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The bill for the Western Balkans again before the US Senate/ Increased commitment of the US is required

2024-04-16 22:37:00, Kosova & Bota CNA

The bill for the Western Balkans again before the US Senate/ Increased

A bipartisan bill aimed at increased US engagement in the Western Balkans was approved Tuesday by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and sent to the Senate for consideration.

This draft law comes at a time of heightened tensions in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Today, the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee sent a message to the states of the Western Balkans for a renewed commitment by moving forward with this cross-party bill. I wrote this bill focusing on the opportunity to deepen our commitment and investment in the region through strengthening trade relations and economic cooperation and to highlight the tools the United States has to respond to malign influence, corruption and other efforts aimed at undermining the region's democratic aspirations," Senator Jeanne Shaheen told VOA.

"It's important to note that if passed into law, it would codify into law executive orders against corrupt practices and violations of the Dayton Agreement in the Western Balkans, making it clear that the United States will not tolerate efforts to undermine peace and stability in the region," Senator Shaheen added.

Last week, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, US Europe Command Commander General Christopher Cavoli said that NATO is in the process of adding forces and heavy weaponry to the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. He accused Russia of inciting "inter-ethnic tensions" and said that Serbia is suspected of being involved in these influence operations in the region.

This bill, a joint proposal by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator Roger Wicker, titled the Western Balkans Democracy and Progress Act, replaces a similar bill that was proposed to the US Congress in August 2022.

The new bill urges the United States and its allies to strengthen trade relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia as well as "strengthen and expand regional economic integration in the Western Balkans" and in response to Russian influence in the region, particularly dependence on Russian gas.

"The countries of the Western Balkans create a pluralistic, multi-ethnic region at the heart of Europe, which is of critical importance for the peace, stability and progress of the continent," the bill states. "Continued peace, stability and progress in the Western Balkans is directly linked to opportunities for democratic and economic advancement for the citizens and residents of these seven states."

According to the draft law, "it is in the mutual interest of the United States and the seven countries of the Western Balkans to support a stable and continuous economic development in the region".

In the draft law, importance is also attached to the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, considering it "a positive step in the advancement of normalization between the two countries".

It says that both countries should aim to immediately implement the obligations from the agreement on the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations, reached last year in Brussels and Ohrid.

"When sufficient progress has been made in implementing the Annex, the United States should consider promoting initiatives to strengthen bilateral relations with both countries," the bill states. These proposed steps include the initiation of bilateral strategic dialogue with Kosovo and Serbia and the support of concrete initiatives in the field of trade and investment.

"The United States should continue to support a final comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia based on mutual recognition," according to the bill.

The draft law singles out the parliamentary and local elections held in Serbia on December 17, 2023 and the events that followed, assessing that they "cause a deep concern for the state of democracy in Serbia." The draft law lists the violations of the electoral process documented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which observed these elections, which it declared were held in "unfair conditions".

According to the bill, accusations by Serbian officials against peaceful protesters, opposition parties and civil society that they are trying to destabilize the government, "are a disturbing accusation that threatens the security of important elements of Serbian society."

"Democratic states whose values ??align with the United States are most worthy of a stronger and more sustainable partnership."

This bill also urges the US government to support "accelerated membership of those countries of the Western Balkans that are not yet members of the European Union and NATO and that desire and are suitable for membership" in these organizations.

"Reforms and integration in the European Union aimed at the countries of the Western Balkans have helped towards significant democratic and economic progress in the region", the draft law states.

But he draws attention to the fact that the level of poverty and unemployment in the region is affecting the emigration of young people, leading to population decline in all seven countries.

The bill says that corruption, including the political leaders who benefit from it, continues to "present one of the greatest obstacles to the further economic and political development of the region" and urges the United States to help improve the functioning of the rule of law and democratic reforms. .

Meanwhile, the draft law has also pointed out the disinformation campaigns that "aim to damage democratic institutions, including the integrity of elections".

In addition to warnings about Russian influence in the Balkans, the draft law also draws attention to "China's growing influence" in the region, saying it could have a "damaging impact on strategic competition, democracy and economic integration with Europe."

To become a law, this bill must first be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives before being signed by President Joe Biden./ VOA

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