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Serbia at risk of authoritarianism?

02-05-2019

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of ...

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of authoritarian rule, attacks on independent media, electoral fraud and corruption. Although the protests only started recently, they highlight worrying longer-term trends. Press freedom has been in decline for several years, particularly since Vučić became prime minister in 2014. A large part of the media is now controlled either directly by the state or by pro-SNS figures. Independent journalists face threats and even violence, and perpetrators are rarely convicted. In the National Assembly, the governing coalition uses its parliamentary majority to systematically block meaningful discussions of legislative proposals. In protest, the opposition started a boycott of plenary debates in February 2019. The tone of verbal attacks by SNS politicians and their allies on independent media, the political opposition and civil society is often virulent. Criticising government policy is framed as betrayal of Serbian interests. The aim seems to be to marginalise critical voices while concentrating power in the hands of the SNS-led government. Elected to the mainly ceremonial role of president in 2017, Vučić nevertheless remains the dominant figure. If Serbia's drift towards authoritarianism continues, it could become a major obstacle to EU accession, for which 2025 has been mentioned as a possible date.

'Everything but Arms': The case of Cambodia

15-04-2019

Cambodia is one of nearly 50 developing countries that enjoy duty-free access to EU markets under the Everything but Arms scheme. In response to the country's deteriorating human rights situation, the EU is now considering whether to withdraw trade preferences.

Cambodia is one of nearly 50 developing countries that enjoy duty-free access to EU markets under the Everything but Arms scheme. In response to the country's deteriorating human rights situation, the EU is now considering whether to withdraw trade preferences.

Indonesia's April 2019 elections

09-04-2019

On 17 April 2019, Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country and third largest democracy (190 million voters), will hold presidential, parliamentary, regional and local elections. Incumbent President, Joko Widodo, is expected to win comfortably and retain a parliamentary majority. The only other presidential candidate is 2014 runner-up Prabowo Subianto, forecast to lose by a bigger margin than in 2014.

On 17 April 2019, Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country and third largest democracy (190 million voters), will hold presidential, parliamentary, regional and local elections. Incumbent President, Joko Widodo, is expected to win comfortably and retain a parliamentary majority. The only other presidential candidate is 2014 runner-up Prabowo Subianto, forecast to lose by a bigger margin than in 2014.

An EU human rights sanctions regime?

02-04-2019

The EU already has multiple sanctions in place targeting individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses in specific countries. There are growing calls for a more global approach targeting violations from all over the world, following the example of the US 2016 Global Magnitsky Act. In December 2018, the Dutch government floated the idea, but it is not yet clear whether it has a good chance of being adopted at EU level.

The EU already has multiple sanctions in place targeting individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses in specific countries. There are growing calls for a more global approach targeting violations from all over the world, following the example of the US 2016 Global Magnitsky Act. In December 2018, the Dutch government floated the idea, but it is not yet clear whether it has a good chance of being adopted at EU level.

Connectivity in Central Asia: Reconnecting the Silk Road

02-04-2019

Despite being strategically located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Central Asia has long been poorly connected: remote, landlocked, cut off from the main population centres of Europe and Asia by empty steppes and rugged mountains. As well as physical barriers, regulatory obstacles and political repression often inhibit the free flow of people, goods, services and ideas. However, in 2013 China announced its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of whose aims is to revive the historic Silk Road ...

Despite being strategically located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Central Asia has long been poorly connected: remote, landlocked, cut off from the main population centres of Europe and Asia by empty steppes and rugged mountains. As well as physical barriers, regulatory obstacles and political repression often inhibit the free flow of people, goods, services and ideas. However, in 2013 China announced its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of whose aims is to revive the historic Silk Road trade route connecting Europe to the Far East via Central Asia. Uzbekistan's more open foreign policy since 2016 also favours improved connectivity. The Belt and Road Initiative has provided impetus for a major transport infrastructure upgrade. Central Asian countries are also dismantling barriers to trade and travel. Many problems still remain – the poor state of physical infrastructure, limited digital connectivity, and regulatory obstacles. Progress has been uneven. In Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, improved connectivity is driving increased trade and investment, while Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are lagging behind. Given the importance of connectivity for Central Asia, it is key to the EU's relations with the region. The EU is making a difference, for example, by supporting educational exchanges and helping to dismantle trade barriers, but its role has not attracted the same attention as China's BRI. The EU's 2018 Connecting Europe and Asia strategy aims to redress the balance by setting out the values that underpin its own vision of sustainable, rules-based connectivity. For the strategy, connectivity is about more than infrastructure, and includes tackling non-physical (e.g. regulatory) barriers to movement. The EU has also expressed concerns about some aspects of the BRI, seen as prioritising China's interests over those of partner countries. However, given Beijing's growing influence, the EU needs to co-exist not only with China but also Russia, which is also a major connectivity player in the region through its Eurasian Economic Union.

Serbia-Kosovo relations: Confrontation or normalisation?

12-02-2019

After fighting broke out between government forces and separatists, the formerly Serbian province of Kosovo was transferred to United Nations administration in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence. However, Belgrade continues to view its former province as Serbian territory. Over 100 countries, including 23 EU Member States, have recognised Kosovar independence, but full recognition and membership of most international organisations are still a long way off. Both Serbia and Kosovo aspire to ...

