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Belgrade Media Report 23 January

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LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: They will not let Serbia enter EU without resolved border issue (TV Happy/Tanjug)
• Dacic: Dialogue once Belgrade gets information on Ivanovic’s murder (RTS/Beta)
• Dacic: For us to suggest to Russia to let Kosovo enter UN – this is a mirage (RTV)
• Vucic, Covic discuss improvement of Serbia-B&H relations (Tanjug)
• Joksimovic: EU integration supported by 52 percent of Serbian citizens (Beta)
• Prosecution: We received request for cooperation with Kosovo Prosecution (Tanjug)
• Coalition around Djilas officially formed (Blic)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans: Negotiations on B&H’s membership in EU only in 2023 (Dnevni avaz/TV1)
• SDP to withdraw from talks on changes to Election Law organized by EU Delegation, US Embassy and OHR (Dnevni avaz)
• PACE to discuss Resolution on B&H this week (TV1)
• Federation of B&H parliament session postponed (Klix.ba)
Croatia
• Croatia calls for swift probe into Kosovo Serb leader’s murder (Hina)
• Bosniak parties prompting Croats to demand third entity in B&H (Hina)
• Plenkovic to address European Parliament on future of Europe (Hina)
• Croatia and US set to intensify bilateral cooperation (Hina)
Montenegro
• Civic opposition created by some embassies and NGOs (CDM)
• There are 54 political parties in Montenegro (Dnevne novine)
• Pejovic: EU access negotiations more complex today (CDM)
fYROM
• Law on languages in parliament next Monday (MIA)
• Government says it is analyzing UN mediator’s proposals (MIA)
• Kotsias: The talks at Davos will show in which direction we are heading (MIA)
Albania
• Meta meets with Haradinaj (ADN)
• Basha’s invitation: Let’s end the two-standard governance (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Japan, China and the western Balkans (The Japan Times)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: They will not let Serbia enter EU without resolved border issue (TV Happy/Tanjug)

 

The path towards the EU leads through a clear defining of our border, while only a referendum is possible regarding such issues, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told TV Happy. Vucic noticed that the new French Ambassador said what is known – that Serbia needs to sign a legally-binding agreement with Kosovo, and this envisages a resolve border issue. He says that he will certainly not run away from saying what the least bad solution is. “Because there is no good solution,” he said, adding that he would be able to say what he thinks within two- two and half months, and if the people doesn’t think likewise, then it will be the defeat of his policy, as he put it. He recalled that in Laplje Selo in Kosovo, where he visited last weekend, a Serb woman whom he spoke to, “Mrs. Vulicevic,” told him, “Son, just don’t sign anything” – and added that his own father is telling him the same. “I ask him, ‘and what do you think, does someone have to make some decision in this country’. This, ‘don’t sign it, run away, pass on everything to others,” said Vucic. According to him, we had this situation where there was no signing and no decision making. “And do you know all the things we gained and the time and peace bought with the Brussels agreement,” he said.  Vucic emphasized that we have to talk about what we will do in the future while no use or happiness will come out of a conflict with Albanians. “They are not stronger than us, nor are some others, but we shouldn’t be stronger, either – we should be richer, more successful, hurry and catch up with those who are ahead of us, have more foreign and domestic investments,” said Vucic.

Speaking of the murder of Ivanovic, Vucic estimated that this was a direct shot into Serbia, the introduction of permanent insecurity among the Serbs in Kosovo and the creation of permanent divisions in Serbia.

Vucic said that he plans to visit Mostar in April, and he will visit it along with RS President Milorad Dodik. “I will agree with Dodik to visit Serb part of Herzegovina, to see how we can help,” said Vucic. He said that elections will take place this year in B&H, adding that he expects Dodik to be exposed to great pressure. “I would not like to be in his shoes, due to everything he will have to endure and suffer and what the RS in global will have to endure,” said Vucic. He stressed that Serbia will never go against the RS and vice versa, adding that this is heritage that everyone should take pride in. “They asked us to detain Dodik, we received official demands from Sarajevo even a year ago. I asked, people, what do you want… You want us not to allow people to cross the border, what is it that you want,” said Vucic and added that Serbia will assist the RS, as much as it can and in line with Dayton Agreement.

