EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Western Balkans: Geopolitical Interests and Orientations
DATE: 1 pm – 2 pm: May 22nd, 2019
VENUE: IPU Room, House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA United Kingdom
SPEAKERS: H.E. Ambassador of Serbia to the United Kingdom, Aleksandra Joksimović; Tim Judah, reporter and political analyst from the Economist; and James Ker-Lindsay, Visiting Professor at the LSE
EVENT CHAIR: Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP
John Whittingdale MP: Right it is one o’clock, so I think perhaps we should start. My name is John Whittingdale. I am chairing today’s event and I would like to welcome you to Parliament. You come here at a time when British politics are making those of the Western Balkans look easy. I am the chairman of the British group of the IPU, whose room we are using today. The IPU has taken a very close interest in the Western Balkans in recent years. I led IPU delegations to Serbia and Albania recently as well as observe the Bosnian presidential election. We also have coming up the IPU annual assembly which for the first time is going to be held in Belgrade later this year and we also convened a meeting last year to follow up from the government’s Western Balkans summit for Parliamentarians from all over the countries of the Western Balkans. So, today is an excellent opportunity to talk about the region and the challenges it faces and we are particularly pleased to welcome the relatively-recently arrived Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic of Serbia to the United Kingdom as well as Tim Judah of the Economist and James Ker-Lindsay from the LSE. So, I am going to invite the Ambassador to start by saying a few words.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Thank you so much, thank you to Henry Jackson for organising this event, to you Mr. Whittingdale for having us here in this room today, thank you Mr. Kalinsi and Mr. Judah for accepting to talk with me today, and thank you to all the audience for coming together with us. I mean, it is kind of significant day that we have gathered. It is 22nd of May, just a day before European elections. One of probably the most uncertain elections in European history, which will probably change some of the geopolitics additionally in the future. The curiosity of those elections is that the UK is participating despite the intentions to leave the EU. So, a lot of uncertainty in front of us which makes me even more happy to see that the Western Balkans is in the interest to be debated about despite all the other very important political events that we are surrounded with. When we spoke about topics today, there were a couple of ideas but I was told you know that people are mostly (inaudible) interested in geopolitics these days and I was very much willing to accept those ideas because that would attract more people to be with us today, which is a pretty obvious (inaudible), so thank to the audience for coming and being with us today. Speaking about geopolitics, we have to admit that there has been some substantial changes in a couple, not a couple of years but even longer. If you are talking about the Western Balkans, there is a very strong unifying idea for all the countries of the Western Balkans and that’s the common foreign policy strategic goal of European integration. Unfortunately, this process is so slow that it is not producing that kind of stability and progress into the region as it used to do earlier. We could debate even who are today external or other actors in the Western Balkans. If we would listen to some of the statements of very important leaders we could say that Merkel said there is no world order after the Second World War is ongoing today because the US is standing today together with Russia, China against the EU. So, I want to surely debate the US today, as well I will certainly mention the role of the US in the region as well. On the other hand, some of my colleagues who are here and who were present at the Lord Mayor’s dinner the other night saw the speech of Foreign Secretary Hunt who mentioned relations, stressed three times, close relations with the US as the crucial for the UK foreign policies. So, obviously there are a lot of differences inside EU and Europe itself, so it is very difficult to find for the Western Balkans a place in such dynamic geopolitical developments. The Financial Times wrote the other day that the EU is in front of a historical mistake because of unfilled promises for the region, for NATO pending negotiations, postponing membership dates, and discouraging candidate states in their attempts to join the European Union. On the other hand, there is no peace and prosperity for the region without the European perspective. The obvious example is what happened with Macedonia, with the blockage of their European perspective for more than a decade. They came to the edge of internal conflict that could have been widespread all over the region, and at that point I have to admit and I’ll something more about that later, is that in fact it was the EU who played the crucial role in solving this problem. It was again the return of the US into the region and it was the US who delivered some half-solution for the name (inaudible) for more than 25 years. What is creating additional problems for the countries of the region is criteria for full membership because it is constantly seen as a moving target. The last thing which was introduced for bilateral disputes was that member states could block the whole process and a dear friend of mine (inaudible) it’s waiting for (inaudible). I will mention another friend of mine, Durshonreddich, in 2013 when Croatia entered the EU he said, “ten years of solitude,” he wrote an article called, “ten years of solitude for Western Balkans countries,” and I was angry with him because I thought, ten years that’s too long period. We are coming sooner, it is a political process and somebody will rationalise and we will be all part of the European Union. Unfortunately, today, I think that his forecast was even optimistic, that from at this point we have still huge uncertainty about the future membership of Western Balkan countries into the EU. 2025 has been mentioned as one of the potential first years for Serbia and Montenegro, at this point when you have again statements of some crucial of the EU saying that they are generally supportive about the enlargement, it is really question marked what is happening with the EU future of the Western Balkans. As I said already, without the EU perspective all open questions could become again part of the