Unofficial EU note on redrawing Balkan borders causes angst in Bosnia

April 16, 2021 8:33 AM EDT

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman


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By Daria Sito-Sucic and Robin Emmott

SARAJEVO/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An unofficial European Union diplomatic note seen by Reuters on redrawing borders along ethnic lines in the Western Balkans has caused angst and distress in Bosnia, which fears an unexpected shift in EU strategy.

The document was first leaked to the Slovenian media and ascribed to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who reportedly had sent it to European Council President Charles Michel as a proposal on how to deal with the region after Slovenia takes over presidency of the EU in July.

But Jansa denied that he had sent the document and accused "fake media" of trying to harm Slovenia's efforts to help integrate the Western Balkan states into the wealthy bloc.

The EU did not comment, but one Brussels diplomat told Reuters that EU member states have not discussed the paper.

Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the diplomatic note, although it has been circulating in official EU channels and has been seen by many EU diplomats and officials.

The paper states that the main obstacles to a speedier EU integration of the Balkan states are the unresolved national issues of Serbs, Croats and Albanians, which should be settled by creating a Greater Serbia, a Greater Albania and a Greater Croatia.

The document proposes that Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic be joined to Serbia, Croat-dominated cantons of Bosnia be integrated into Croatia, and Kosovo be merged with Albania.

"We have never seen this proposal if it exists," Bulgaria's EU spokesman in Brussels told Reuters.

Such diplomatic notes are common in EU policymaking. Although they are not made public, typically EU states are happy to claim ownership if they author them.

In Bosnia, where 100,000 people were killed in nearly four years of war in the 1990s during which Serbs and Croats had sought to form their own ethnic statelets, the note has been perceived as a new threat to its territorial unity, this time by some EU member countries.

Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia's three-man inter-ethnic presidency, told Michel in a letter on Friday that the document has caused instability and distress in Bosnia, where Bosnian Serbs have for years talked about the secession of their region from Bosnia.

Dzaferovic urged Michel immediately to put a stop to initiatives that could bring about a new war in the region.

The EU delegation in Bosnia tried to calm the situation, saying in a statement: "The EU is unequivocally committed to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. ... this is our firm ... and unchanged position".

German Europe Minister Michael Roth wrote on Twitter on Friday: "Countries on #WesternBalkans have a future only as multiethnic and multireligious societies. Regional reconciliation and cooperation are the keys for peace, democracy and prosperity. Drawing new frontiers is a dangerous path."

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Hugh Lawson)



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