 

Dacic: Dialogue once Belgrade gets information on Ivanovic’s murder (RTS/Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic attended on Monday, as the main speaker, a lunch with ambassadors of EU member states, hosted by Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi. Dacic pointed to the tragic event that marked the previous week and stressed that the murder of Oliver Ivanovic represents a threat to the stability of the region and the continuation of dialogue on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. He stressed that Pristina authorities and international institutions that are present in Kosovo and Metohija are expected to find and prosecute the responsible ones as soon as possible. He reiterated that our side is committed to dialogue, however, it will continue talks once it gets specific information about the crime that took place. Dacic underlined that full EU membership remains an absolute foreign policy priority for Serbia and, in that sense the announced EU Enlargement Strategy should provide a concretization of the positive and encouraging messages of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. He expressed his belief that announcement of 2025 as the year of the possible next enlargement, will have a very positive effect on the support of citizens of Serbia to EU membership and at the same time it will show that European countries consider Serbia a future equal part of the Union. Dacic especially welcomed the decision of the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the EU Council to organize an EU-Western Balkans Summit in May 2018, which clearly indicates that the Balkans is again in focus.

 

Dacic: For us to suggest to Russia to let Kosovo enter UN – this is a mirage (RTV)

 

“It would be good to reach a lasting solution. Yet when the West speaks of a solution for Kosovo, they usually think that we should accept Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence, which is nothing short of a fairytale. But for Serbia to recognize Kosovo, and for Kosovo to get a UN chair, with Serbia suggesting that Russia should vote for that, that’s not a fairytale, that’s a mirage. It’s not happening,” Dacic said in an interview with Radio and Television of Vojvodina (RTV). Serbia can’t decide on the matter, but this proposal needs to first pass the UN Security Council. “The decision taken by the permanent member states of the Security Council will in the end depend on Serbia, and Russia and China will respect Serbia’s position,” said Dacic. He says he is certain that this is also the opinion of President Vucic.

Commenting the parallel with the agreement between the two Germanies, Dacic says that those who are saying this are not thinking of unification of Serbia and Kosovo as the outcome of the process, but of our recognition of the unilaterally declared statehood. “They are interested only in us recognizing the international subjectivity of Kosovo, giving them a chair in the UN. We want a lasting solution, and not to guess what will happen after our recognition… this is absolutely unacceptable for us,” says Dacic.

Speaking about the draft EU strategy for the Western Balkans – which states that the EU will ask Serbia to reach a comprehensive agreement on normalization of relations with Kosovo by the beginning of 2019 if it wants to join by 2025 – Dacic said that if this is also contained in the final version of the strategy, Serbia’s response will be as before – to accept only what is in its interest.
Dacic urged EU ambassadors to put on paper what they think – but added that it can never be adopted by the EU Council. “That’s their bilateral view, the EU does not have a united position on Kosovo, because there are countries that have not recognized it. And even if they had a united position, we’re are not interested in that,” he said.

He recalled that the technical negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina had been suspended “for a year or two” and that they were to resume on the day Ivanovic was killed, but that in such conditions the talks could not take place. Dacic added that he hoped that the technical negotiators would not have to wait too long to continue their dialogue. Dacic said that Belgrade currently does not have police in Kosovo and cannot investigate Ivanovic’s murder.

 

Vucic, Covic discuss improvement of Serbia-B&H relations (Tanjug)

 

Vucic met with Chairman of the B&H Presidency Dragan Covic in Belgrade on Monday to discuss further improvement of Serbia-B&H ties and overall relations between Serbs and Croats.
They particularly discussed infrastructure projects and Serbia’s participation at the Mostar economic fair.

 

Joksimovic: EU integration supported by 52 percent of Serbian citizens (Beta)

 

The EU integration process is supported by 52 percent of Serbian citizens, and the EU is recognized as the largest donor of Serbia, said Serbian Minister of European Integration of Serbia Jadranka Joksimovic. According to her, these data are the result of the latest opinion poll carried out by the Ministry of European Integration, and it is of particular importance that after a long time the support of citizens by European integrations exceeds 50 percent. “We are doing public opinion research as a ministry every six months, in the past year the results were 47, and 49 percent, and now they show 52. After a long time, we crossed those 50 percent and I am very happy about that,” Joksimovic said after signing a donation agreement with the Ambassador of Bulgaria to Serbia, Radko Vlajkov. He estimates that the great support of citizens in the process of European integration and the path to EU membership has contributed to the policy of regional development, sustainable development, preparations for the use of funds, cross-border cooperation. “Sixty-five percent of citizens support the reform process independently of the negotiations with the EU, and they want more modern and efficient state, which is easier and faster to implement with European integrations as the best reform mechanism,” Joksimovic said.