processes of destabilisation and future uncertainty for the region. Additionally, to that, I have to say a very important moment was 2008, the economical crisis in the EU because all the countries of the region are absolutely attached economically to the EU. If we are talking over all processes in the region, 73% of all trade is connected with the EU. With Serbia, the case is 67% but more than 2/3 are connected to the EU. So, any kind of economical crisis is having tremendously impact on the region itself, which is already poor enough so such kinds of economical shocks are having more impact than probably to some other regions. This slow movement towards the European Union is of course bringing some new realities, because support for the EU is decreasing. I will mention to you one figure concerning Croatia. At the moment they entered the EU, 44% of the population get out at the referendum and if we would count those who voted for, we would say that 29% of the overall population voted in-fact for EU integration. If we are taking into consideration this figure, we would say that Western Balkan countries are still doing fine, I mean they’re really in favour of the European integration. Even those who are having some dilemmas if you give them questions like, “Where would you like your kids to live?” everyone would say, 93% would say, “We would like our kids to go to the West”. Only 3% would choose Russia, for example. So, generally some kind of deep support for Europe and understanding of the importance of the EU is already there. Concerning reforms, I have to say that we are playing chicken and the egg. I mean, no reforms means no integration but if there is no progress in integration, there are no reforms. So, we are going all around in one circle with no clear (inaudible); at this point, the EU is showing, concerning the Western Balkans, friendly indifference, let’s formulate it this way. About the support, the Balkan barometer has shown that 28% of overall population in the Western Balkans no longer wants to join the EU, and 42%, only 42% believe it is a very positive step. I will repeat once more, in fact the populations do understand the necessity and they do wish to join but on the other hand, they don’t understand those long-term political demands that we are facing all the time. In the meantime, prejudice about the strength of the influence of the other actors is very, very high. As I have mentioned the US, I will start from that side. As you know, the US was very much involved in developments during the crises in the Balkans during the 1990s. They took the benefit of the Dayton Agreement of solving the Kosovo issue the way they seemed to think was the best way to do it, and at some point they had withdrawn from some processes, leaving the EU to continue with those kinds of issues. In order, let’s just say, to finalise this (inaudible) of full membership of Western Balkans is a kind of solution for full stability, development, and democratisation of the region. Unfortunately, in the meantime, as I already said, the EU has lost focus on the region because of different reasons, let’s not dig too deep into that, but with the concrete problem with Macedonia the US had to come back and it seems that these days that the US has more capacities to deal with the region than before. If we are talking about another open question, like negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, it would be impossible, I have to use this word, to find any kind of solution without the US involvement in this process. They are not part of negotiations because the mediation in the negotiation process is in Brussels, but they are present all the time and I always used to say that they are the fourth chair in this process. Lately, it seems that this fourth chair is more engaged than all the other actors in this process. How is going to be developed? Well, I know that I don’t share the feelings with all panellists today but my impression is that there is still room for some kind of compromise-solution, the sooner the better. The vocabulary about the negotiation process has been changed in the meantime. When the Prespa Agreement was signed, everyone was talking about momentum that if two sides would find the compromise solution that would be the ideal scenario for the future of the region, and I still think that that is the best scenario that we could reach. Unfortunately, there are not so many signs of enthusiasm that it is going to happen rather sooner than later, but again I think that the US would continue to play some substantial role in finding a solution between Belgrade and Pristina. Let me come to, well where should I continue? There are a couple of influencers, let’s say, in the region. Gulf States, China, Turkey, and Russia. Prejudice exists that some of those actors are influencing the processes, in fact more than it is happening on the ground. Let me start, for example, from China. China’s role in the world is changing, but that’s obvious in geopolitics. They are economically strengthening, militarily strengthening, even their foreign policy strategy is showing that they want to expand their influence wider than it was the case earlier. I have found that something I like, “Chineinfluence,” that’s some new vocabulary concerning China. And, you know that they have this initiative, the Belt and Road, of which countries of the Central, Eastern European space, the 16 + 1 initiative, are participating. Not all in the same manner, not all with the same level of cooperation but this initiative is an ongoing process. China is economically more present in Europe. What is interesting about this initiative is that it is not bid only to the countries of the Western Balkans. There are many EU countries that are interconnected to this initiative, and of course there are some question marks from the EU side. Is it one day going to be wide, not only economically linked but some kind of political impact of China in the region as well? The shape and (inaudible) that this initiative is organised is changing. There are more and more observers; at the summits, now it is increased. Austria, Belarus, Greece, Switzerland, (inaudible), and the EU itself. So, all of those countries, international organisations, are involved at least as the observers into the process. If we would have to judge about the process, I would say that it is more complemented rather than an alternative to the EU. That was found in the European Parliament’s research service’s report. Therefore, China is ready to redefine the process it seems, thanks to some rumours, in order to bring into the process Germany