Great potential for boosting economic cooperation with Russia (Beta)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic underlined during talks with Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin that the Russian Federation is a reliable partner and a traditional friend, and also one of the most important economic partners of Serbia. Speaking about bilateral relations of two countries, Brnabic assessed that they are based on mutual respect and trust, as well as on the continued support of the two countries in many areas. She pointed out that this month 180 years of diplomatic relations is being marked, when Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to visit Serbia. Bearing in mind that the two countries have a free trade agreement, she pointed out that Russia’s support to further liberalization of imports of certain Serbian products would be of great importance to Serbia.
Oreshkin said that Russia made significant investments in Serbian companies. He pointed out that this is a very favorable moment for the Serbian companies and goods to be present on the Russian market, especially in the field of infrastructure development. The two officials assessed that there is significant potential for Serbian-Russian cooperation in the field of high technologies and innovation, as well as in cooperation among scientific-educational institutions. On this occasion, Ambassador of Russia to Serbia Alexander Chepurin handed Brnabic a congratulation letter of Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev on the occasion of the forthcoming Statehood Day of Serbia.
Activities to strengthen economic cooperation with Russia agreed (Beta)
Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajic spoke with Minister Oreshkin about the ways for improvement of overall economic and trade relations. Ljajic and Oreshkin concluded that in order to further strengthen bilateral economic cooperation, it is necessary to sign a free trade agreement between Serbia and the Eurasian Union, made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan as soon as possible. The two officials agreed that a meeting of the most important food manufacturers from Serbia and the most famous Russian trade chains be held in Moscow this year in order to create new business contacts and a greater presence of Serbian goods on the market of the Russian Federation. Ljajic and Oreshkin also discussed the possibilities of better representation of Serbian tourist potentials in Russia and further growth of the tourist exchange between the two countries.
Important role of OSCE for respect of human rights in Kosovo and Metohija (Beta/Tanjug)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic spoke with Head of the OSCE Mission to Kosovo (OMIK) Jan Braathu about the activities of this mission and issues that are important for covering the situation on the ground. The two officials agreed that the work of Mission in line with its mandate and status neutrality is very important, as well as the need for a consistent and systemic following of the respect for human rights and communities, as well as boosting activities of the Mission in that direction.
Fabrizi: Series of recommendations on how to improve media situation in Serbia soon (Beta)
EU Delegation Head in Serbia Ambassador Sem Fabrizi said in Nis that the EU would give an entire series of recommendations on how to improve the media situation in Serbia in its next report in April. When asked by reporters whether he was familiar with the cases of a local official in Nis who has said that journalists need to have the screws put to them, Fabrizi replied that he was not, adding that the EU was very carefully monitoring the situation in Serbia concerning media freedom and the freedom of expression. The freedom of the media and of expression is one of the key elements of the EU. This is about democracy and the right of the citizens to know. This is a standard that Serbia must respect, Fabrizi said. In Nis City Hall he met with Nis Mayor Darko Bulatovic and attended a presentation of projects that the city was realizing with the EU’s help. Fabrizi recalled that the EU was financing some very important infrastructure projects, like a highway from Nis to the Bulgarian border, a bypass railroad from Nis to Brestovac and a facility for processing waste water.
Fabrizi: problems between neighboring countries to be resolved before joining EU (RTS)
Fabrizi told RTS in an interview that the visit of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to Croatia is a very important step both for Serbia and Croatia, especially since it is at the highest state level. “This is not only good for the EU, it is also good for these two countries to have good mutual relations. It is important that the dialogue resumed and that it yields results. You know that the EU Strategy for Western Balkans was published last week and that all problems between neighboring countries need to be resolved before joining the EU. All steps in that direction are welcomed by the EU,” says Fabrizi. When it comes to Belgrade-Pristina relations, Fabrizi notes that these relations are of great importance and that they are part of Serbia’s EU negotiations. “A legal solution for this problem needs to be found, which would enable full normalization of relations,” said Fabrizi.
Varadi: Kosovo de facto not part of Serbia (TV N1)
In an interview for TV N1, professor of international law Tibor Varadi said that in the Serbian parliament there were no MPs from Kosovo, and that the legislative, court and administration authority did not extend on that territory, because of which it was less important that the secession of Kosovo was an unjust solution. “We now have some change of terms so that to preserve Kosovo means to have increasingly less countries which have recognized it. It therefore becomes extremely important whether Suriname recognizes or does not recognize it. However, de facto Kosovo is not a part of Serbia,” Varadi said. He said that the acceptance of the de facto situation would certainly be the hardest and most painful option for Serbia, but that there was no dilemma that it is necessary to separate the north of Kosovo and award that territory a specific autonomy. “There is no dilemma about that since even according to European measures the Serbs in Kosovo, notwithstanding to which state that Kosovo belongs, have the right to remain Serbs and keep their culture, schools, and monuments. Well, whether this will be achieved through a territorial division or by means of a broad autonomy, these are the realistic options and I would not like to be in the position of the politicians who will have to accept this,” Varadi said.