She underlined that the results of the survey show that citizens recognize the EU as the biggest donor of Serbia for the second time in a row, and that most of the grants and development aid come from the EU. “It is important to emphasize, because on this basis you can make personal and political decisions and you can recognize whether the EU path is the best medium and long-term solution in the political, economic, security aspect of Serbia’s development,” Joksimovic said.

 

Prosecution: We received request for cooperation with Kosovo Prosecution (Tanjug)

 

The Serbian Prosecution for Organized Crime confirmed on Monday that the Kosovo Prosecution had agreed to exchange information on the investigation into the murder of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic. “The Prosecution has received, through EULEX and Serbia’s Justice Ministry, the decision of the Basic Prosecution in Kosovska Mitrovica, expressing readiness to share all information at its disposal,” the Serbian Prosecution said in a press release. The Serbian prosecution said that the information-sharing means that the investigation will be coordinated.

 

Coalition around Djilas officially formed (Blic)

 

“Dragan Djilas – Belgrade Decides, the People Win” received an official name of the list as of yesterday. The candidate for mayor of Belgrade Dragan Djilas registered at a notary the agreement on cooperation with coalition partners – leader of the Movement of Free Citizens (PSG) Sasa Jankovic, leader of the People’s Party Vuk Jeremic and leader of the Serbian Left Borko Stefanovic.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans: Negotiations on B&H’s membership in EU only in 2023 (Dnevni avaz/TV1)

 

Dnevni avaz daily carries excerpts of draft of document titled “Credible Enlargement Perspective for the Western Balkans”, also informally known as the EU’s strategy for the Western Balkans. According to the document, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) may obtain status of the candidate in end of 2019, and the European Commission may start negotiations with B&H in end of 2023. The article comments that, given the pace of negotiations on membership, B&H may join the EU in 2033. The document is dealing with each of six of the Western Balkans countries aspiring to join the EU, it consists of 12 pages and focuses on some of key principles of process of accession to the EU. Among other things, the strategy reads that the EU’s partners in the Western Balkans have to conduct comprehensive reforms in the fields of the rule of law, competitiveness, regional cooperation and reconciliation, all that in order to meet conditions for the membership. It is also emphasized that the rule of law must be significantly enhanced. The document further mentions demands to root out organized crime and corruption, to make media free and that visibly powerful judiciary is a key to implementation of permanent social changes that are necessary. “Completely independent, professional and efficient judiciary must be established and its uninterrupted functioning must be secured. More precisely, the countries must urgently establish a more solid and sustainable system which would keep record of cases of preventing and countering corruption, money laundering and organized crime”, the daily cites parts of the document. The strategy also notes it is not possible to become part of the EU only with unsolved border issues. Also, the document reads that accession to the EU is not a must, it is voluntary and it requires political and social consensus. New EU Enlargement Strategy entitled ‘The Credible Enlargement Perspective for the Western Balkans’ will be presented on February 6 during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This document will include general guidelines for a faster process of integration of all countries in the region, as well as more specific evaluation dates for Montenegro and Serbia. According to this document, 2019 will be crucial for the countries of the Western Balkans. Namely, the document on normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is expected to be signed in 2019, while Macedonia and Albania should open accession negotiations with Brussels, and B&H should receive the status of the EU candidate country.

 

SDP to withdraw from talks on changes to Election Law organized by EU Delegation, US Embassy and OHR (Dnevni avaz)

 

SDP issued a statement, which reads that this party is withdrawing from any further talks on changes to B&H Election Law, which are organized by EU Delegation, US Embassy with expert assistance of the OHR. “The reason is the fact that SDA and HDZ B&H clearly showed that they are ready to even block the work of the Federation of B&H Parliament, in order to prevent discussion on any form of legal solution that will secure undisturbed implementation of elections”, SDP stated. They stated that it is evident that SDA and HDZ B&H are abusing these talks and their only goal is to buy additional time and secure that no solution is found.

 

PACE to discuss Resolution on B&H this week (TV1)

 

The Draft of the Resolution on B&H will be discussed at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that started on Monday. Among the other things, the Draft reads that institutions of B&H cannot function properly without thorough constitutional reforms in this country. Reporter noted that the delegation of the parliament of B&H will participate in the first part of the regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE. Member of abovementioned delegation Sasa Magazinovic (SDP) said that the CoE will call for significant constitutional reforms that would enable B&H to become a civic state. Other member of the Parliament of B&H’s delegation Senad Sepic (Independent Bloc) stated that the CoE’s Resolution talks about positive things done in B&H in the previous period, as well as about obligations B&H has failed to fulfill. Sepic went on saying that he expects the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE will adopt the Resolution and that the CoE will convey clear messages for B&H and define a sort of a roadmap for B&H regarding its future activities. Magazinovic concluded that the key message of the Resolution is that failure of B&H authorities to fulfill their obligations is detrimental for the image of this country.