as well as to change the frequency of summits to every two years instead of every year. So, if I would have to say at this point the European Union is very cautious about the intentions of China, particularly about potential division inside the EU itself. But, at the end of the day, speaking in economic terms, for some of the countries of the Western Balkans this kind of initiative is very, very important. Turkey, in the last two years, rediscovered the Western Balkans. Their influence is not the same in the whole region but what is surprising, probably for you as well, if we would imagine soft power in the region then Turkey is at the top of the agenda. This is because, you wouldn’t believe, of soap operas which are very popular. People are learning the Turkish language widely, so soft power of Turkey is on the top of the agenda if we are imagining over all of the Western Balkans population. Turkish influences are particularly strong in Muslim populations, so among Bosniaks in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sanjak in Serbia, Kosovo, Albania. What is their intention? I think it is to mediate between some of the countries in the region and try to contribute to the process of reconciliation or some infrastructure projects which could contribute to connectivity between the Western Balkan countries. Gulf States, they do have some impact. Sometimes, this impact is measured as the highest proportion of capital foreign fighters in European Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. On the other hand, there are some economical activities like Belgrade Waterfront, Etihad, and other things. So, are they interested for the region? Yes, they are and they are present. Finally, we are coming to Russia, which is always creating the most suspicious view of the EU. What I would like to say is that Russia is incapable an alternative to the European integration, and I think that’s the crucial point. If we would take a look, NATO is still in the process of enlargement. Montenegro became a NATO member state; Macedonia will become one I think very, very soon. What I can say is that prejudice about Serbia is on the ground as well. Serbia is a militarily-neutral country but it has very developed cooperation with NATO and with member states. Concerning economical growth, Russia and the Western Balkans, what I can say, there are only 6.6 direct foreign investments from Russia in the region. If we would take a look into expert input, it would be 3.9 shares of foreign exports and 5.3 shares of imports. One of the important pillars of influence is the energy sector, but that is not a solitary case with the Western Balkans. Take a look about South Stream, which is about to be built and Germany is insisting on this project. If we would debate, South Stream is probably out of the agenda but if we are talking about Turk Stream it is supposed to pass through some of the EU countries before entering the Western Balkans or Serbia. Then, it has to leave again into EU countries. Therefore, it has to be done according to the EU rules. So, in terms of influence in the energy sector, there is nothing particularly concerning the Western Balkans than other parts of Europe. One important pillar of influence is the veto on the UN Security Council. For Serbia particularly, this is a very, very important part of Russian influence in terms of future negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. So far, Russia is claiming that they will accept anything that is acceptable for Serbia. I will stop here, yeah. I will stop here, because I said that I would speak generally at the beginning. What I wanted to send you as a strong message is that there is no future of the Western Balkans without EU membership/ On the other hand, the Western Balkans will remain a soft underbelly and the European Union won’t finalise security projects, which is essential to the EU itself, without bringing Western Balkan countries on board.
John Whittingdale MP: Ambassador, thank you for an extremely comprehensive summary of the position. I would just observe that I shall be hosting in this room in just a few hours’ time the delegation from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Kosovo. So, we will explore the possibility of compromise that you set out. But, I’m going to hand straight over to Tim Judah of the Economist to make a few comments in response to what the Ambassador’s said.
Tim Judah: Thank you very much. Yes, I am the correspondent for the Economist but I am also, I should add, at the moment a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna where I have been working on Balkan issues. Ambassador, thank you very much for that. I have to say that I am quite relieved now that I didn’t actually write a sort-of talk of my own because basically it would have been what you have already said. So, that is a relief and I’ll just make a few comments because time is short and I think James will do the same. When it comes to geopolitics, I mean clearly the EU is still the biggest actor on the bloc, so to speak, but of course the EU has been beset by problems of its own just like all of us over the last few years. Especially, well, 2008 and then 2014 with the Ukraine crisis which had reverberations across Europe. What has that meant for the EU? I think that it’s meant that the EU has not been acting as, obviously, a unified body. It means that for the Western Balkans, Germany has emerged over the last 5, 7, 10 years even as the main and biggest actor. I mean, it’s great that members of the Kosovo Parliament are here but normally Kosovan politicians, Serbian politicians, Bosnian politicians, their first call of port today is Berlin. An example of the importance of Berlin was a summit that was held two or three weeks ago with Mr. Macron playing a secondary role to Angela Merkel, where it was kind of reported that this was like another “talking shop” and not much would happen. Actually, and I think that James may disagree with me, but I think that it was an extremely important event because Mrs. Merkel finally stomped very hard on the idea of changing borders between Serbia and Kosovo, something which has been developing and discussed over the last year or so. One of the reasons that it has been discussed is because Mrs. Mogherini wanted some kind of legacy, something to be remembered by, some form of breakthrough in terms of Serbia-Kosovo, just as Lady Ashton did in fact by brokering the original deal between Serbia and Kosovo. But, she was not alone in that. One of the most important actors I think here was the US, having decided and passed under the influence of