Purchase of large quantities of equipment and armament for RS MoI raises concerns in local and international public (BHT1)
The purchase of large quantities of equipment and armament including 2,500 machineguns, as well as the opening of a counter-terrorism training center for special police forces in Republika Srpska (RS), has caused deep concerns in local and international public. According to representatives of the Bosniak and Croat people, the purchase of new armament for “monoethnic” police represents a negative signal. Coalition ‘Domovina’ MP in the RS Assembly Nedim Civic announced that they will ask for transparent information on these processes, which he thinks is highly necessary because of the past and the future. On the other hand, Chairman of the RS National Assembly’s (RSNA) Commission for Security Milanko Mihajlica was quoted as saying that it was necessary to purchase new equipment because “police have come down to the level of a hunting association.” “I think the Ministry of Interior should be more transparent in this process and explain to the public what this is all about. I think the RS has the right to equip its police forces with the necessary equipment and armament for the fight against terrorism,” Mihajlica said in a statement to BHT1. RS President Milorad Dodik said that there is a plan to invest BAM 6 million in the training center, which he thinks is entirely in line with the law. “For 20 years we did not have the right to equip the police, now we have decided to do it. If it bothers someone, they should read the Constitution and the laws,” Dodik told reporters.
President of the European Defendology Center Dusko Vejnovic said that although he understands the need for additional explanations, all decisions were made in accordance with the law. He reminded of a control mechanism that includes the RSNA, the RSNA Commission for Security, the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Parliament’s Joint Commission for Defense and Security and other institutions of B&H. In this context, Vejnovic concluded that everything can be investigated in in the spirit of good cooperation and the Dayton Peace Accords. According to data from 2017, nearly 7,000 people were employed in the RS Ministry of Interior (RS MoI) in that year. Most of employees were Serbs; some 300 of them were Bosniaks while only 60 of them were Croats. Also, more than 5,000 police officers were recorded in the RS MoI in 2017, which means that each second police officer will be equipped if the number of 2,500 automatic guns is taken in regard – excluding previous purchases of weapons for the RS MoI.
Commenting on the issue, High Representative (HR) Valentin Inzko reminded that Austria has only 400 automatic guns. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) said in a statement on Tuesday that allegations on possible paramilitary organizations, training camps or excessive purchase of weapons should be taken seriously. “Such things represent a valid reason to be concerned since they can possibly pose a security threat in B&H. The OHR expects all competent institutions in B&H to investigate all these issues in details and take adequate steps, if necessary” the OHR stated.
RS Vice President Ramiz Salkic commented that the state and security agencies must explain how come there is a situation in which purchase of 2,500 automatic guns is suddenly in focus. “Someone must have given the consent to this as the RS is part of B&H and there are state-level ministries that must approve the trade in weapons”, Salkic stressed. He reminded that nearly 190,000 returnees live in the RS and that endangering them means endangering all citizens of B&H, concluding that the whole story is aimed at intimidation. The politicians in the RS agree that there is no problem with this procurement, which is completely legal and necessary. “The things that the British media and other foreign media wrote have nothing to do with the real state of things. We have our laws, we have our police and they cannot expect for our officers to patrol unarmed, or armed with wooden sticks, they need normal weapons, and I see nothing odd in that”, said SDS Vice President Kostadin Vasic.
Niksic and Inzko discuss developments related to amending of Election Law of B&H (FTV)
Leader of SDP Nermin Niksic met with High Representative Valentin Inzko in Sarajevo on Tuesday to discuss the current political situation in B&H and developments related to amending of the Election Law of B&H. Following this meeting, Niksic thanked to the US and the EU for their activities aimed to provide assistance in finding a solution for amending the Election Law of B&H. Niksic also called on SDA and HDZ B&H to accept or at least enable discussion on SDP-DF Proposal of Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates in the Federation of B&H Parliament.
SDP Presidency fears SDA and HDZ B&H actually do not want amendments to Law on Elections (Oslobodjenje)
SDP Presidency held a session on Tuesday in Sarajevo and concluded that the civil bloc in B&H can have maximum of three candidates for the Presidency of B&H, including Zeljko Komsic as a joint candidate for the Croat member of the Presidency of B&H. SDP Presidency also condemned unfounded claims of certain media and politicians that SDP is going to propose all three candidates independently, announcing that they will discuss potential candidates for Bosniak and Serb members of the Presidency with their partners in the upcoming days.
At the session, the party expressed fear that SDA and HDZ B&H do not want to have any amendments to the Law on Elections of B&H implemented, because that way the formation of the House of Peoples of the Federation of B&H Parliament would remain in the hands of the Central Election Commission of B&H, “which is evidently influenced by the ruling parties”. “It is clear that the authorities in the RS fear their own people and its justified rebellion over increasingly more difficult economic situation,” stated SDP and expressed concern over the decision of the RS authorities to purchase additional weapons for the RS Ministry of Interior. Prior to this session, officials of this party said that an agreement was reached with SDA and HDZ B&H that local organizations of the three parties will start – by the end of February -with negotiations on changes of election legislation related to local elections in Mostar. Member of SDP Presidency Zoran Mikulic said that it is possible to find a quality solution for local elections in Mostar through “sublimation” of all offered solutions, adding that this requires political will. Talking about amending of the Election Law of B&H, Mikulic said that the solution to this issue has to be agreed in state institutions. SDP’s Mikulic said that this party is prepared for cooperation in this process with all political parties. He went on saying that it is obvious that currently, SDA and HDZ B&H are not interested in changing of the election legislation. “In this way and with help of the international community, they want to prevent changing of the current situation in entire B&H,” stressed Mikulic.
