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A New Redrawing of Balkan Borders: A Road to Hell

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More than a decade after Kosovo region’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, the issue of redrawing borders is back on the agenda. The ongoing negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina on the settlement of bilateral relations under the auspices of the European Union may lead to an unexpected result – the breakaway of Serbia’s three predominantly Albanian-populated southern Serbian regions of the Presevo Valley and their accession to Kosovo – which, in turn, will be carved up into Serbian and Albanian parts. Such a scenario, in turn, can set off disintegration processes in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and even Greece (with Albanians enclaves in the north).

The Pesident of the self-proclaimed Kosovo Republic, Hasim Thaci, said that in the event of an agreement signed between Belgrade and Pristina, the Presevo Valley adjacent to the Kosovo border, would likewise join Kosovo.

According to him, “the requests of the Albanian population of the Presevo Valley for joining Kosovo are institutionalized,” and if an agreement is reached between Belgrade and Pristina, neither the EU, nor NATO or the US would be able to interfere with its implementation. Moreover, he said that the problem of Presevo will soon be discussed in Brussels anyway.

However, he once again ruled out the possibility of Kosovo proper being divided into Serbian and Albanian parts (which is increasingly being discussed in Serbian political and public circles), although he was rather vague about the possibility of “adjusting the Kosovo-Serbian border.” For his part, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic supports the idea of carving up Kosovo, which he argues would help avoid a new conflict.

“A territory, if you don’t know how to treat it or who it belongs to, is always a source of potential conflicts and problems.” “I am foursquare behind this [separation] and this my policy, whether people like it or not. I am holding out for separation with Albanians,” Vucic stated. rts.rs.

Serbia’s current Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic was the first top-level politician to come up with the idea of dividing Kosovo, describing it as a long-term compromise solution to the Kosovo conflict. In an interview with the Pristina-based Albanian-language newspaper Zeri, Ivica Dacic, who was then First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, said that “the only real solution is to leave the Serbs in Serbia and separate the other part where Albanians live. It will be a working mechanism to quickly solve the problem. Other options will be just a waste of time.”

However, the idea of partitioning Kosovo can now become part of a broader “package” agreement on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The European Commission makes Serbia’s admission to the European Union, which in this case could come in 2025, strictly conditional on a legally binding agreement signed by Belgrade and Pristina.

Many media outlets consider the division of Kosovo and a territorial exchange a very likely scenario. The Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List even claims that the matter is already a “done deal,” and warns of possible negative consequences: “In fact, it’s not just Kosovo. Pandora’s box may be thrown open. This could have a knock-on effect. Just imagine the worst possible scenario the partition of Kosovo could lead to. Bosnia and Herzegovina would immediately follow suit, followed by Macedonia. Montenegro could possibly come next.” jutarnji.hr

The Albanian leaders of southern Serbian Presevo Valley, which is home to three mixed Serbian-Albanian communities, admitted the possibility of a “territorial exchange” as envisaged by pertinent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, as early as in 2012. The leader of the Presevo community, Ragmi Mustafa, emphasized that the three communities (Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac) “must join Kosovo,” while “northern Kosovo must join Serbia.” He believes that a pertinent proposal should be discussed in Brussels.

“I think that this holds the future for our region,” he said. A year before that – in the summer of 2011 – representatives of Albanians living in Kosovo and Presevo Valley, including Ragmi Mustafa, met in Gnilan and adopted a resolution on “facilitating the return” of Presevo Valley communities to “independent Kosovo Republic,” including with the participation of the international community. The latter, according to the participants, would help deter the Serbian government from “obstructing the free will of the Presevo Valley population.”

Accurate and reliable data on the ethnic composition of the three communities is not available. However, if we compare the estimates, we will see that 90 percent of Albanians and 10 percent of Serbs live in Presevo, 60 percent of Albanians and 30 percent of Serbs live in Bujanovac and 30 percent of Albanians and 60 percent of Serbs live in Medvedja. Thus, Albanians now constitute an absolute majority in  Presevo and Bujanovac.

Just as the President of the Turkish International Cooperation Agency in Ankara, Umut Arik, warned as early as in the mid-1990s, all talk about creating a security system in the Balkans makes no sense until “decisions relating to nation-states can be made and revised unilaterally”. This is exactly what has recently been happening around Kosovo. What is also evident is the interrelated development of disintegration processes going on in the Balkans. This may force the leading world powers and international institutions to abandon what they have professed all these years – “a policy focused on the state, rather than territory” as the University of Pristina professor of public law Enver Hasani puts it.

Such a policy provides for solving the problems of each Balkan country separately from one another. This approach was at the heart of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, devised by the European Union and introduced in 1999.

The unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo in 2008 embedded in this concept a provision about the “uniqueness of the Kosovo case.”

However, amid the current impasse around Kosovo Serbs and the growing activity of Albanian nationalists, the international curators of the Balkan settlement, above all the most business-minded and openly cynical of them in the form of the administration of the US President Donald Trump, could switch to a “territory-focused policy,” which views a region not as an combination of already established states, but as a system of territories in dynamic equilibrium and, therefore, capable of reformatting.

