowly averted license-plate crisis.

Put simply, a move by the government of Kosovo to choose a representative for the ethnic-Serbian minority without the say of Belgrade–or ethnic Serbs in Kosovo–appeared to have been the last straw, with Vucic erupting and stating that not only he would not attend the summit, but that ethnic Serbs were close to blocking travel to the north of Kosovo altogether.

This may have been more than mere bluster, but skipping the summit would have hardly been in the interests of the EU or even Serbia itself. Not surprisingly, Vucic over the course of two days held a whirlwind of meetings, having reportedly spoken with both European Union Envoy Miroslav Lajcak and also Olivér Várhelyi, the European commissioner for enlargement. And it seems he talks had an impact on both sides.

First, Vucic announced that “emotions” may have got the better of him. Second, he stated he would attend the meeting after all, together with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

For there is much at stake—and refusing to journey to Tirana would have been more than a bad look. EU (and US) frustration with both Kosovo and Serbia was evident in late October and early November when a stalemate over the re-registration of license plates from Serbian plates to Kosovo plates for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo almost came to full meltdown. A temporary deal was reached to delay re-registration—and it appeared that Vucic was at least somewhat vindicated in the days that followed with statements by US and EU representatives over Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s hard-line stance. Yet it is also safe to say that only a bit of steam was let out of the boiler, and if Kurti drew the ire of negotiators, their eyes were still on Vucic and the Brnabic government.

Needless to say, the Kosovo-Serbian question is not over.

Far from it.

And in the meantime, Serbia has also taken a few more body shots to its reputation. The antics of Serbian fans during the World Cup was definitely not a good look in the eyes of an EU that would like to see the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, and simultaneously the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) also harshly criticized Serbia over threats of violence to local journalists. Likewise, Serbia still is not on board with sanctions against Russia, and it has recently made much of turning to EU near-pariah Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for support to alleviate its own energy crisis.

That said, behind the scenes–in the eyes of the EU–there has been progress. Vucic has shows once again that, temper aside (and unlike Kurti), he is committed to dialogue on tough subjects. Moreover, on Dec. 5 Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic said just what the EU wanted to hear, telling Lajcak that Serbia would move closer to the union’s foreign security policy.

Does this mean that Serbia will join in on sanctions? At this point, probably not. Or not yet, as Vucic has at least stated that other countries may not “use” Serbia to bypass sanctions. But with so much at stake not even talk is cheap—and at least for the potential investor, Serbia is now saying at least some of the right things.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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