Wigemark warns about attempts to exert political pressures on judiciary (EuroBlic)
Head of the EU Delegation to B&H Lars Gunnar-Wigemark stated for the daily that most people in B&H judiciary want to do their job according to the best possible professional standard. He added: “The problem is that there is an attempt to exert political or some other sort of pressure against them. It is difficult for everyone, no matter where he lives, to do his job if others interfere with his work and tell him what he should do.”
Vucic’s visit divides Croatian MPs (Hina)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic‘s visit to Croatia on Tuesday elicited numerous comments and political assessments by members of parliament already at the start of the parliament’s sitting, with Social Democrat (SDP) Bojan Glavasevic saying that “Croatia was humiliated yesterday” while Miro Kovac of the ruling HDZ party recalled that Vucic was a legally elected President but noted that “our neighbor will not be able to join the European family” before all outstanding issues between the two countries were solved. “Croatia was humiliated yesterday. Aleksandar Vucic, a man who has proven not to be our friend and who has no good intentions towards Croatia, a man whose only true intentions are those from his warmongering speech in the occupied Glina in 1995, a man who spoke in the Serbian parliament in 2000 about his wish to change Croatia’s internationally recognized borders to suit his Great Serbian fantasies, is on a visit to Croatia,” Glavasevic said. The MP went on to say that Vucic had never retracted his remarks and continued to be friends with and defend Veselin Sljivancanin, a Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) officer convicted of the Vukovar atrocity. “Our president invited such a man to Croatia, without the consent of the prime minister, gave him VIP treatment. That is what’s humiliating,” Glavasevic said, objecting that Grabar-Kitarovic was putting the interests of the international community and its pressure before Croatia’s interests. “It was Croatia’s president who yesterday banned reporters from asking Vucic about his Great Serbian warmongering speeches, and by doing so she has humiliated and spat in the face of every Homeland War victim,” said the MP. Recalling that Grabar-Kitarovic described Vucic’s bringing back to Croatia registers of births, deaths and marriages taken from Dvor na Uni by withdrawing Croatian Serb rebel forces in 1995 as major progress in relations between the two countries, Glavasevic wondered about protocols from the Vukovar Hospital and about information on locations of mass graves that were documented and in possession of Serbian intelligence services.
He said that there was a path to reconciliation but that neither Vucic nor Grabar-Kitarovic could lead people on that path as that could be done “by good people who prove their goodness with their lives.” “The President of Serbia may not be Croatia’s friend but Serbia definitely is a friendly country today, and friendships must be strong enough to survive attempts by people like Grabar-Kitarovic and Vucic who would want to undermine that friendship and instrumentalise it for their political goals.” Reconciliation can be started by those hungry for peace and friendship and not those hungry for power, Glavasevic said. Glavasevic’s father was a journalist in Vukovar and was killed after the town fell. Miro Kovac of the HDZ said that Vucic was a legally elected president but that his country would not be able to join the European family of countries before outstanding issues in Croatia-Serbia relations were settled. “He was elected by Serbian citizens and we must talk with Serbia’s legally elected president if we want to resolve the legacy of the war against Croatia,” said Kovac. “Other countries’ officials meet with Vucic, too… if we want to settle outstanding issues regarding the legacy of the war and aggression against Croatia, we can do it only with him,” said Kovac, confident that all outstanding issues would be resolved in relations between Zagreb and Belgrade and the EU and Serbia.
MOST party MP Miro Bulj said that a legal protest by veterans’ widows was banned yesterday, wondering why that was so. “Shame on her (Grabar-Kitarovic) for describing those who gave their lives as politically marginal, shame on her and the entire system for making a decision to ban the widows’ protest,” said Bulj, among other things. Bulj insisted that Vucic should have gone also to Glina, where he delivered a war-mongering speech in 1995, to offer his apology to local Serbs whom he “forced to do evil.”
Anti-Vucic protestors shocked with President Grabar-Kitarovic’s belittlement (Index.hr)
The President said that the protesters, whose support she used to enjoy, were politically marginal. HDZ’s member of parliament and president of the Association of Disabled War Veterans (HVIDR) Josip Djakic attended a protest against the visit by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The protest caused a reaction from Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who had invited Vucic to come to Croatia. “It is a democratic right to protest, but what I absolutely cannot support are insults and hate speech. We must not allow individuals from the edges of the political spectrum to dictate our policies. The policies and inter-state relations should be determined by us, statesmen and stateswomen, as well as a vast majority of our citizens who support President Vucic’s visit to Croatia,” said Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic during a joint press conference with her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.
In the evening, she again mentioned the protesters and apologized to Vucic and the Serbian delegation if they experienced any inconvenience, adding that protesters represented a minority, while most Croats want a dialogue between the two countries. Djakic said that the war veterans would think about whether she would continue to have their support. “If the President was talking about another HDZ MP Stevo Culej and me, then that was something which she should not have done. We are certainly not politically marginal people, especially when it comes to elections,” he said for Nova TV. “If Vucic demanded that the protest should not take place in front of the government building, then that is an embarrassment, just like his Greater Serbian policies,” Djakic said. One of the organizers of the protest was retired General Zeljko Sacic. “Croatia will not bow its head in front of an enemy of Croatia. Vucic, you are an aggressor, and you are not welcome in Croatia,” said Sacic during the protest. In the evening, he wrote a Facebook post. “Mrs. President, what was that? You have slandered Homeland War heroes, Croatian heroes and warriors, the righteous and truthful people, the victims. According to your opinion, we are all people from the edge of the political spectrum. You should be ashamed. You had other topics to discuss today, but you decided to talk about protesters who peacefully, in a civilized, legal and democratic manner presented their political views, which are different from yours. Now, you ‘rule by reason’ in an arrogant, smug, cold, vain and ungrateful way, but your reason seems to be limited. We think you will not rule that way for long,” wrote Sacic.