“For some Balkan politicians, talk about territorial division and redrawing of maps is like adrenaline,” the Croatian newspaper “Jutarnji list” rightly wrote.

“The question is, what will happen to the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Will this catastrophic disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina affect Croatia, or will a peaceful Bosnia finally emerge taking in “parts of Croatia”!? Another question is, how would the Bosnians and their defenders, such as Turkey, react to this?! Perhaps, for Serbia, the matter would not be limited to Presevo, and the processes would affect both Sandzak and the very north of Serbia. On the other hand, the exchange of territories with Kosovo could raise the issue of ‘consolidating the Albanian nation,’ which would revive old ideas of dividing Macedonia. And with the process of Albanian consolidation on and with the Republika Srpska already  part of Serbia, this would whet Serbian appetite, if not for the whole of Montenegro, then at least for its ‘Serbian parts,’” the newspaper forecasts and makes a sad conclusion: “Despite the seeming simplicity (“we give you, you give us”), this decision leads to hell.” jutarnji.hr

In all fairness, any new changes in the situation in the Balkans – and above all, the delineation of borders – will raise the discussion to a higher international level and may potentially bring them back to the floor of the UN and the UN Security Council where Russia  wields a veto power.

Simultaneously, such scenarios are forcing Belgrade to work more closely together with Moscow, which is one of its key international allies.

The Serbian political class is aware that it cannot move forward without progress toward resolving the long-standing Kosovo issue. But in order to save face with its constituents, the Serbian leadership has to come up with some settlement in which Serbia will not be perceived as the total loser of the Kosovo dispute. To that end, Serbia must have a great power backer in the negotiating process, and as Serbia lacks a patron in the West, Russia is useful in that role. As long as Kosovo remains in play and as long as Serbian leadership lacks a settlement acceptable to public opinion, Russia will have a high place in Serbian foreign policy considerations. The West should be cognizant of this. For their part, both the European Union and the United States need to be aware that close ties between Russia and Serbia are in large part the result of taking Serbia and the Balkans for granted,” The American Interest emphasizes.

Given the situation at hand, Russia needs to figure out the possible options of such a reformatting of the Balkans and choose the ones, which are best suited to its geopolitical interests and those of its allies and partners in the Balkans region and beyond.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China

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The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.

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The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.

The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.

However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.

Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses

The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.

The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.

The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.

However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.

At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.

The issue of forced labour in China

Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.

It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.

US concerns and strategic rivalry

The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.

Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.

It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.

Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.

Way ahead for implementation

The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.

The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.

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Hungry for change: An open letter to European governments

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In 2020, the entire world knew what it was to be hungry. Millions of people went without enough to eat, with the most desperate now facing famine. At the same time, isolation took on a new meaning, in which the lonely and most remote were deprived of human contact when they most needed it, while the many victims of Covid-19 were starved of air. For all of us, the human experience fell far short of satisfying even the most basic needs.

The pandemic has provided a taste of a future at the limits of existence, where people are bereft, governments are stymied and economies wither. But it has also fuelled an unprecedented global appetite for change to prevent this from becoming our long-term reality.

For all the obstacles and challenges we face in the weeks and months ahead, I start 2021 with a tremendous sense of optimism and hope that the growling in our stomachs and the yearning in our hearts can become the collective roar of defiance, of determination and of revolution to make this year better than last, and the future brighter than the past.

It starts with food, the most primal form of sustenance. It is food that determines the health and prospects of almost 750 million Europeans and counting. It is food that employs some 10 million in European agriculture alone and offers the promise of economic growth and development. And it is food that we have learned impacts our very ecosystems, down to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we enjoy, come rain or shine.

Even before the pandemic, 2021 was destined to be a “super-year” for food, a year in which food production, consumption and disposal finally received the requisite global attention as the UN convenes the world’s first Food Systems Summit. But with two years’ worth of progress now compressed into the next 12 months, 2021 takes on a renewed significance.

After a year of global paralysis, caused by the shock of Covid-19, we must channel our anxieties, our fear, our hunger,and most of all our energies into action, and wake up to the fact that by transforming food systems to be healthier, more sustainable and inclusive, we can recover from the pandemic and limit the impact of future crises.

The change we need will require all of us to think and act differently because every one of us has a stake and a role in functioning food systems. But now, more than ever, we must look to our national leaders to chart the path forward by uniting farmers, producers, scientists, hauliers, grocers, and consumers, listening to their difficulties and insights, and pledging to improve each aspect of the food system for the betterment of all.

Policymakers must listen to Europe’s 10 million farmers as custodians of the resources that produce our food, and align their needs and challenges with the perspectives of environmentalists and entrepreneurs, chefs and restaurant owners, doctors and nutritionists to develop national commitments.

We enter 2021 with wind in our sails. More than 50 countries have joined the European Union in engaging with the Food Systems Summit and its five priority pillars, or Action Tracks, which cut across nutrition, poverty, climate change, resilience and sustainability. And more than two dozen countries have appointed a national convenor to host a series of country-level dialogues in the months ahead, a process that will underpin the Summit and set the agenda for the Decade of Action to 2030.