 

Federation of B&H parliament session postponed (Klix.ba)

 

Federation of B&H House of Representatives was supposed to hold a special session on today, in order to discuss the Proposal Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates in parliament. However, SDA representatives, who are crucial for adoption of the Law, will not attend the session. In statement to Klix, SDA’s representative in Federation of B&H HoR, Esad Basagic confirmed this information. Mentioned Law is proposed by SDP and DF and during consultations with the proponents, SDA’s Ismet Osmanovic and Sefik Dzaferovic said that SDA supports this Law in principle. SDP’s representative in Federation of B&H HoR, Damir Masic told Klix that since the Law was submitted in parliamentary procedure, Federation of B&H HoR Speaker Edin Music was refusing to fulfill his duty and did not schedule the session. “SDA obviously has a problem. They do not have problem with our Proposal Law as much as with the fact that HDZ B&H could get cross with them if they would support it. All this is subordinated to political behavior of Dragan Covic,” said Masic. He noted that in last three years, SDA literally acted in line with instructions coming from HDZ B&H and Covic and their failure to attend Tuesday’s session is only “cherry on the top”.

 

Croatia calls for swift probe into Kosovo Serb leader’s murder (Hina)

 

European Union member states’ foreign ministers on Monday briefly talked about the murder of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, asking for a swift investigation and the continuation of dialogue between the two sides, Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric said in Brussels. “The Kosovo issue and the murder that took place there were mentioned. The conclusion is a call to swiftly conduct an investigation, to restore the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, and to make sure, as much as possible, that something like that doesn’t happen again, because that’s a dangerous precedent,” she said.

 

Bosniak parties prompting Croats to demand third entity in B&H (Hina)

 

The president of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity, Marinko Cavara, of the Croat HDZ B&H party in B&H, has said that Bosniak parties do not want to consent to amending the country’s election law and give up on their political domination, which is making Croats push more for a third entity in the country. “If they do not wish to implement the law, adhere to the Constitution and the Constitutional Court’s decisions on the election of legitimate representatives and if unconstitutional solutions are being passed in the Federation parliament, then it is only logical that Croats are saying, more and more frequently, that there is no other solution but a third entity,” Cavara said in an interview with Monday’s local edition of the Vecernji list daily. He added that political parties in Sarajevo “are forcing Serbs to seek solutions outside B&H that are aimed at establishing an independent Republika Srpska (RS).” The country’s Constitutional Court has abolished provisions of the election law enabling the more numerous Bosniak population to elect Croat representatives in certain cantons to the upper, ethnically composed, House of Peoples and in that way establish a government in the Federation entity and at the national level. Under that law, it was possible for Bosnian Podrinje Canton with 24 Croats to elect one representative to the House of Peoples, as it was in Posavina Canton, which has a Croat community of 36,000. In the meantime, parties making up the Croat National Assembly of B&H have recommended amendments to the election law that would establish a system of proportionality. Cavara underscored that not one Bosniak party wished to refrain from outvoting the Croats. “All Bosniak parties reject the possibility of Croats electing their legitimate representatives, which very clearly indicates an attempt at absolute domination. When they are publicly trying to impose a solution that is aimed at outvoting one people and electing its representatives, then the only possible conclusion is that the Bosniak political elites do not wish this country well” Cavara added. Commenting on Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic‘s recent visit to B&H, Cavara said that it was the continuation of policies aimed at resolving all issues between the two countries and their peoples in normal circumstances. “That is obvious to everyone, just as it is clear that each neighbor wants stability in the region. That is why Croatia wants to help the Federation entity and the whole of B&H to function normally” Cavara concluded.

 

Plenkovic to address European Parliament on future of Europe (Hina)

 

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic will address MEPs at the plenary session of the European Parliament scheduled for 6 February, and discus the future of Europe, the European Parliament’s Information Office said on Monday. Plenkovic will be the second European head of state or government to attend a series of debates on the future of the EU, after Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar addressed the European Parliament in January. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told Varadkar that ever since he stepped in office a year ago, he had been insisting on the importance of bringing Europe closer to citizens. They are asking us to come up with solutions which would create jobs, resolve migration routes and step up security and defence. An open debate between MEPs and EU leaders paves the way to crucial dialogue and understanding to the benefit of citizens of this continent. This debate places the European Parliament – the only institution elected directly – where it belongs, in the heart of the debate of the future of Europe, Tajani said. At the plenary session in February, MEPs will also talk about the work and the results of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