During her pre-election campaign in 2014, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic often voiced her support for war veterans who were at the time protesting against the SDP-led government. She won many votes from hard-right voters, who continued to support her during her term. With her invitation to Serbian President to visit Croatia, she surprised many of her followers, some of whom have started to accuse her of being a traitor, an accusation which is usually reserved for leftwing politicians.
Vucic in Vrginmost: You expect my humility, but you won’t see it (HRT)
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic visited the municipalities of Gvozd and Vrginmost, where he visited members of the Serb community there. In Podgorje, 3km from Vrginmost, he visited a Serb returnee family. He then went to Vrginmost where he spoke to teachers and professors at the elementary school and donated ten laptops. At the local cinema Vucic met with members of the Serbian community who presented their problems to him. Following the meeting, Aleksandar Vucic held a news conference. He commented the first day of his visit to Croatia. “I had good talks with the President and invited her to visit Serbia. To see how Croats are living, but also to further see how we can help here more,” he said. He said he was sorrier for the fact that they are attacking President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic more than him over this visit. “I see the political hysteria resulting from my visit is not dying down. We state officials will demonstrate a serious and responsible face and all those who don’t respect that will be sanctioned,” said Vucic. He added that this visit gave better results than expected. Vucic also commented on his own statement in Serb occupied Glina in 1995. “You expect my humility, but you won’t see it. I was polite and didn’t respond to insults with harsh words. We have differing views of history, but this doesn’t mean we do not need to live together,” he said. On several occasions he repeated that “views on the nineties diametrically differ among Croats and Serbs, but this is not a reason to not talk about the future.” Responding to reporters’ questions, including the question: “Does he today think that Glina is not Croatian?” Vucic said that he heard such questions from reporters a countless number of times. “Such a hunt or harangue will not be experienced by a Croatian President and Prime Minister when they come to Serbia,” he also said that “arrogant Chetnik is not slander or an insult because none of the Vucic’s were Chetniks.” One sentence weighs more than when someone burns someone’s house,” said Vucic accusing reporters of making up the fact that he mentioned greater Serbia in Glina. Addressing those gathered, Aleksandar Vucic said “Everything that we are seeking for you Serbs here – we are prepared to enable for Croats in Serbia the same second.” Vucic expressed the readiness of Serbia to financially aid in the purchase of state owned apartments for around 300 Serbs in Croatia with “eight million, but not for those that would immediately sell those apartments, but rather for those that want to stay living in Croatia.”
According to the population census in 2011, in Gvozd municipality 2970 people live in 19 villages, of which Serbs make up 66.53%. Almost a third of the population is older than 65 years of age. The local inhabitants, both Croat and Serb are faced with the same problems – primarily poverty is in question, unemployment and infrastructure problems. They all live without tensions in cohabitation.
Croatia and Serbia to appoint war reparations task force (Hina)
Commenting on his talks with visiting Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Monday, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that it was important to him that Croatia dealt with issues dating back to the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia, the time of the aggression of the Slobodan Milosevic regime against Croatia and occupation of a part of its territory, “which prevented and slowed down the country’s development and integration with the EU and NATO.” “And for that we didn’t even get an apology from anyone,” he stressed. Plenkovic went on to say that in developing relations with neighbors it was important to settle all outstanding issues, which was why he discussed with Vucic not only Europe’s new enlargement strategy, the situation in the region and economic cooperation, but also outstanding issues between the two countries. “And the outstanding issues are the war missing, the border, war reparations, protection of minorities, succession and the issue of cultural goods. We have to deal with all that in the period ahead,” he said. Plenkovic said that he had agreed with Vucic that the two countries’ coordinators for outstanding issues would form a special task force to deal with the topic of war reparations.
Plenkovic would not comment on President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic‘s assessment that people protesting against the Serbian president’s visit were politically marginal, noting that the protesters were people who had clearly articulated their position on the neighboring country’s leader with regard to his past. “You should ask the President about that,” he said when asked to comment on Grabar-Kitarovic’s comment. “Croatia is a democracy and those who for a number of reasons wanted to manifest their dissatisfaction, did so. That was not the first time it happened, such things happened in the case of some other visits, too,” Plenkovic said.
Did Croatia help Vucic improve his image in the West? (Vecernji list)
Commenting on the visit of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to Croatia, daily reads there is an interesting element that surfaced on Tuesday. Namely, influential web site politico.eu published an article penned by Vucic in which Vucic reflected on his political thoughts and actions from the period when he was young, in which he wrote that he “as a young man did not see what can be achieved with cooperation instead of divisions” and that he “now knows that Serbia paid a hefty price for extreme nationalism”. According to daily, timing of release of the article is interesting i.e. it happened during Vucic’s visit to Croatia, which triggered wonder if Croatia helped Vucic’s “diplomatic and political offensive” in improving his image. According to the daily, the article on politico.eu is well written and presented, “written in a way that the West and the EU hear what they want to hear”.