John Bolton to change, to lift the taboo on discussing the question of borders. Clearly that’s what’s been happening over the last year, but as I say it seems to me, at least for the moment, Mrs. Merkel has stomped on that idea. Russia is clearly an important actor. Economically it varies from country to country obviously, not so important but for various, you know, historical, religious, and political reasons it is certainly important, especially in Serbia. I mean, interestingly Russia’s perhaps biggest economic footprint has been in Montenegro, where it certainly did not help them when the government of Montenegro decided it was going to join NATO. There may have been a lot of Russian investment but it made no difference whatsoever and Russia has certainly suffered. I mean although we in the West tend to worry about Russia in the Western Balkans, actually part of the non-emphasised part of the story has perhaps been setbacks in Montenegro, in North Macedonia, recently. That’s not to say Russia doesn’t have a spoiler role to play in slowing down or trying to prevent general Western integration. We can discuss whether they really were prepared to go as far as trying to mount a coup to kill Mr. Dukanovic in Montenegro. Certainly there was, I mean, many people believe that was the case, many people believe that was completely theatre. Probably, the answer is somewhere in between but we did have a court case conviction of opposition leaders, who tend to be rather Russia-friendly in Montenegro, last week. But, we can debate that. Turkey, oh sorry I should also add that, you know, especially in Bosnia Russia has a role to play. Although, and then now this is where we come in with Turkey, especially with but not only with Bosnia we tend to see Russia playing its role and the Turks playing their role. I’m not so sure that the Turks are quite as good at reconciliation as you mentioned, Ambassador. I mean I think certainly in Bosnia they know which side they’re backing and which political party they’re backing. What I do, I would kind of just raise this, I think that outsiders may tend to look at it as Turks and Russians playing their games in Bosnia. I do wonder whether actually Bosnian politicians are part of this. It’s part of the political DNA, Bosnians, part of their expertise of being the tails to wag the dogs. Mr. Dodik of the Republika Srpska and Mr. Dzaferovic in Sarajevo are very adept at knowing how to play Russian and Turkish cards to extract the maximum benefits for themselves and their parties and their constituencies. You mention, Ambassador, Gulf Arabs. I think the Gulf Arabs in general, let’s not talk about the Saudis for the moment, the Gulf Arabs are basically interested in, kind-of, making money. They are very present now in Sarajevo, also in Bosnia. Saudi Arabia has kind-of tended to play a role, but less. They are also in business in Bosnia, but also has played a role in sponsoring religious movements. We could talk about that all day. China, well, James and I were at an event earlier on where somebody said, “the role of Russia has been overestimated in the last few years and the role of China underestimated”. That’s an interesting and serious observation. But, I think that China has no kind of political aspirations or political interests. It just wants to, kind-of, join Europe, (inaudible). Particularly in its own case it wants to sort-of have a route from, well, have a route from Piraeus to make the corridor, to upgrade the corridor, all the way to Central Europe. So, you know, where it can make business and make money, well, that’s what they’re going to do. Two small additions to these comments. You didn’t mention Croatia. I mean of course it’s debatable as whether to class Croatia as part of the Western Balkans. It’s clearly not part of the Western Balkans 6 but it’s, as far as I’m concerned, part of the Western Balkans. Recently in Bosnia there have been accusations by the security minister in the press about how the Croatian security services, intelligence services were playing games with Islamists and arming Islamists in Bosnia in order to provide arguments for their President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who has claimed that there are 10,000 jihadists in Bosnia, which is clearly nonsense, to sort-of provide evidence to support her argumentation. Well then, as a geopolitical interest finally I reach Brexit. The question is, will Britain have a role to play? I think it will have a very diminished role, because as far as the Western Balkan countries are concerned, Britain’s value added was being an important and powerful supporter for (inaudible), European integration, etc. from within the EU. From the outside, well we can play a small role, we can do various bits and pieces but I think that we’ll have lost a major influence multiplier. So, that’s it I think about geopolitics. I just wanted to make two other points. I think that while we can concentrate for obvious reasons on today, six months or the next year, I think one of the biggest problems for the future are the demographic problems. Particularly in almost all of the countries exhibiting these contradictory, ah now I’ve lost the word, in the sense that they are exhibiting symptoms of rich countries like older populations, elderly, very low fertility rates, but simultaneously losing population due to large amounts of emigration just like poorer countries. Well in the past, that didn’t really matter because people had children and now they don’t. So, countries are shrinking. It is not only a Balkan problem but it is particularly acute in the Balkans and it will be something that we will see how that plays out politically over the next few years and decades. Finally, I don’t know how much of it is a problem, but I think that we will start to see whether it is a problem of not, is the question of arms races within the region. The Republika Srpska government has initiated a plan for auxiliary militias, there have been debates within Bosnia about whether the federation or federation police forces should respond. Serbia spends as much money on arms as the rest of the Western Balkans 6 put together. Is that a normal kind of modernisation, is it a response to what the Croats are doing? I don’t know, this is what we’re going to be discovering in the next few years. So of course NATO itself has been investing in the region, for example the upgrading of the Kucova airbase two hours’ drive away from Tirana, so all these are things to watch. So, I’ll stop there.
John Whittingdale MP: Tim, thank you very much. A few words from James Ker-Lindsay then we’ll open it up.