 

Croatia and US set to intensify bilateral cooperation (Hina)

 

Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said on Monday that during his recent visit to Washington, more intensive cooperation between Croatian and U.S. security agencies had been established and he added that he and his hosts had also discussed a state of affairs in B&H. “We have turned a new page concerning the cooperation between our security services and interior ministry and U.S. agencies such as the FBI,” Bozinovic said. Asked by reporters whether his meetings with U.S. officials also focused on B&H, the Croatian minister answered in the affirmative. “B&H is always on the agenda within the overall regional security and stability, and Croatia is an important factor, Croatia serves as a model for B&H and for other countries showing that the implementation of reforms, democratization, strengthening of the market and the rule of law is conducive to efforts to become a member of NATO and the European Union. This is what we want for our neighbors, B&H,” Bozinovic said. He went on to say that Croatia can only benefit from its cooperation with the USA. The United States is glad to see that in this part of the world it has a close partner and ally in Croatia, he added.

 

Civic opposition created by some embassies and NGOs (CDM)

 

The self-proclaimed civic opposition has been a mere performance for the public. Certain embassies, along with their media and NGO exponents, created it and exaggerated its alleged significance, deputy leader of the Movement for Changes (PzP) and DF MP, Branka Bosnjak, told CDM. She claims that by returning to Parliament, DF got a chance to send live uncensored messages to people of Montenegro. Commenting on the economic situation, she says more and more citizens are on the verge of poverty. The DF MP says that the so-called civic opposition block is to be blamed for the lack of unity within the opposition. Nevertheless, she says she wants to believe that it is not too late for them to get themselves together. “Otherwise, we will consider them accomplices in the further destruction of this beautiful country. The upcoming presidential elections represent a test,” she says. Bosnjak reiterated that DF believes that a non-party figure supported by the entire opposition would be a way to win the elections. Everything else is, as she says, a losing option that will cost citizens a lot. Speaking about the importance of the local elections in Podgorica, Bosnjak claims that DF has many candidates who would certainly manage the city successfully and honestly.

 

There are 54 political parties in Montenegro (Dnevne novine)

 

So far, 54 political parties have been officially registered in Montenegro. Last year, three new parties were registered: Novska Lista Herceg Novi (the Herceg Novi List), Demoktratski Savjet Albanaca (the Democratic Council of Albanians) and Ujedinjena Crna Gora (United Montenegro), the Ministry of Public Administration told Dnevne Novine. In addition to the registration of the three new parties, two parties were deleted from the Registry last year.

“The Demokratski Centar Boke (Democratic Centre of the Bay of Kotor) was deleted from the Registry of Political Parties of Montenegro on 21 April 2017, whereas the Gradjanska Partija Crne Gore (Civic Party of Montenegro) was deleted on 6 December last year,” the ministry added. According to Montenegrin laws, 200 signatures of citizens shall be collected for the establishment of a political party. Regarding the population of Montenegro (625,000) and the number of citizens with the right to vote (about 500,000), the country is the leader in the region when it comes to the number of politicians and parties per capita. There is one party in slightly more than 9,000 citizens in Montenegro.

 

Pejovic: EU access negotiations more complex today (CDM)

 

The EU negotiating process is more complex today. It is based on a new approach that is more focused on concrete results. The specificities of negotiating with candidate countries indicate the need for an individual assessment of progress. Minister of European Affairs Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic said this on the presentation of the publication “Analysis of benchmarks for Montenegro through comparison of benchmarks for Croatia and Serbia”. The analysis was made within the project “Strengthening the capacity of the Montenegrin administration for the EU accession process and IPA II instrument” funded by the EU. Minister Pejovic pointed to the importance of regional cooperation in European integration, recalling that Croatian experience shared by colleagues from the very beginning of the negotiation process was of great help to Montenegro. Today, Montenegro shares its experience with Serbia. Presenting her country’s experiences in the negotiations with the EU, Tanja Miscevic, head of Serbia’s negotiating team, pointed to the greatest specificity in the negotiations between Serbia and the Union, which is reflected in negotiating chapter 35. She pointed out that Serbia did not support the principle that implies EU accession in a group, but the principle of regatta. A member of the Croatian negotiating group for Chapters 23 and 24, Kristian Turkalj, said that, ultimately, it depends on the candidate country how fast it will negotiate with the EU. However, one should also bear in mind the wider context, ie, the situation in the EU member states.