Plenkovic expected to discuss issue of Election Law of B&H in Brussels (HRT1)
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrived in Brussels on Tuesday and he is expected to meet with EU leaders on Wednesday. On the day of his arrival, Plenkovic met with President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Joseph Daul. Topics that Plenkovic is expected to discuss in Brussels include preparations for Croatia’s presidency over the EU Council in 2020, the EU’s Strategy for the Western Balkans, economic and financial issues, as well as the issue of amending the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). Namely, Plenkovic is expected to discuss manners for constructively bringing the different stances in B&H closer together. Reporter briefly reminded that B&H Presidency members visited Brussels about 10 days ago and their visit focused on the issue of amending the Election Law of B&H. Reporter concluded that not even EPP leader Daul’s mediation helped B&H Presidency achieve progress in solving this issue.
Opposition willing to enter presidential race but still has no candidate (CDM)
Journalist Milka Tadic-Mijovic hasn’t decided yet whether to accept civic opposition’s offer to be common presidential candidate of the entire opposition. However, Democratic Front (DF) has no clear decision either, since it seems the alliance wants to push its own candidate.
Presidential elections are scheduled for 15 April, but candidates of the major political entities have not been known yet. The deadline for submitting candidacies expires on 26 March. Thus, it seems that Montenegrin voters will not have enough time to become acquainted with agenda of the potential head of the state. There are speculations that DPS’s candidate might be the party leader Milo Djukanovic or Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic. Former interior minister Andrija Jovicevic might be DF’s candidate, whereas civic opposition favorite is Milka Tadic-Mijovic.
Until now several non-party figures have announced their candidacy – scientist Dragan Hajdukovic, Professor Djordjije Blazic and businessman Vasilije Milickovic. The Democrats are watching the situation. They say they wouldn’t interfere and that the party would support a common opposition’s candidate.
NOVA acknowledges Serbs are a minority (Pobjeda)
New Serb Democracy’s (NOVA) officials Goran Kikovic and Bojan Strunjas were appointed to the new, third, composition of the Serbian National Council. According to Montenegrin Constitution, National Councils are authorities established by national minorities. None of the NOVA members and officials wished to comment on the two of their colleagues’ appointment. NOVA officials’ participation in the Council represents a radical turn in that party’s policy, as it opposed the election of the Council’s first and second composition. Back in 2013, Slaven Radunovic accused the founder of the Council Momcilo Vuksanovic of planting the Council as a sort Milo Djukanovic’s cuckoo’s egg.
Pahor urged Kosovo to ratify the demarcation agreement with Montenegro as soon as possible (CDM)
Slovenian President Borut Pahor has called on Kosovo to ratify the demarcation agreement with Montenegro as soon as possible and to respect the agreements that are in line with Serbia during the negotiations mediated by the EU. At a press conference after meeting with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Pahor called for the ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. Thaci stated that Kosovo would fulfill all international obligations, as well as ratify the agreement on border demarcation with Montenegro and establish the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. “As we said, Kosovo has built up good relations with all its neighbors. When it comes to demarcation, it is a Kosovo issue and the agreement is fair,” Thaci said.
Dimitrov, Kotzias meet Nimetz in Vienna (MIA)
Macedonian and Greek Foreign Ministers, Nikola Dimitrov and Nikos Kotzias respectively, resumed the talks over the name issue in Vienna on Tuesday, under the aegis of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz. Name talks between Macedonian and Greek Foreign Ministers, were ongoing for more than three hours, MIA reports. The FMs met late on Monday, harmonizing positions prior to the joint session with Nimetz. After the meeting Ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries issued a press release which reads: “Following a constructive meeting as part of the efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the ‘name’ issue, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs agreed to continue their efforts under the auspices of the United Nations”.
President Meta meets European Parliament delegation (ADN)
President of the Republic, Ilir Meta welcomed on Tuesday the European Parliament delegation that is attending Stabilization and Association Council 12th meeting in Tirana. The Head of State welcomed the European Union commitment toward a safe membership perspective for 6 Western Balkans countries. He also guaranteed the interlocutors for Albanian citizens and politicians solid European vocation President Meta underlined the importance of political dialogue in function of the effort to meet key priorities and strengthen the rule of law in Albania.
EU accession negotiations, Kukan calls for unity (ADN)
The Euro-Parliamentarian Eduard Kukan urges to Albanian political class to show a major unity in order to accelerate the opening of accession negotiations with European Union. His appeal was addressed during the Stabilization and Association Council 12th meeting that was held on Tuesday in Tirana. “In spite of the fact that political parties in Albania are inclined toward the opening of accession negotiations a majority unity should be shown as a clear indicator that you deserve it. Every chapter of the accession negotiations is very bureaucratic thus your team should be composed by highly qualified individuals capable of following the presented arguments,” said Kukan. He expressed the personal certitude that European Commission would recommend the opening of negotiations but added that final decision stands in the hands of Council of Europe.
