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The Saga of Kosovo

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After Serbia has successfully lobbied on the general assembly of Interpol that self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo does not become member in this organization, the Western Balkans is again heated up. Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj responded by increasing tariffs for 100% on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite the fact that Kosovo(UNMIK) is a signatory of Central European Free Trade Agreement, Haradinaj’s latest move caused a lukewarm reaction of the West. However, stability in the Balkans is mostly shaken by the decision to transform the Kosovo Security Forces into the Kosovo Army. This latest move by the Kosovo’s Government is yet another gross violation of UN Resolution 1244. The skepticism towards the formation of the military was also expressed by Russia, stressing that such a move undermines stability in the Balkans and that it is in contradiction with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, according to which on Kosovo only permitted international military force is KFOR.

The recent formation of the Kosovo Army has once again demonstrated the extent to which the Balkans is unstable. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that the decision for the transition of the Kosovo Security Forces to Kosovo Armed Forces were made despite concerns expressed by the Alliance and that he “regrets that decision“.

“While the transition of the KSF is in principle a matter for Kosovo to decide, we have made clear that this move is ill-timed. NATO supports the development of the KSF under its current mandate. With the change of mandate, the North Atlantic Council will now have to re-examine the level of NATO`s egagement with the KSF – under the current mandate. With the change of mandate, the North Atlantic Council will have to re-examine the level of NATO`s engagement with the KSF“, Stoltenberg said.

By transforming the army, Kosovo will increase the number of soldiers to 5,000 and will have 3,000 reservists. Kosovo will have free hands for the purchase of military weapons, from heavy-machine guns, through combat armored vehicles and various types of missile systems. Certainly, a helicopter component can be expected, with a small amount of armor and heavy artillery. Kosovo will most likely get modern antitank missile systems and man-portable air-defense systems, which is a treat to low-flying aircrafts, especially helicopters.

For the Kosovo Serbs, Kosovo Army is primarily a source of fear because of the 2004 pogrom, which essentially was an act of ethnic cleasing, according to Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, then commander of NATO forces in southern Europe. From 17 to 19 March 2004, a large number of Serbs and other non-Albanian population was expelled, their houses burned and Serb cultural and historical monuments were desecrated. It is estimated that more than 4,000 people were expelled from their homes across Kosovo, 28 people were killed, more than 900 people were beaten and severely injured, 19 monuments of the first category and 16 Orthodox churches were destroyed. Also, Albanians destroyed about 10,000 valuable frescoes, icons, and many other church relics, as well as data on births, marriages and deaths, which testify to the centuries-long duration of the Serbs in Kosovo. Serbs were ethnically cleansed from six towns and nine villages. The pogrom also showed that NATO did not want to protect Serbs in Kosovo.

Today, the main problem for the Serbian Government is that Kosovo Army will occupy north of Kosovo. Because of frequent tensions in Kosovo, Serbian Army is equipped with modern weapons and trained rapid reaction forces, known as project 1500. Also Serbian Army purchased 4 assault Mi-35M helicopters, 6 light transport and attack helicopters H145M and 3 transport Mi-17 helicopters. The aim is to protect the Serbs in northern Kosovo. With this equipment, Serbia will be able to quickly deploy smaller, light land forces to critical points of unrest. Basically, the Kosovo army today or in the future will not be able to confront with the Serbian army, which is the strongest armed forces in the Western Balkans. Army of Kosovo was made for blitzkrieg. The goal is to quickly invade the north of Kosovo, occupied it and then with the help of NATO not allow the Serbian Army to respond.

Regarding Kosovo everyone is dissatisfied. Kosovo Albanians were promised everything, and they got little. There is no membership in the United Nations or in the European Union. Unemployment, corruption and crime are high, which is one of reasons why there is no visa liberalization. Also, on Kosovo there is no significant investments. On the other hand, sponsors of an independent Kosovo are also dissatisfied. In Kosovo, for almost 20 years, Albanians have failed to create a law-governed state. The West has invested heavily in building Kosovo institutions, but the results are poor. Approximately 190 Kosovo Albanians are still in Syria and Iraq and are part of terrorist organizations, or have been arrested there, while a total of about 315 Kosovo Albanians fought for the Islamic state in Middle East. In the State Department report from 2017, it was noted growing threat of Islamic terrorism in Kosovo, and warned that Kosovo is one of neuralgic points in Europe on the issue of Islamic radicalism. Even the Western media started to speak openly about this problem.

Vucic’s policy towards Kosovo

The reaction of Serbian authorities to the recent decisions of Kosovo, apart from verbal condemnations, were lukewarm. The request for an urgent session of the Security Council came first from Russia and then from Serbia. In spite of the fact that Serbia had a wide range of responses to the formation of the Kosovo Army, everything remained at the verbal level. In his speech at the Security Council session, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic did not mention the Kumanovo agreement which involves the return of 1000 Serbian soldiers and police officers at Kosovo. In his two statements at the session, he had not even asked the Security Council to revoke the decision on the establishment of Kosovo Army. He asked the Security Council to abolish the tax rate of 100% on goods from Serbia, but not the abolition of Kosovo Army. In his speech, Aleksandar Vucic also said that in Kosovo lives 1,700,000 Albanians, and if today is clear that this number is multiplied. According to the official data of the Central Election Commission of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, on the last elections in Kosovo voted only 470,000 citizens and of that, 50,000 Serbs. It should be added that in Kosovo because of widespread corruption, there is a strong discipline over the election, so that the majority of the population go to the polls. In addition to the fact that he has increased the number of Albanians significantly, Vucic reduced the number of Serbs. Serbian president stated that 100,000 Serbs lives in Kosovo in spite of the fact that KFOR claims that 120,000 Serbs lives in Kosovo. In addition, the Serbian List, which is under the control of the official Belgrade, do not leave neither Kosovo Parliament nor the Government of Kosovo.

What characterizes the reign of Alexandar Vucic is defeatism, especially regarding the issue of Kosovo. As a result, the emigration of Serbs from Kosovo, especially to the south of the Ibar, has increased. The reason for such a policy is Vucic’s view that Kosovo should be divided. For this plan he has the support from Hashim Thaci, president of self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. Today, on Kosovo, regarding the negotiations with Serbia, there are two blocs. The first, led by Hashim Thaci, is in favor of the exchange of territories (division), likely Northern Kosovo for Serbia’s Presevo Valley. On the other side, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is strongly against this plan, responding that such an action would only destabilize the region and lead to war. The main reason why Ramush Haradinaj strongly opposes the division is because of the assessment that Albanians can occupy northern Kosovo. Bearing in mind that the special police of Kosovo so far repeatedly invaded the north of Kosovo, it is realistic to expect that the same in future will be done by Kosovo Army. The only dilemma for Haradinaj is whether the Serbian Army will react. On the other hand, Tachi wants to solve the north Kosovo issue through dialogue with Aleksandar Vucic. This agreement would be catastrophic for Serbia, because Serbia would renounce part of its territory. Consequently, it would encourage other national minorities to take that path. The remaining Serbs in Kosovo would experience an exodus.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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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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