James Ker-Lindsay: Look, I’m aware that we are getting close to the end in sight. I won’t say a lot, and I think partly also because so much has already been covered by the previous two speakers. I think the one thing that really stands out in this whole debate and this discussion that we’ve seen today is that the Balkans is now an area of great geopolitical interest. A large part of the problem that we’re facing in the Balkans is because the European Union has been unable to follow through with the credible prospect of membership for these countries and this has really opened up the ground for a lot of other countries to start exerting influence. I think that this is a real concern that we need to be tackling and I think in the months ahead the European Union is obviously going to be undergoing profound internal transformations. We of course have the European elections that are happening tomorrow. There is a lot of focus on what the results are going to be. What is going to be the shape of the new European parliament? I think the feeling at the moment from latest projections that I’ve seen is that were likely to see a broad lock of pro-enlargement members. If you start to break down the main groups, the EPP, S&D, the Greens for example, ALDE, you know between those groups the figures seem to suggest that they’re going to have about 450 up to 751 seats. If we leave the European Union, and I use if, then that crops down to about 700 and that will obviously change things. But I think the feeling at the moment is that, broadly speaking, despite the growth of populists within European Parliament there will still be a pro-enlargement agenda. Now you can start to quibble on those figures because obviously not everyone who comes from an EPP background is necessarily going to be pro-enlargement but i think if you just say where they come from in terms of a broad political agenda you can break down the numbers in that way. But of course really its what happens next which is going to be so much more significant. So, I think part of the problem that we’re going to face in the European parliamentary elections is what does this mean for the rise of populist parties within particular EU member states. The one we really have to watch out for is France, because next month the European Council will be taking a decision about whether to open up accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. It will be hugely damaging to EU credibility in the Western Balkans if in particular North Macedonia is rejected. As many of you, if not all of you, are aware we saw this fantastic agreement that was reached between Greece and FYROM Macedonia, now North Macedonia, and it really was a transformative development for the Western Balkans, incredibly positive. But, it was based on a promise of opening up NATO and EU accession talks, and if now the EU refuses to do that basically because of France standing in the way, though potentially also the Netherlands but I get the sense that the Dutch have more concerns really about Albania. Then, I think we will face real problems because that will then affect the EU’s ability to argue for developments elsewhere as well as positive conflict resolution for example between Serbia and Kosovo but also in Bosnia. So, it will be incredibly important on a national level how these elections play out. Then, of course, we get to the structure of the new Commission and I think this will also have a great deal of significance. Whoever is appointed as President to the Commission, look, enlargement is not a top ticket item in the EU at the moment, we know that. But, we also need to be aware that what is said by senior officials in the Commission is picked up very acutely within the region. Even small things that seem insignificant to us can be incredibly important. So, for example in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker said prior to his appointment that he didn’t see foresee that there would be any enlargement under his term of office. Now, anyone who was following enlargement knows that was absolutely true. It was a statement of fact, none of the countries would have been ready. But in the Balkans this was read as actually the EU saying, “we don’t want you”, and it was a very, very negative message that came across So, I think that what we will have to see from whoever is appointed to the head of the European Commission is to try and be making the positive noises. The next two important positions to sort out, of course, is going to be the High Representative for Foreign Security Policy. Officially, they have overall responsibility for enlargement but it is actually less enlargement that is going to be significant for that role. It’s the Conflict Management and Crisis Management role which I think is going to be so significant. We’ve seen both in Federica Mogherini and Catherine Ashton that they took actually quite a close interest in the Western Balkans, especially on Serbia and Kosovo. But Mogherini recently has been burnt to a degree over the discussions of land swap. So, there will be questions whether the person who will replace her will be quite as willing to get engaged and put their reputation on the line for trying to deal with the Western Balkans. Finally, the third figure is going to be the Enlargement Commissioner. I think this is going to be far more important than we often give credit for, because this is really the day to day voice of the European Union’s policy in terms of enlargement in the Western Balkans. So, we need to have a figure that we will be looking to see: is this someone who comes from an enlargement-sceptic country? It’s highly unlikely to be anyone French, i think France will definitely be looking for a far more senior post than this. but it nevertheless matters: where do they come from? Is it a new member state, is it an old member state? There will be a lot of attention paid onto that. But, it also needs to be someone who’s going to be able to communicate the role of the EU in the Western Balkans back in Brussels, who will be able to talk to people and say, “Look, we need to be taking this area seriously. We need to be giving them a firm commitment to be able to deal with the member states”. But at the same time, and I think perhaps more importantly than all, is to be able to send the right message in the Western Balkans, to be able to get the message across that, “Look, the European Union has problems at the moment but we are genuinely committed to seeing expansion in the Western Balkans”, and I think in many ways that it is a PR post more than anything else. We won’t see any new countries join before 2025, that much has been said already. You can look at the timetable and see why that won’t happen, so we know there won’t be any enlargement in the next five years. Certainly true from the Western Balkans, but we never know with other territories. So, that in my view is where the real problem lies now. It’s less about focusing on the role of external actors, we need to be doing that, but the best and most secure way of actually defending the Western Balkans against encroachment from unwanted influences is certainly to increase its EU perspective.
John Whittingdale MP: Thank you. We have about 15 minutes left, so, let me invite any questions.
First Question: Steven Kane, (inaudible), human rights barrister, involved in cases concerning the (inaudible) centre. You talk about compromises, Ambassador, are these economic compromises that you would seek from the EU rather than compromises in relation to democracy, anti-corruption measures, and human rights? Where should these compromises lie on the EU side?
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: (speaking to Mr. Whittingdale) Should I answer that now?