Electoral reform, OSCE/ODIHR suggests corrections (ADN)
Electoral reform was among the highlight of Stabilization and Association Council 12th meeting that was held on Tuesday in Tirana. The European Parliament representative, Monica Macovei, underlined the necessity of amendments in Electoral Code, adding that changes should be done ahead of the electoral process. “Pairs cooperation has crucial importance. Electoral Code should become subject to amendment. Corrections should be done ahead the electoral process not when everything has come to end. The last parliamentary elections were not the worst one, but there are some recommendations that should be implemented,” said Macovei. The Democrat MP Oerd Bylykashi, co-chairman of Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, declared that consensus is vital for electoral reform success. Even the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) MP, Klajda Gjosha shared Bylykbashi’s attitude asking for consensus on electoral reform.
Changes in diplomacy, President Meta signs 4 decrees (ADN)
The President of the Republic, Ilir Meta, has made changes in the Albanian Diplomacy by signing 4 decrees on Tuesday. Head of State signed the decree to release Filloreta Kodra from the post of the Extraordinary Ambassador and in the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Albania to the Office of the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva.
At the same time, he appointed in this post, Ravesa Lleshi. President also signed to release from the post of Extraordinary Ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Venera Domi and appoint in this place Ferit Hoxha.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Brussels Finally Got the Western Balkans by the Horns (EUinside, by Adelina Marini, 12 February 2018)
For the first time, the vision of the European Union for future enlargements acquires a complete and comprehensive look. The strategy outlined on February 6 is the first truly meaningful document that finally made a link between expanding outward and absorbing it inside. The document is as targeted at aspirants for European membership as at the EU itself and some of its hesitant members. There are many new things in the strategy, some of which have long been due. The most important thing, however, is that it is clear, frank and thorough. In this sense, the document actually shows the countries of the Western Balkans that the region is important to the EU, but that the path to membership is only one. The strategy is that “take it-or-leave” moment for the EU and the Western Balkan countries. A warning to the political leaders in the area.
The document shows that the Union is finally mature for what it is, and that makes the approach significantly easier for those who wish to be a part of it. The document very clearly and unambiguously shows to the candidates that the “we are pretending that we are joining, and they are pretending to believe us” game is over. Despite the overall good sense of the strategy, it has a very significant flaw – it is unfair in terms of reconciliation and settlement of bilateral disputes that have been inherited from the breakup of Yugoslavia, which have been poisoning the stability of the region for years.
A prenuptial agreement between the EU and the Western Balkans
The thing that immediately leaves an impression in the long-awaited document is that Turkey is excluded from the future enlargement plans of the Union. This is no longer just a strategy for enlargement, but, as the title of the document itself says, “A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans.” Much water has flown under the bridge in recent years in the enlargement process. A lot of time was wasted and a lot of mistakes were made. The expansion strategies so far were partial, too technical and non-binding. The new document is a radical change in comparison to former ones. It gives the candidate states a last chance to decide what they really want. For the first time, the EU has committed itself to participate adequately in this sort of prenuptial agreement, which is offered for signature to both the six Western Balkan countries (WB6) and the member states. The document is divided into two parts. The first contains an analysis of the state of the WB6 and sets out very specific measures to be taken by them. The second part contains the EU’s commitments to prepare for the new enlargement, both institutionally and financially. The deadline for marriage is the year 2025. The date is a very key and multi-layered element in the whole strategy. As euinside wrote, this is the deadline for completing the overall reform of the Union. By that year, the Union must complete the deepening of integration in the euro area, the Schengen reform, to find a solution to the problem of solidarity in every aspect, including the migration issue, change entirely the philosophy of the common budget, which includes a eurozone budget as well, to complete the institutional changes – the composition of the European Parliament, the change of the voting method in the Council (moving from unanimity to a qualified majority). Integration in the area of defence is also in a “full-ahead” mode, there is more and more talk about common foreign policy, and the change in trade policy is already a fact. All this makes the task of the candidates incomparably more difficult than it was in any of the previous waves of enlargement. That is why the European Commission, at the very beginning of the document, states quite frankly: “Our Union must be stronger and more solid, before it can be bigger.” This year, the Commission will publish a series of proposals to improve the democratic and institutional framework of the Union by 2025. One of the most important documents this year will be the new mechanism for preserving the rule of law and European values, which is expected to be presented in October. “Being a member of the European Union means accepting and promoting its values”, is written in the strategy. The new mechanism will apply to all and will be part of the accession treaties of the new member states when they manage to prepare. This is perhaps the biggest news in the whole strategy as it shows that the EU finally admits that it cannot demand things from candidates, which it cannot demand from its members. This is a huge step forward in the Union’s self-awareness. The strategy is full of learned lessons on both sides of the border. “Joining the EU is far more than a technical process. It is a generational choice, based on fundamental values, which each country must embrace more actively, from their foreign and regional policies right down to what children are taught at school.” This paragraph is one of the most significant in the strategy and shows that the EU has learned lessons from all enlargements so far, but has also understood what the biggest challenges for WB6 are. The crisis in the eurozone, the migration crisis and the populist crisis are the three most shocking events in the EU that have made it aware that enlargement is not just a geo-political unification of territories but a deep integration process that has a cultural, social and economic dimension. The euro crisis showed that the Union had been significantly integrated both financially and economically, but it had not matured enough to recognise this and support integration with the relevant institutions and instruments. The migration crisis revealed another institutional flaw – the Union had abolished borders, secured the free movement of people, but did not think it meant common external borders requiring common protection, as well as common foreign policy. And the populist crisis has, in turn, revealed how fragile the values are, and how quickly an alternative can be found that undermines the Union’s liberal foundations and that threatens its very existence. So, 2025 is a conditional date, which applies more to the EU itself than to the candidate countries. It has another task as well – to put a certain horizon on the candidates, a fishing rod for their populist elites and the citizens themselves to catch. The former to be able to continue to govern in piece, and the latter to slowly begin to imagine membership and perceive it as something more real than it is now. The strategy recognises that the date is too ambitious even for the most technically advanced countries. The Commission claims, though, that it is still realistic. Theoretically, if leaders in these countries suddenly decide to change themselves overnight, it is not impossible to make a huge step. Given the magnitude of the required transformation, however, 2025 seems rather unrealistic. It could become more real if the EU itself is able to carry out its part of the transformation that will lead to a multi-speed EU. Then it will be possible, in 2025, for the not fully transformed countries to join in the hopes of continuing their transformation in a looser circle. And if they want to join the core (the eurozone, PESCO, the common prosecutor’s office and other areas created through the enhanced cooperation procedure), they will have to complete the transformation entirely.
