Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic “vowed to deepen trade ties within the western Balkans after he takes over as president in June,” Politico is reporting.
According the website, Vucic said in an interview that “closer economic relations were the only way to overcome regional instability, particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which he described as a ‘barrel of gunpowder’.”
Vucic, who on April 2 won Serbia’s presidential election in the first round, promised to “redouble efforts to create a free-trade zone across much of former Yugoslavia, including investments in essential infrastructure, such as a highway linking Belgrade and Sarajevo,” Politico is reporting, and quoting him as saying:
“If all the others will agree on it, we’ll become a market of 20 million people. That’s quite a significant market. We will be able to attract many more investors.”
The website said that Vucic’s initiative is backed by “Germany and the EU” and comes “amid growing concern in Europe and Washington that outside forces, in particular Russia and Turkey, are working behind the scenes to destabilize the region.”
According to the article, Vucic “displayed particular enthusiasm for infrastructure projects, summoning an aide at one point during the interview to fetch a map of proposed highway extensions to link Belgrade with Sarajevo and Pristina,” and suggested that “the benefit wouldn’t just be economic, the road would also bring the region’s disparate ethnic groups closer together.”
“It’s the old Yugoslavia, plus Albania. It’s a political idea but without jeopardizing their sovereignty. It will boost our economies,” Vucic said.
He also addressed the protests organized by those dissatisfied with the election result:
“Nobody intervened, we allowed them to protest. When you have all your rights to protest against someone without any kind of disturbance and interruption, that it is a sign of democracy. I’m very proud of that.”
Politico described Vucic as “a one-time aide to Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic” to then say that he “succeeded in keeping Serbia on a path toward EU membership, while also maintaining close relations with Russia, a traditional ally” – referring to this as “a balancing act he acknowledges ruffles feathers on both sides.”
“Nobody’s happy, to tell you the truth. But I’m the prime minister and will be the president of an independent country that has its own interests. I don’t hide anything. When I go to Moscow I always say we’re on our EU path and we would like to preserve the best possible political and economic ties with you. That’s exactly the same that I say in Washington and in Brussels,” he said.
Vucic also said that, as president, he would have more time to focus on Serbia’s strategic goals, such as joining the EU.
According to Politico, Vucic’s “key ally in Europe” is not in Brussels, but in Berlin.
He said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “worried” about the situation in the region, and that he was “profoundly grateful to her”:
“She takes care of the region. Without her support and presence here… we’d be lost in space. We’d have more very huge problems.”
According to Serbia’s prime minister and president-elect, “Bosnia remains the biggest threat to stability” in this region.