 

Law on languages in parliament next Monday (MIA)

 

The Law on Use of Languages is expected to be on the parliament’s agenda next Monday, MIA learns. Parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi held Monday a meeting with coordinators of MP groups, less VMRO-DPMNE. The opposition party urged the government to withdraw the law, deeming it unconstitutional. “We ask for the formation of working groups incorporating representatives of all MP groups and experts, who will discuss the need of adopting such a law and the removal of the unconstitutional elements in the law on languages,” said VMRO-DPMNE secretary-general Igor Janusev. The government later said the Law on the Use of Languages complies with the Constitution, was passed in a democratic parliamentary procedure, adding the bill is in the interest of all citizens and within the concept of one society for all. “VMRO-DPMNE had the opportunity to take part in the process of passing this law in the Parliament, but refused to do this, thus demonstrating political irresponsibility. Taking into account that President Ivanov failed to sign the decree, the Law on Use of Languages will again be discussed in the Parliament and VMRO-DPMNE will again have the opportunity to intervene through amendments,” reads the Government press release. The law was passed on 11 January but President Gjorge Ivanov did not sign the decree, meaning that Parliament Speaker Talax Xhaferi is obliged to put it for repeated plenary debate by 11 February.

 

Government says it is analyzing UN mediator’s proposals (MIA)

 

The Macedonian government has started analyzing and launched consultations over the proposals presented by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz to settle the name dispute, it has been confirmed. “The government of the Republic of Macedonia has been already engaged to analyze and hold consultations with respect to the framework put forward by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz. In the coming period, we will make efforts to establish a process as inclusive as possible with the engagement of all relevant political stakeholders in the country in an attempt to create a joint approach, position and strategy,” reads a statement of the government for MIA. In the meantime, Greece’s state broadcaster ERT reported that the UN mediator for the naming dispute between Greece and Macedonia was planning to visit Athens and Skopje in the next ten days. Referring to Nimetz’s statement, ERT said he had expressed optimism that the name dispute could be solved in the next six months. The name issue is expected to be put on the table in the first direct meeting of the premiers of Macedonia and Greece, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, on Wednesday in the Swiss city of Davos.

 

Kotsias: The talks at Davos will show in which direction we are heading (MIA)

 

The talks about certain issues on Wednesday at Davos will show where we are heading, was the reply that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Nikos Kotsias gave to a journalist about the solving of the name dispute, reports MIA. “No one is pushing us, nor are we letting anyone push us. Of course, the Greek diplomacy is using the pressure that the other side is feeling, in order for its European perspective to open up,” said Kotzias when the meeting of the EU’s Council for Foreign Affairs in Brussels was over. He also said that “name dispute negotiations that are led among the two countries, were eased by the fact that the Europeans and the Americans have understood that they shouldn’t interfere.” Kotsias also said that “official Athens will not allow the country to integrate into NATO if the necessary conditions aren’t met and if the name dispute isn’t solved.” According to him” in the past, there wasn’t any veto, but a consensus was necessary for the enlargement of the NATO alliance.” Regarding the protests in Thessaloniki, Kotsias said that “it is the citizens’ democratic right and that they didn’t influence the name dispute negotiations.”

 

Meta meets with Haradinaj (ADN)

 

The President of the Republic of Albania, Ilir Meta traveled on Monday to Pristina where he had a meeting with the Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj.  President Meta declared that Kosovo institutions should seek wise solutions which bring the country closer to EU integration.  The Head of State made this appeal during a meeting with Haradinaj in the framework of a visit to Kosovo. “I really hope that Prime Minister Haradinaj, the government and the opposition will seek for wise solution aimed to strengthen Kosovo’s position in the international arena. In this aspect the Albanian institutions are willing to provide maximal support to Kosovo, always in coordination with the Premier, the President and the Parliament of Kosovo,” declared President Meta.

 

Basha’s invitation: Let’s end the two-standard governance (ADN)

 

The Chairman of Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, invited all the Albanians on Monday to join the 27th January protest in order to stop the two-standard governance. “Zero taxes on new five-star hotels to be built as dirty money launderers. 20% more expensive, from bread, to eggs, to oil, everything bought in stores,” said Basha. Basha and Monika Kryemadhi underlined that the 27 January protest will be a message of confronting citizens with mismanagement from the governance. Basha, required from the MPs during the meeting of the parliamentary group this Monday using carefully the time they have in the parliamentary session next Thursday, to invite and send messages to all the citizens to join this protest. That’s why the speech of the democrats in the parliament will be focused only in the corruption of the actual governance, crime, drugs traffic and unemployment with a call in it for all to join the protest.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Japan, China and the western Balkans (The Japan Times, by Liubomir K. Topaloff, 23 January 2018)

