The European Union is becoming more interested in punishing Serbia

by Cristian Florescu

The political interest in implementing EU sanctions on Serbia is increasing, despite Belgrade’s attempt to distance itself from a significant incident in Kosovo.

“This operation represents a serious military buildup and constitutes a serious escalation,” EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčić told MPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday, October 3.

He addressed the incident that occurred on 24 September near the village of Banjska in northern Kosovo, where a Kosovar policeman was tragically killed by a group of 30 ethnic Serb gunmen.

During a conflict at a Serb Orthodox monastery, three of the Serb attackers were unfortunately killed by the Kosovo police.

Kosovo had also seized trucks containing arms and explosives, which seemed to indicate preparations for a potentially larger offensive.

In a recent development, Serbia briefly detained Milan Radoičić, a Kosovo Serb politician affiliated with the Serbian List party, on Tuesday. It is worth mentioning that Radoičić openly acknowledged his involvement in the Banjska attack.

And Belgrade is portraying the events as a renegade arms-smuggling operation that got out of control.

The EU commission and foreign service are currently awaiting evidence to determine the individual responsible for the assault in a Kosovo police investigation, in which Eulex, the EU police mission in Kosovo, is providing assistance.

However, according to Kosovo politicians, it is alleged that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was involved.

During our participation in Brussels in what is commonly referred to as a normalisation dialogue, it has come to our attention that Serbia has been making preparations for a potential invasion of our nation,” stated Kosovo’s foreign minister, Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz, on Tuesday.

Croatia has openly aligned itself with a group of approximately eight EU nations who were discreetly advocating for sanctions against Belgrade, as per diplomatic sources.

The commission’s Lenarčič expressed disapproval of Serbia’s behaviour regarding the incident labelled as a “terrorist attack” by the EU, regardless of Vučić’s involvement.

Lenarčič expressed his concern regarding the rhetoric from Belgrade concerning 24 September, as well as the manner in which the day of mourning was celebrated.

When the shooting commenced, Vučić deployed approximately 4,000 additional soldiers to the Kosovo border, with his defence minister Miloš Vučević stating that the army would potentially enter Kosovo if necessary.

Vučić promptly responded to the US outcry and emergency Nato talks in Brussels by organizing the return of the soldiers, and in addition, he is deploying hundreds more British and Dutch soldiers to Bosnia and Kosovo to contribute to the maintenance of peace in the region.

However, he also proclaimed a National Day of Mourning, during which the Serb gunmen were referred to as “heroes”, “freedom fighters”, and “martyrs” by esteemed Serbian politicians. Vučić expressed his perspective, stating that he does not consider them terrorists.

Serbia is a candidate country for EU membership, and Belgrade continues to receive approximately €300m per year in pre-accession assistance.

However, its EU progress has been hindered for the past two years due to deteriorating relations with Kosovo, a decline in democratic values, and Vučić’s decision not to align with Western sanctions against Russia in light of the Ukraine conflict.

The likely impact of its handling of the Kosovo attack on its next EU enlargement report, due in autumn, is expected to be negative.

The EU Commission stated on Tuesday that Serbia’s progress on the rule of law and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo is of utmost importance and will continue to shape the overall pace of the accession negotiations.

However, for a majority of MEPs who expressed their views in Strasbourg on the same day, the EU’s passive-aggressive approach was no longer deemed sufficient.

“I don’t think we should underestimate what is happening in Kosovo. The [Kosovo] Serb community and the Serbian List [the party involved in the attack] are controlled by Vučić,” said conservative Croatian MP Ladislav Ilčić, comparing the Banjska attack to the start of Serbia’s hostilities against Croatia in the Balkan Wars.

“This shot at the on-duty [Kosovo] police officer Afrim Bunjak was a shot at peace, a shot at security, a shot at normal life in northern Kosovo,” said German Green MEP and Kosovo rapporteur Viola von Cramon-Taubadel.

“The links between Radojčić (the arrested Serb gunman) and the Belgrade authorities are more than obvious,” she added.

MEPs from various political backgrounds politely urged for the implementation of sanctions on Serbia, in a similar manner to the ones imposed on Kosovo in June. This action comes as a response to allegations that Pristina has exacerbated ethnic tensions during local elections.

These actions involved the temporary postponement of high-level bilateral EU visits and meetings, along with the suspension of discussions on pre-accession funds for the upcoming year.

“Vucic learned from [late Serbian leader Slobodan] Milosevic and others how to let the little green men do things and not interfere himself. After the events of September 24, we cannot return to business as usual,” Herman said. Member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party Michael Gahler.

Several MEPs raised concerns about Vučić allegedly supporting instability in Bosnia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, which they believed could align with the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“For years, we have quietly allowed Mr. Vučić to continue to undermine regional stability and support the Kremlin…yet EU funds continue to flow and we treat him as a friend and continue to support the Kremlin.” “We encourage it,” Dutch Green said. MEP Tinker Strike.

“He [Vučić] plays to Putin’s tune. “He’s not interested in joining the EU, but using it as an ATM for as long as he can,” she added.

A Greek MEP expressed concern about the potential alienation of the Serbian people due to EU sanctions, despite the absence of any discussions in Brussels regarding stricter measures like EU blacklists for Serbian officials.

However, the only EU deputy who sincerely advocated for Serbia in Strasbourg happened to be Jean-Lin Lacepelle, a member of France’s far-right and Russia-friendly National Rally party.

He politely stated that the EU should not overlook the mistreatment of ethnic Serb minorities by Kosovo, using the recent killing on 24 September as an excuse. Additionally, he referred to Kosovo as a “supposed country” respectfully during his intervention.

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