John Whittingdale MP: Why don’t you deal with that, and then we’ll move to the gentleman at the back.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Ok, so concerning some of the questions that you have mentioned I think that we are fully dedicated and working extremely closely, particularly with the UK, concerning the fight against organised crime, corruption, and I think that the strength of that kind of cooperation is pooled at the top of the agenda of bilateral relations. I also think it’s judged very much positively in regard to our intentions and what we have done in the past and what we intend to do in the future about those topics. About democracy, well, thank you we are doing fine. I think the Western Balkans has changed completely. There are some prejudices that we are all stuck in some limbo, that is not true. A lot of developments have been made. Is there some room for more? Yes, there is certainly, it is a kind of process and we are working hard on that. Unfortunately, at the same time, democracy as such has declined in many of other countries all around the globe, EU itself as well. But, it doesn’t mean that in fact our intentions don’t matter. Are we going to become members or not, to follow democratic values and rules of the European Union? That is in fact our goal, no matter are we going to be a member state or not. I will, if you allow me, I would like to say a couple words about something that Mr. Judah mentioned. I knew that he is going to, that we are reading the same materials. So I prepared myself for some of the things that in fact he was seduced with, some of these reports that concern military expenditures of Serbia. It was written in one interesting, if I might say interesting, report of the European Stability Initiative, which is a very one-sided report. There was mentioned data from the Sipri Institute, very prominent Swedish institute, about expenditures for military concerning budgets. It said that in 2017 overall budgets for military expenditures, yes they are higher than the other countries concerning Serbia. But then, I searched for that Sipri report. It has an integral part, it’s here with me and I can tell you that the Serbian budget for the military has been absolutely decreasing during the years. Therefore, it is not standing that today Serbia is having expenditures higher than it has before. You can see in the percentages of GDP and in real numbers. On the other hand, you help me because you mention, well, I didn’t want to mention Croatia as part of the Western Balkans because that would be politically-sensitive for me. They don’t like to be part of the Western Balkans, so thank you for mentioning that. I do agree that some of the problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina today are about Croatians and Croatian population, which is unsatisfied its position. Third, what I would like to say is I think that compromised solutions and many ideas about future negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina are still on the table. Thank you.
John Whittingdale MP: Tim, do you want to respond at all or?
Tim Judah: No, I mean, I only in the sense just think that this whole question of military expenditure is something which will come up, and I don’t know what the answer is. I think there’s clearly a risk of an arms race within Bosnia, but I think that although the spending may be constant or in decline in Serbia, if and when Croatia upgrades its air force, which it is trying to do, what will Serbia do? So, you know, I just think it’s an issue that is beginning to come up.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Well anyway, I just wanted to be on the right side, I mean, to know all the facts and I know that you appreciate always the facts.
Tim Judah: Yeah.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: So this is the same report of Sipri (hands to Mr. Judah).
Tim Judah: Thank you very much.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Saying that expenditures are declining.
James Ker-Lindsay: I think the one other aspect that I perhaps might mention, because I know this report that did come out recently and I’ll put it in less polite terms: it was a terrible report that was produced by ESI. Very, very one-sided indeed but I think on the defencing that they played up these figures. It’s worth remembering that in actual fact a number of Western Balkan countries are NATO countries, and officially as NATO members they are meant to be aiming for a 2% of GDP defence target. So, there will be increases that are coming through simple membership of NATO so Croatia will be expected to – what’s the Croat figure for current percentage?
Tim Judah: Croatia’s – it says military expenditure by countries of percentage of GDP.
James Ker-Lindsay: Yes, so it’s the last figure on that line.
Tim Judah: It says 2017 it was 1.4%. 2018, 1.5%.
James Ker-Lindsay: So it’s 0.06% of GDP short of its NATO target.
Tim Judah: Sorry, can I just add that although these figures in Western Balkans are often extremely hard to extrapolate, because they often include military pensions. So, it depends if the figures include military pensions.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Yeah but the strategy of Sipri, they have all of the same methodology. That they’re all included there, military pensions are included.
James Ker-Lindsay: The broader point is that we, you know, we need to treat these sort-of use of these figures very carefully. But, I think we also do need to be very aware that we don’t want to inadvertently be launching arms races in the Western Balkans and I think the point that Tim also raised about Bosnia is a real worry. You know, there was that incident where it seemed that Croatia had been supplying arms in order to try and present a false spectrum and I think that this is a very, very dangerous move, especially coming from a NATO member state.
Tim Judah: Actually, I forgot to mention that of course that late last year Kosovo actually formally founded an army, so, which will involve, I mean, a long period of transition, etc. etc. But, I mean, it is going to be an army.
John Whittingdale MP: I’ve got lots of hands and we’ve only got seven minutes. At the back first caught my eye, yes, gentleman?
Second Question: Thank you very much everyone. The name’s Hugh Grant. I’ve worked in the first few years of the century in the EU (inaudible) Mission in Bosnia, which involved working with the independent parallels (inaudible). My question really follows on from the last comment, the Ambassador’s comments about working with NATO. How is that working qualitatively in developing further relations with both NATO member states, not just the organisation, and therefore of course many of them are EU member states. Then perhaps back to the European Union central institutions. I say that because I don’t think the European Commission, with its (inaudible), works very well with NATO. I think there is a cultural barrier still to be broken down. Are you getting practical benefits across the sphere under this, and do you feel that your feelings, I’ll be interested in what you would have to say about those feelings, are being appreciated both at NATO, European Commission, (inaudible), but also member states (inaudible). I think they’re two organisations in the same city but not always talking as well as they should be. Thank you.