Enlargement number 8: mission (im)possible?
With the admission of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU unprepared, with the superficial and hastily designed Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, which was supposed to be a safeguard, the EU learned a very bitter lesson. It was further aggravated when Hungary and Poland set off on the illiberal path, and began to erode the fragile rule of law built enthusiastically in the romantic period of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This has shown that the process is reversible, which makes the mission of further enlargement closer to the impossible than to the possible.
What is the diagnosis of WB6 7 years before 2025 and 15 years after Thessalonнki?
What the Commission sees in the WB6 is “clear elements of state capture, including links with organised crime and corruption at all levels of government and administration, as well as a strong entanglement of public and private interests. All this feeds a sentiment of impunity and inequality”, writes in the diagnostic part of the strategy. Also recognised is the considerable political interference and control over the media and the judiciary. The rule of law has been a priority for the Commission since 2012, when the first significant, but from the point of view of the challenge a cosmetic, change in the approach putting the rule of law first. In all subsequent strategies, it has repeatedly been emphasised that the rule of law is a fundamental and that fundamentals come first, before everything else. This claim, however, remained unsupported by additional conditionality and the process gradually reached the point of freezing.
With its strategy of 6 February 2018, the Commission is now considerably more specific, and this part of the document is very similar to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, and is even better as an attempt has been made to correct the mistakes in it. With regard to the fight against corruption, candidate countries are required to set up independent specialised prosecution offices to fight corruption and organised crime, as well as specialised judicial bodies. Specialised police units should be assigned to them. Measures to confiscate illegally acquired assets must also be taken as well as to ensure loss of right to hold a public office in case of suspicion of corruption. Candidate countries are expected to set up e-procurement platforms, eliminating any possibility to conduct confidential procedures that are commonplace in the region. The Commission finds that organised crime has possessed the Western Balkans not only in terms of trafficking in human beings, drugs and weapons, but there is already a risk of criminal penetration in the political and economic systems. Therefore, the authorities are expected to fully disarm criminal networks by conducting systematic financial investigations and implementing more targeted instruments such as the freezing of proceeds from criminal activity, seizure without sentence in cases of unexplained wealth, and imposing a requirement for full disclosure of company ownership. To ensure that these recommendations are not only fulfilled on paper, the Commission is planning enhanced monitoring of implementation. More and more serious reviews will be organised by the EC with the participation of experts from the member states. Monitoring of the most serious corruption and organised crime trials will also be introduced. Progress in judicial reform will be measured by its effectiveness in bringing justice to citizens and business. Another novelty in the strategy is something that euinside has recently proposed – blocking the negotiation process until concrete results are achieved in judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime. euinside has proposed blocking the opening of new chapters, and the EC offers blocking the closure of already open chapters. In this way, the EC keeps the opening of chapters as a reward tool. This will be the carrot. In addition, the EU will engage the WB6 much more actively in the work of the Union in the areas identified as most important for their preparations for EU membership: justice and home affairs, security and the fight against organised crime, the economy and the single market, energy, transport and digital policy, social policy, education, research and development, foreign affairs and defence. Countries will be invited to participate more often in informal Councils and will have regular ministerial contacts. This had to be done a long time ago to avoid situations where candidate countries have no idea what the EU is, as shown by the assertion by Serbian President Alexander Vučić last year that he does not know that the EU is developing its own defence.
Transformation starts with education!
In the spirit of the beginning of the strategy, which states that EU accession is a generational choice but it is actually a civilisational one, the document calls for education to be highlighted as a top priority. Candidate countries are expected to work towards building greater tolerance, enforcing European values and bringing together society. This is not only a part of the preparations for EU membership, but also a tool to cope with the legacy of the region’s past. “The Western Balkans should invest more in their younger generation, our future EU citizens, and give them a perspective for the future, not the past,” the strategy says. This requirement is another part of EU’s maturing. At the end of last year, education was raised for the first time at the level of leaders. At the December Summit, conclusions were adopted regarding the need to build a European identity through education and culture, which is unprecedented throughout the history of the Union. This was at the insistence of French President Emmanuel Macron, for whom education is a central national, European and foreign policy goal. The WB6 are expected to increase investment in education, including training and retraining. For its part, the EU will double the funding of the Erasmus + student exchange program. A pilot scheme for the mobility of teachers and educators from and to the region is also envisaged.