After fighting broke out between government forces and separatists, the formerly Serbian province of Kosovo was transferred to United Nations administration in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence. However, Belgrade continues to view its former province as Serbian territory. Over 100 countries, including 23 EU Member States, have recognised Kosovar independence, but full recognition and membership of most international organisations are still a long way off. Both Serbia and Kosovo aspire to EU membership – Serbia as a candidate country and Kosovo as a potential candidate. The EU insists that Serbia must normalise its relations with Kosovo before joining. Since 2011, with the help of EU mediation, the two neighbours have resolved some of the technical issues, but disagreements prevent normal day-to-day interaction between them in areas such as trade, energy supplies and cross-border travel. One of the main stumbling blocks is the situation of Kosovo's Serb minority. Around one in 12 Kosovars is an ethnic Serb, and nearly half of these are concentrated in the north. Despite efforts to integrate Serb-majority northern Kosovo into the rest of the country, Pristina still struggles to control the region. In 2013 and 2015, it agreed to establish an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, but progress on this is now deadlocked. In 2018, the Kosovar and Serbian presidents floated the idea of a 'border correction', possibly involving the exchange of northern Kosovo for Albanian-majority Serbian districts. However, the proposal has been criticised by Germany, which fears that any territorial exchange risks sparking instability by calling into question other Western Balkan borders. There is also strong domestic opposition to the move in both Kosovo and Serbia. Despite growing pressure on both sides to finally reach a deal that could unlock the door to EU membership, relations remain tense and progress towards normalisation is currently at a standstill.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: 2018 country report

07-02-2019

In 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina made little progress on the road to accession. In the four areas of rule of law, fundamental rights, public administration and economic development, reforms have yet to be implemented. During its February plenary session, the European Parliament is due to debate a resolution on the European Commission’s 2018 country report on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina made little progress on the road to accession. In the four areas of rule of law, fundamental rights, public administration and economic development, reforms have yet to be implemented. During its February plenary session, the European Parliament is due to debate a resolution on the European Commission’s 2018 country report on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EU's new Central Asia strategy

30-01-2019

Central Asia is an often overlooked region, but one that is gradually becoming more important for the European Union. Although the Central Asian countries are less of a priority than those of the Eastern Neighbourhood, the EU has steadily intensified diplomatic relations with the region, at the same time as ramping up development aid. European trade and investment, above all in Kazakhstan, have made the EU the main economic player in Central Asia, ahead of Russia and China. However, former overlord ...

Central Asia is an often overlooked region, but one that is gradually becoming more important for the European Union. Although the Central Asian countries are less of a priority than those of the Eastern Neighbourhood, the EU has steadily intensified diplomatic relations with the region, at the same time as ramping up development aid. European trade and investment, above all in Kazakhstan, have made the EU the main economic player in Central Asia, ahead of Russia and China. However, former overlord Russia does not seem to resent European influence in Central Asia as much as in eastern Europe, and the region has avoided becoming a zone of geopolitical confrontation. The EU's 2007 Central Asia strategy defines the priorities for EU development aid and diplomatic activity in the region. These include responding to security threats, protecting human rights, promoting economic development, developing transport and energy links, and ensuring environmental protection. Since then, progress in these areas has been uneven. Nevertheless, the issues identified in 2007 are still highly relevant today, and will probably remain at the heart of future EU policy in Central Asia. However, there have also been several major developments since the strategy was adopted: China's Belt and Road Initiative is reviving overland trade routes connecting Europe and Asia via the region; in Uzbekistan, a more conciliatory foreign policy under the country's new president has eased regional tensions and opened the door to cooperation between formerly hostile neighbours. At the same time, Central Asian countries are becoming more interested in engaging with Afghanistan. A new strategy, expected for mid-2019, will therefore need to spell out how the EU responds to these new dynamics.

Uzbekistan comes in from the cold: A new era of reforms

17-12-2018

Until recently, Uzbekistan was one of the most repressive countries in the world. Under its long-time leader Islam Karimov, human rights abuses included torture, child and forced adult labour, as well as severe restrictions on religious freedom, the media and civil society. Following Karimov's death in 2016, his successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev has launched an ambitious reform programme. Some of the worst human rights abuses (such as torture and forced labour) have been phased out, or at least diminished ...

Until recently, Uzbekistan was one of the most repressive countries in the world. Under its long-time leader Islam Karimov, human rights abuses included torture, child and forced adult labour, as well as severe restrictions on religious freedom, the media and civil society. Following Karimov's death in 2016, his successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev has launched an ambitious reform programme. Some of the worst human rights abuses (such as torture and forced labour) have been phased out, or at least diminished. Judges have become more independent, and the parliament has gained new powers. Steps have been taken to make the country's civil service more accountable to citizens. Media and civil society now have slightly more freedom to operate. Political reforms have been flanked by economic liberalisation. Barriers to trade and investment are being lifted, including by floating the som, the Uzbek currency, and by cutting red tape for businesses. On foreign policy, Uzbekistan has repaired ties with all its main international partners, from the US and EU to Russia and China. The most dramatic change has been the shift from Karimov-era confrontation with neighbours, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to regional cooperation. These are highly positive changes, but Uzbekistan still has a long way to go. The economy remains largely state-controlled and uncompetitive, and liberalising reforms need to continue. On the political front, the system remains fundamentally authoritarian, and transition to genuine multiparty democracy seems unlikely.

FYR Macedonia: 2018 country report

27-11-2018

During its November II 2018 plenary session, the European Parliament is expected to debate a resolution on the European Commission’s 2018 enlargement report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia). The progress report acknowledges significant progress and a political will to advance the EU agenda.

During its November II 2018 plenary session, the European Parliament is expected to debate a resolution on the European Commission’s 2018 enlargement report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia). The progress report acknowledges significant progress and a political will to advance the EU agenda.

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