John Whittingdale MP: Should we take one more and then a couple after that? Yes, lady at the back, there.
Third Question: I would agree with what the Ambassador (inaudible), in a sense that to slow down on EU accession is actually producing negative results and is discouraging for the region. This was mentioned also in the House of Lords report published last year. I am also wondering whether having Croatia in the EU and not having Serbia, which is the largest country in the region, and also Montenegro, which is a next-door neighbour and also a NATO member state, could be also destabilising for the region?
John Whittingdale MP: Alright, let’s deal with those two and then we’ll have a couple more.
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Would bringing Serbia and Montenegro in be destabilising to the EU?
Third Question: No no, (inaudible) having Croatia whether, you know, these two countries should also (inaudible).
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Ok, well let me refer first to the question NATO if I understand it completely. I think it is the question of some very complex relations between different institutions, like for example NATO and EU itself. There are some intentions these days to develop some new military structures internally into EU. Our goal, and you know that we are in very specific situation, Serbia itself, because we had that NATO bombardment support for NATO is extremely low and getting even lower. But, no matter about that kind of support or level or support. What is important is that EU is trying harmonise all relations with EU itself. Therefore, if there is going to be development of some EU military strategy further on, I think that Serbia will contribute to that kind of scenario. It is very difficult not being EU member state to participate in some divisions inside EU or between EU and NATO countries but as I told we have very developed cooperation with some of the countries on bilateral level, as I said with UK or with United States for example. So, that are some of the points. Concerning membership, let me say that yes, from Western Balkan countries Serbia is the largest one. What I have to say and to remind all of us that sometimes, not sometimes but more and more we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Let me remind you about migration crisis. Therefore, there are so many topics that we could be already involved in European structures as somebody who is very actively contributing to solving some of the crucial problems that is European Union facing these days. I do agree that if we are not having EU membership at the end of our European path or our development path, I think that could jeopardise EU itself. It’s not then only the question about Western Balkans but I think it would really be some historical mistake.
John Whittingdale MP: (referring to Mr. Judah and Mr. Kalinsi) I don’t know if either of you would like to add anything quickly?
James Ker-Lindsay: Should we take – we got time – I’ll just touch on one point in a minute.
John Whittingdale MP: Right. I’ve got three hands, let’s take the three and then we’ll have to draw it close. So, gentleman in the front first, then the middle and then the back.
Fourth Question: So, let me introduce myself. I am (inaudible) Nitri, from Kosovo. I am a student of MAC cancer biology here in London. What I liked more from your interpretation is that when you mentioned three or four times Kosovo, you pronounced Kosovo as a name. Happy about it because I can see that directly or indirectly Serbia is recognising Kosovo as a state.
James Ker-Lindsay: (laughs) Don’t do this.
Fourth Question: The other thing that I want to add, you talked about the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. You said that it’s a little bit on (inaudible), it’s suspended. Let’s not dig around on that point. I think before to start the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, I think that Serbia has to answer a lot of questions from the damage they did from 1998 and 1999 into Kosovo. That, on how that can (inaudible), there can be any solution of (inaudible), even Kosovo and Serbia. Thank you.
John Whittingdale MP: Ok, thank you. Yes, gentleman in the middle?
Fifth Question: Hello, I am Osman Totravich. I am from Bosnia and Herzegovina, former ambassador to the UK and also the EU, now the (inaudible). Thank you for all your contributions to this discussion, it was (inaudible) for me after so many years dealing with the intervention into my country (inaudible) your use of the situation today. My feeling is that somehow EU is more and more this dangerous neighbour. (inaudible). That is my big worry. In spite of the need for regional cooperation, which is part of the official policy of stabilisation and association process, which is as such recognised and accepted by all countries in the EU. I think that leaving those five, six countries in the certain framework leaves space for past (inaudible). That is my experience from being directly involved in this these last two decades. If you have five, six countries of former Yugoslavia asked to deal with something, somehow issues from the past come to the surface and dominate. What is necessary, in my opinion, is to put these countries into wider framework. That was very much visible when Stability Pact was discussed, and we included (inaudible). Then somehow different atmosphere is created among the countries. Relations, obviously we have number of issues. Serbia-Croatia, Serbia-Bosnia, Bosnia-Croatia, some are mentioned here and more remain to be discussed and resolved (inaudible) well-process. So, I think it’s big danger to leave countries as neighbourhood (inaudible) visible, tangible, credible perspective must be. My question is now also what countries in the region can do to present themselves as real future (inaudible), because the reports are not going according to expectations from Brussels and also according to the needs in the countries themselves. Is there some space for remedies for joint action of five, six countries in the region? There were such periods in the past regarding (inaudible), and also I want to, need to say -.
John Whittingdale MP: I’m going to have to move on quite rapidly because we are running over.