But this is just the beginning. With utmost urgency, I call on all UN Member States to join this global movement for a better, more fulfilling future, starting with the transformation of food systems. I urge governments to provide the platform that opens a conversation and guides countries towards tangible, concrete change. And I encourage everyone with fire in their bellies to get involved with the Food Systems Summit process this year and start the journey of transitioning to more inclusive and sustainable food systems.

The Summit is a “People’s Summit” for everyone, and its success relies on everyone everywhere getting involved through participating in Action Track surveys, joining the online Summit Community, and signing up to become Food Systems Heroes who are committed to improving food systems in their own communities and constituencies.

Too often, we say it is time to act and make a difference, then continue as before. But it would be unforgivable if the world was allowed to forget the lessons of the pandemic in our desperation to return to normal life. All the writing on the wall suggests that our food systems need reform now. Humanity is hungry for this change. It is time to sate our appetite.

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Blank Spot in EU

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The historic exit of the Great Britain from the European Union sparked both opportunities and chaos alike. Whether it comes to sectors within and beyond the orders of Britain, the trade policy with Northern Ireland or the isolated position of the bloc as the pandemic continues to perforate the continent with each passing day. It took a span of 4 years and a combination of referendums, disagreements in the House of Commons, displacement of public office and relentless efforts of the diplomats to bargain and negotiate an exit deal. Despite of the celebrated trade deal in action, much of the uncertainty still looms across Europe. The economic bloc now faces an empty spot of a 28th member post UK-exit and with rilling economic desperation and the Coronavirus spiralling alike, EU seeks a promising role to displace some of the pressure buildup.

The United Kingdom, mainly London, serves as the only unarguable financial rival to the metropolis of New York. Although the financial epicentre casted no qualms over trade post Brexit and even the EU financial markets reported no apparent glitches in trade across borders now subject to custom rules and regulations, the sheer volume of the trade denominated in LIBOR projects a sinister possibility of financial turmoil in the near future. Moreover, the trade deal negotiated, hailed by either parties as a victorious bargain, does little to placate uncertainty in the financial markets which further encourages the need of a solid alliance or partnership to fill the gap and subsequent irregularities faced by the European Union.

Turkey stands as one of the aspirants seeking EU membership. Every European state enjoys the privilege to seek EU membership which is subject to yearly review. Turkey has been a lurking party to seek EU approval since 1987. The opportunities opened up in 2016 after decades of tensions over Turkey’s shady democracy and violent role in dealing with their Kurdish minority, residing on the south-eastern borders of Turkey shared with a war-torn Syria. A refugee deal was signed in 2016 between Turkey and EU to facilitate Syrian refugees amidst the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. The deal served as a defining chapter in improving bilateral relations. Despite of Turkey’s conditions in the refugee deal: demanding a $60 billion grant from EU to pivot the refugee crisis, EU subliminally promised an expedited track for Turkey’s ascension to EU membership. 

However, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and arguably the most powerful political figure in the circles of Europe, always stood against and awry to Turkey’s membership in EU. The talks of Turkish membership were even stalled back in 2019 in the EU parliament and the prospects looked murky. However, as Merkel inches closer to departure from Germany’s political benches after decades of systematic control, Turkey cites the opportunity as a blessing in disguise. Coupled with Germany being at the verge of a severe recession synonymous in scale to the financial crisis of 2009, Germany’s position could actually shift in favour of Turkey ever since UK-exit baffled even the most sage minds of the continent.

The opportunities, however, are not the only blocks paving way for Turkey towards EU. Turkey shares a brutal conflict with Greece, another EU member state that has muddled the chances of Turkey in the EU for decades. Turkey has the longest continental coastline in the East Mediterranean which has been long contested with Greece over the gas reserves found profoundly in the waters of the East Mediterranean. Both countries have overlapping areas and have time and time again rejected each others claims over respective maritime borders and continental shelves. The icy relations between the duo have been hazy due to multitude of other reasons as well. Ranging from disputes over Turkish migrants crossing Greek borders to ships anchoring in the disputed regions without prior alert. The recent turmoil incited when Turkey officially declared Hagia Sophia, a museum in Istanbul and a historic remnant of Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral, as a mosque which infuriated the Greek patriots.

Turkey’s ascension to membership might be a solution to economic disparity in the region; Turkey serving as a corridor between Europe and Asia and opening channels of economic flourish to EU like Silk Road initiative with China. The ascension could even solve the border disputes with Greece and project a solution to the energy reserves in Mediterranean, solving the divide once and for all. Even with Recab Tayyab Erdogan’s boasting position over improving relations with EU, the extent of ease in bilateral relations is still unclear. As top Turkish Diplomat’s schedule visit to Brussels in a week, and Turkey and Greece are to resume exploratory talks over territorial claims in the Mediterranean on January 25th, glimmers of astounding results are on cards in the arching diplomacy of Europe.

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