 

BOSTON – On Jan. 17, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrapped up a five-day trip to northern and southeastern Europe. After visiting Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, he went to Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. His trip to the Baltic and the Balkan regions fits within Tokyo’s decades-long attempts to establish itself as a global economic and political leader, and to increase its sphere of influence via the use of soft power and the employment of its financial prowess as a diplomatic lever. On his Balkan leg of the trip, a few points require attention. The least important one, but also perhaps the most entertaining, was Abe’s visit to Romania, which would have been a boring diplomatic success for both sides complete with even more boring press communiques — had the Romanian prime minister, Mihai Tudose, not resigned the night before Abe’s arrival, thus leaving his Japanese counterpart unattended. The embarrassment for the Japanese guests, and for the Romanian hosts, was further multiplied by the fact that this was the first ever visit by a Japanese prime minister to Bucharest, thus a historic event for both countries and a proud badge for the Romanian government. The fact that Bucharest was the very last stop of Abe’s trip to the Baltic and Balkan regions helped a bit, as his official meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was brought forward by 24 hours in order to dissipate some of the embarrassment.

Abe’s visit to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, was the one that kicked off his Balkan tour. Bulgaria is currently the six-month rotational president of the European Council, and as such is strategically instrumental for Tokyo’s hopes to see the comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and the European Union — finally concluded in 2017 and scheduled to come into force by 2019 — ratified more quickly by the 27 member states. The EPA is a landmark for Tokyo’s attempts to break further into the nearly 600 million strong European market, and to square with Seoul on the free trade agreement front. South Korea signed an FTA with the EU back in 2009 that entered into force in 2011, and was ratified by all EU members by 2015. Japan is the second-largest Asian trading partner for the EU, after China, and in that sense the EPA constitutes a crucial economic element in Abe’s grand plan for revitalization of the Japanese economy. Out of the six stops Abe made on this trip, his visit to Serbia deserves a special attention. Serbia is the only non-EU member state on Abe’s latest tour, and stands out from the rest for a number of reasons. First, because unlike the other five countries, which were hosting the first visits by a Japanese prime minister, Serbia has been visited before, albeit 30-plus years ago, when Yugoslavia was still a reality. In that sense, Abe’s visit to Belgrade was not like his visit to the other five states, but more of an attempt to revitalize old connections. Furthermore, the presumed goal for Abe’s visit to the five EU states was urging faster ratification of the EPA by putting flesh on the bones of the agreement. Abe brought along a delegation of handpicked Japanese business leaders who were quick to begin laying down the business groundwork for future trade infrastructure. However, the Serbian leg of Abe’s trip stood out as rather odd. With Serbia a non-EU member, its inclusion could not possibly have a connection to the EPA, and the expressed joint concern about the nuclear threat from North Korea was nothing more than a symbolic act of solidarity expected in such situations.

The actual motive behind Abe’s visit to Belgrade had more to do with the close relationship, established over the past five years, between Serbia and China.

 

China-Serbia relations

To understand that, we must take a quick look at the China-Serbia relations and recent developments. Serbia is an important ladder in the Chinese $1 trillion “One Belt, One Road” initiative — the modern day Silk Road — that was proposed by the Chinese President Xi Jinping back in 2013. The OBOR initiative envisions a China-dominated network that would reach and connect Asia, Europe, the Mideast, and even parts of Africa, the Americas and Australia into a complex trading system. That vision, if realized, would allow Beijing to increase and spread its global political and economic clout. As part of the OBOR initiative, over the past few years China has begun making large investments in Serbia aimed at creating a regional infrastructure that facilitates the reach of Chinese goods to European markets, particularly Germany. The Chinese envision the use of the Greek port of Piraeus, near the capital Athens, which is currently controlled and operated by the Chinese company COSCO, to move goods through the Balkans and into the EU. Given the relative proximity of Piraeus to the Suez Canal, compared to, say, the far northern ports of Rotterdam or Hamburg, the Balkan route appears as a convenient and attractive option for Beijing’s plan to expand the OBOR initiative’s reach into the heart of the EU. For that purpose, China is now heavily investing in Serbia’s railroad and highway systems, putting down hundreds of millions of dollars for building or repairing and reconstructing bridges and roads — many of which still remain in devastating condition since the NATO bombing 20 years ago — or creating new road infrastructure, such as the building of a $740 million highway that would connect the capital Belgrade with the coastal city of Bar in Montenegro. But Beijing’s crowning project is the $3 billion investment project to build a 350 km high-speed rail link between the Hungarian capital Budapest and Belgrade. For Serbia, the Chinese investments — even when they come with the visible strings attached (for example, the interest of the loans from China’s Exim Bank depends on the share of participation by Chinese companies in the building process) — are not just welcome, but also perhaps the only low interest option Belgrade has. As a non-EU member, the Serbian state cannot take advantage of either the EU structural funds or the preferential low interest loans by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. China, on the other hand, is all too happy to extend its generous financial support and offer loans well below the market interest at 20- or 30-year terms, and to invest finances, resources and expertise into building top-notch regional transportation infrastructure in the western Balkans. Apart from the economic support, Beijing is also reaffirming to Belgrade and its political support, by siding with Serbia against the EU and the United States, and refusing to recognize Kosovo, for example.