The EU retains the double standard in bilateral disputes
Everything is very good in the strategy until there is a need for a real commitment of the EU to the WB6. National veto over the accession process has lain as the Sword of Damocles over the expansion policy for decades. A country, even as miniature as Slovenia, or as seismic as Greece, can cause a slowdown in the whole process, with all the consequences for the region as a whole. The multiple blocking by Slovenia of Croatia’s accession has in fact led to them importing their unresolved border disputes into the EU – a problem which the Union cannot fight from within.
The Slovenian veto failed to fully block Croatia’s accession but showed that border disputes could affect the smooth functioning of Schengen, even its expansion, or simply fuelling local tensions. However, the Greek veto had far more serious consequences. It brought Macedonia back decades, and last year there was even a danger of an ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslav republic. Against the backdrop of the amount and depth of unresolved bilateral issues, the Croatian-Slovenian border dispute is completely harmless. There are dozens of unresolved border, property and social disputes. Problems with missing people during the war, prosecution of war crimes, the struggle with nationalism, hate speech, the rewriting of history, the monuments game are all problems with explosive potential. Nevertheless, the EU declares neutrality by saying that “regional co-operation, good neighbourly relations and reconciliation cannot be imposed from outside. The leaders of the region must take full ownership and lead by example.” The allegation is extremely unfair, considering that vetoing in practise is an interference from the outside. Moreover, the involvement of member states in specific disputes makes things internal to the EU, not external. The EC has written what needs to be done to make progress: to avoid and condemn any statements or actions that fuel inter-ethnic tensions and actively fight nationalist rhetoric. “There is no place in the EU for inflammatory rhetoric, let alone for glorification of war criminals from any side.” But there is no commitment, although it is precisely this problem that poisons the European integration path of some of the most troubled countries in the region. Croatia is currently the country with the most unresolved border issues with WB6 countries. It could at any time take advantage of its membership to block their accession with entirely domestic objectives, regardless of committing to not do to candidate states what had been done to her. But the nationalistic temperature changes with almost the same dynamics as climate change, so it’s not a guarantee. The strategy also reserves Spain (as well as others) the right of veto over a future solution to the Kosovo problem. The EU has repeatedly recognised that blocking enlargement is detrimental to common European interests, but this did not find place in the strategy, and therefore no commitment is made to resolve this problem. At the same time, the EC requires candidates to make irrevocable commitments that when they become members they will not block the joining of other candidates from the region. The most strained issues in the region are the status of Kosovo and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although both are interconnected and have a common denominator – Serbia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, Croatia also has influence, being a member of the EU, Russia through Serbia and Republika Srpska, Turkey.
Foreign policy is becoming a mandatory condition
Serbia, Croatia and ethnic leaders in BiH are looking for a solution to their narrow national interests abroad – in Turkey and Russia, but not in the EU, and this directly affects the Union’s foreign policy interests. The strategy requires the WB6 to speed up its alignment with all EU foreign policy positions, including restrictive measures. Russia is not explicitly mentioned, but it is a significant progress that sanctions are mentioned, which makes things much more unambiguous. “Joining the EU is a choice, and one that requires sharing the principles, values and goals the Union seeks to promote in its neighbourhood and beyond, including full alignment with the common foreign and security policy,” is noted in the document. The WB6 is also expected to participate more actively in EU missions and operations around the world, including action to combat hybrid threats, intelligence, space, defence and security. This is another de facto ultimatum that the strategy sends to the region, which requires an end to playing with alternatives to the EU, masked in the form of old friendly, orthodox, fraternal and all other relations with hostile to the EU third parties. Although the EU’s common foreign policy is still rudimentary, there is already a commitment to changing it. There is a change in the EU’s trade policy that relies on reciprocity and extends the scope to cover wider areas such as democratic standards, human rights and environmental commitments. In other areas, however, the division in the EU is still high. Until recently, the Union had a hard time maintaining its unity in regards to Russia, but it was for the first time agreed at the December European Council to continue the sanctions completely unanimously and without any debate. However, this does not mean that the member states have a similar attitude towards Russia. It continues to be a strong dividing factor.
China is also a dividing factor with its 16+1 format, which includes all the South East EU member states, and the WB6 countries. This is causing discomfort and dissatisfaction with old members who see China as a partner but also a threat. There is also an ostensible unity in the EU with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also in December, the leaders adopted conclusions confirming that Jerusalem is still part of the two states/one capital solution, but some member states chose to abstain from voting in the UN, apparently in an attempt to maintain a warm relationship with the US administration of President Donald Trump. All this shows that foreign and security policy is still far from common. That is why the requirement for the WB6 to swiftly and decisively accept European foreign policy positions is justified, but makes the mission of accession even more difficult. The new EC strategy for the Western Balkans is more of a strategy for the EU itself than for the region. It is a call to the WB6 to finally make their civilisational choices not only in words but also in deeds. The first reactions in the region show that the message is understood. But that still does not mean anything. Neither is 2025 a firm date, nor is it realistic to expect the leaders of the WB6 will suddenly become democrats and will begin to share European values. However, the document is a good basis for deepening relations between the EU and WB6. The extent to which it will be successful depends on what the EU will be able to do with its own self and what the WB6 will be able to do from what is required of them. All this will develop in an atmosphere of significant global shifts and influences.