Fifth Question: Just one moment. In areas which are of interest for the region is already integrated into the internal market, that’s energy (inaudible), EU members, all countries, and we are part of the internal market. Civil aviation, open skies, we are members, we are part of the European (inaudible). Transport community, which is also leaded for EU, and these initiatives came from the EU side and they asked us (inaudible). In this situation, when no country can join until 2025 or I don’t know which year, what can be done in the meantime to make us closer to the EU? Otherwise, we are exposed to influences and presences of some other powers as (inaudible).
John Whittingdale MP: Thank you and finally, yes.
Sixth Question: Alex Spokes, I am an election observer working with OSCE. I wanted to raise an issue. The Ambassador talked about Russia and Russia’s perhaps, I don’t want to put words into her mouth, declining influence in much of the Western Balkans. Do you consider that the influence that Russia has sought to play in elections around the world, many cyber interferences within elections, could come to play in the Western Balkans particularly if Russia decides that it wants to disrupt the accession of these countries to either the EU or to NATO? That is to say, particularly with the Ambassador here and the probably imminent elections in Serbia, might that be a particular concern that her country has?
John Whittingdale: Ambassador?
Ambassador Aleksandra Joksimovic: Well, I would like to share the floor with Tim and James somehow. Let me say just couple more words. Concerning some expectations about negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, I have to say that Serbia is not recognising and will not recognise Kosovo’s side. So, that’s pretty obvious. We have provided our place as influential part of negotiation process. At some point, it seemed that we were just observers. No, now we are having active role in this negotiation process. Unfortunately, we have blockages in the process thanks to tariffs, some initiatives into Pristina’s parliament, amongst other things. As we are standing now, I think for the sake of the region it would be very good to unblock this process and search for some solutions, compromised solutions rather sooner than later. Concerning expectations EU, I think I’ve already said something that sometimes it seems like it’s ongoing process, where some technical details are covering political unwillingness to proceed with the enlargement process from the EU side in the near future. The process is becoming more and more complex, it’s a moving target and one day you think you have reached something, the other day that moving target is somewhere gone further. So, at some point, yes as I said, as I can speak in the name of Serbia and not the others, our intention is to develop our country in very high democratic level on European values and that is certainly our utmost target. Concerning election processes, well, we had so many experiences in 90s concerning electoral processes. I think that today there are no doubts that in Serbia everyone’s eyes are so open in electoral days that, well, you never know. If somebody is thinking of the influence of other countries, in very developed countries, the influence of others in their electoral processes we should be worried as well. On the other hand, I think that in the region, well, if I may say that even those who try to influence some processes they haven’t succeeded much. Take a look in Montenegro, take a look in Macedonia. Even in thinking of some actors who have tried to influence the processes, the result was not there. So, I think that we are at this point no jeopardised with such ideas.
John Whittingdale MP: Thank you. Final comments from Tim and from James.
Tim Judah: Well, I wouldn’t be quite as sanguine about the influences (inaudible). I remember thinking about the influence of Russia in elections and the media. I think that there has been a concerted attempt through Sputnik and other agencies, which are available free in Serbia and for domestic papers to take up. I think there was certainly some attempt to help anti-agreement forces in Macedonia during the referendum. Having said that, I think that perhaps they are going to be less successful for other reasons. One is that, in the whole of the region, public service broadcasts and much of the media outlets are dominated by the ruling party, whichever it is anyway. That’s much more important and more of a concern.
John Whittingdale MP: Thank you.
James Ker-Lindsay: In fact, actually, my final comment will be on a question that came from the previous one which was about Serbia and Croatia. I think, you know, to me perhaps the most disappointing element of politics and international relations in the Western Balkans in the past decade has been the deterioration of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade. They were much better about seven or eight years ago, much more positive relationship that existed and it’s taken a real downturn for a number of reasons. Zagreb was actually helping Serbia with its EU accession, it was passing translated documents and things. I think there’s a whole range of reasons but one of the things which I’ve noticed is the commemoration every year of Operation Storm. This has become a very, very negative element in the region. For anyone who doesn’t know, this was the final assault against the Serb areas of Croatia which had unilaterally declared independence and in 1995, at the end of the wars if you like at that stage, the Croatian army launched an attack and the Serb population was effectively forced out. It has become a real moment now of jubilation in Croatia every year and a moment of commemoration in Serbia. I think this has done a tremendous amount of damage and I know people still talk about, “Oh we mustn’t forget the past”, but I really think these elements of commemoration can be very, very negative. I think we’ve seen it in that case and I think that it’s so harmful for the region because this was, and is, potentially such an important relationship between those two countries.
John Whittingdale MP: Thank you. I’d like to thank Andrew Foxall and the Henry Jackson Society for organising this afternoon’s event. Despite Tim’s remarks about the marginalisation of the UK post-Brexit, I would say that as I mentioned we have a delegation from Kosovo this afternoon, we have a delegation from Croatia later this year, and we will be going to Belgrade for the IPU annual assembly. So, the Inter-Parliamentary Union will be doing its bit and the British group’s still taking a leading role in it. But, thank you to all three of our speakers, particularly to the Ambassador for coming along this afternoon but also to Tim and to James. Please show your appreciation.