 

Japan’s response

It is this Chinese attention to the western Balkans that was the main motive for the Japanese prime minister’s recent visit to Serbia. Tokyo is desperate to counter growing Chinese soft power by opening its own purse and extending its political clout to a small Balkan country. By promising to invest in crucial energy projects, such as the building of a desulphurization unit for the Nikola Tesla power plant, investing in the Serbian pharmaceutical, agricultural and IT industries, or using the expertise of the Japan International Cooperation Agency to identify potential areas for economic cooperation, Japan hopes to counter some of the effects of the recent Chinese economic incursion in the western Balkans. Tokyo is hoping to achieve this by increasing its diplomatic role in the region, and particularly by wooing Serbia and the other western Balkan states closer to its side. In that context, while in Serbia, Abe proposed a “Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative,” part of which provides for Japan to appoint a special ambassador in charge of the western Balkans at the Foreign Ministry. Abe also offered to advocate for Serbia in front of the EU for speeding up the accession process. It is unclear, however, how much Abe will be able to curtail the Chinese incursion in the western Balkans, or for that matter how much the EU itself will be able to control it. As a starter, Serbia’s chances for joining the EU in the short term are less than slim. Just like in the case of Turkey, and other countries waiting in the EU’s vestibule, the Serbian population is gradually becoming disillusioned with the perspectives for EU membership and is gripped by an ever more pronounced “accession fatigue.” More Serbians now believe, for example, that joining the EU will be bad for the country, and only a small number of dreamers believe that this will happen by 2025. While full-fledged EU membership seems ever more distant, ever more elusive, and ever more illusory, the Chinese investments are here now, and are real.

Despite the fact that both China and Japan sit on huge amounts of funds — by regional Balkan standards — that are earmarked for development, the Chinese wallet will be hard for Tokyo to match, if only because of the first-mover advantage Beijing enjoys. Economic considerations aside, China and Serbia also enjoy shared political sympathy and mutual support for each other, especially regarding such issues as Kosovo and China’s own separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang. During NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was hit by Western missiles. NATO always claimed that the strike was by mistake, but it is widely believed to have been retaliation against the Chinese for passing intelligence to the Milosevic regime. NATO’s bombing is not yet quite forgotten in Serbia, and the memories of the Chinese comradeship and support are cherished. These are emotional ties that are hard to match for Tokyo, nor is it politically feasible for Japan to try. On the other hand, the Chinese OBOR initiative’s focus on Serbia is also not quite clear, even to specialists who closely monitor Chinese involvement in the region. The Serbian highway and railroad infrastructure system may be ultimately improved, but Chinese goods will still have to reach Belgrade from Piraeus. That necessitates passing through Macedonia — another non-EU member state — or Bulgaria. Neither of these countries has seen Chinese investment attention quite on par with that extended to Serbia. Furthermore, Chinese goods following the proposed route would have to travel from an EU member (Greece) to non-EU members with not-yet-cleared pre-accession agreements (Macedonia and Serbia), in order to enter another EU member (Hungary). It’s unclear those messy logistics would be worth the headache.

While the details regarding the respective strategies of both China and Japan in the western Balkans still unclear, the region is a potential battleground for a number of global actors — China, Japan, the EU, and potentially Russia and the United States — seeking to flex their soft power muscles (and perhaps more). The hope is that this competition could prove beneficial for the region, but it also runs the risk of destabilizing the Balkans, and plunging it into greater turmoil.

Liubomir K. Topaloff is an associate professor of political science at the School of Political Science and Economics, Meiji University. For 2017-2018, he is visiting faculty at Boston College. © 2018, The Diplomat; distributed by Tribune Content Agency

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