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News 01 Mar 17

Mogherini Visits Western Balkans To Calm Rising Tensions

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is visiting the Western Balkans at a time when ethnic and politician tensions are undermining the European integration process.

Filip Rudic
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Photo: European External Action Service/Flickr

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is starting a Balkan tour of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, which ends on March 4.

"I'm working to see every single one of the Western Balkans partners move forward on the reform path, towards the European Union, to ensure the process is irreversible. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations remain essential in this context,” Mogherini said ahead of the visit.

The tour will start in Montenegro, where Mogherini will address parliament at a special session on Wednesday.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina she will talk with the Prime Minister of the Serb-led entity Republika Srpska, Zeljka Cvijanovic, and with other officials.

The president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has announced he will betravelling to Moscow on Tuesday, so will not be meeting Mogherini during her visit to Bosnia.

The likely topic of Mogherini’s conversations in Bosnia will be the refusal of Bosnian Serb officials to cooperate in the preparation of joint answers to the EU questionnaire, the key document that is to guide the country's future integration process.

Relations between the Bosniak and Serb-dominated entities have deteriorated since legal representatives for Bosnia filed a request to appeal against the 2007 International Court of Justice verdict clearing Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide during the 1992-95 war.

The EU High Representative will also visit Macedonia, at a time when supporters of the former ruling party, VMRO DPMNE, are rallying against the formation of a new Social Democerat-led coalition government, which they claim will endanger Macedonia's national interest.

While the agenda for the Belgrade visit was still being drafted on Tuesday, Mogherini is likely to want discuss the future of the EU-led dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo during her meetings with Serbian officials.

Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, have been strained since January, when Belgrade tried to send a train decorated with Serbian nationalist slogans to the mostly Serb-populated far northof Kosovo.

Tensions have been building there since December, when Kosovo Serbs started building a wall near the bridge that divides the town of Mitrovica into Serbian and Albanian parts.

Mogherini is also scheduled to attend the ceremonial reopening of the bridge and have talks with the President and Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci and Isa Mustafa.

On March 4, Mogherini will conclude the tour in Albania, where the Democratic Party-led opposition is staging street protests against the Socialist-led government of Edi Rama, calling on it to step down so that a "technical" government can be formed to lead the country into free and fair elections.

Albania is also in the midst of important judicial reforms that the EU wants to see concluded. A team of law experts from EU countries and the US, the International Monitoring Operation, IMO, is overseeing the establishment of new bodies - a vetting commission and its appeals board - that will vet around 800 judges and prosecutors.

Mogherini is expected to brief EU foreign ministers on the visit at the Foreign Affairs Council on March 6.

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