European Western Balkans

US Senate Committee approved a bill on the WB, concern over the elections in Serbia

United States Capitol in Washington; Photo: WikiCommons / Scrumshus

WASHINGTON – The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved on Tuesday the Western Balkans Act proposal. The bill will then be voted on by the Senate, where it requires a simple majority (51 votes).  

The proposed bill mentions that corruption remains a problem in the Western Balkans and one of the biggest obstacles to the economic and political development of the region.  

“The Western Balkans Democracy and Prosperity Act” was submitted to the Senate in May of last year by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). According to the bill proposal, it aims to “encourage increased trade and investment between the United States and the countries in the Western Balkans, and for other purposes.” 

In the revised version of the act, it is highlighted the Serbian elections held last December and the concerns these elections raised regarding the state of democracy in Serbia, hence the need for support from the US to strengthen democracy. 

“The parliamentary and local elections held in Serbia on 17 December 2023 and their immediate aftermath are cause for deep concern about the state of Serbia’s democracy, including due to the final report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which found “unjust conditions” for the election”, the Act says.  

It is recalled that ODIHR noted “numerous procedural deficiencies, including inconsistent application of safeguards during voting and countering, frequent instances of overcrowding, breaches in secrecy of the vote, and numerous instances of group voting.  

The bill contains some conditionality measures, however, especially related to bilateral relations between Serbia and Kosovo, saying that “the United States should not consider advancing the initiatives referred to in this Act to Serbia and Kosovo until sufficient progress has been made on the Implementation Annex.” Specifically, the bill defines sufficient progress in this area as “establishing bilateral strategic dialogues” and “advancing concrete initiatives to deepen trade and investment with both countries” 

By supporting development projects and economic integration with the US, Section 7 of the bill outlines the bill’s potential to enhance anti-corruption initiatives’ impacts by expanding technical assistance, sharing best practices, providing support, and including the Western Balkans in the European Democratic Resilience Initiative of the Department of State.” 

The bill will then be voted on by the Senate, where it requires a simple majority (51 votes). It will then be sent to the House of Representatives, where it will once again be reviewed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If needed, the House will add additional changes and then vote on the bill again. If the House adds changes, the two chambers (the Senate and the House) will work to reconcile differences between the two versions of the bill. Both chambers will then vote on the same bill again. Finally, it is sent to the President’s desk, where it is signed into law

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