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Belgrade Media Report 03 July

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LOCAL PRESS

• Peace in Ukraine, compromise with Albanians (Tanjug/B92)
• Dacic: Withdrawal of recognition bothers the West (Tanjug/TV Happy)
• Djuric: Arifi can negotiate something that his grandfather left him (RTS/B92)
• Strengthening cooperation between judicial institutions of Serbia, China (RTS/Tanjug)
• Changing format would disturb Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (Beta)
• German government toppling would be bad news for Balkans (B92/Beta)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Two-thirds of delegates from Bosniak Caucus in Federation of B&H HoP ask for urgent session to discuss proposal of Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates (TV1)
• One of SDS’ candidates for parliament of B&H is standing trial for genocide in Srebrenica (Oslobodjenje)
• Parliamentary commissions for education of RS, Serbia hold thematic session to harmonize school curricula for ethnic group of subjects (BHT1/N1)
Croatia
• Germany wants to stop migrants at Croatian-Slovenian border? (Vecernji list)
fYROM
• EC screening for Macedonia to focus on Chapters 23 and 24 (MIA)
• Zaev wants opposition to rejoice accession talks date (MIA)
• Zaev: Referendum question yet to be defined (MIA)
• Parliament revote of law on ratification of name agreement on July 5 (MIA)
Albania
• Accession talks, Balla: Albania is closer than ever (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Balkans should build on momentum, focus on reforms – EU ambassador (EurActiv)
• Macron’s European ambition begins in the Balkans (European Council on Foreign Relations)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Peace in Ukraine, compromise with Albanians (Tanjug/B92)

 

Serbia and Ukraine have traditionally good and friendly relations, which they want to deepen at all levels, says Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Vucic added that Serbia wants all problems in Ukraine to be settled in a peaceful manner, while respecting the Minsk accords. “We hope and want all problems in Ukraine to be resolved in a peaceful manner, that the Minsk accords are respected, and we believe that the OSCE is a very important link to establish peace. President Poroshenko wished to Serbia to find a compromise with the Albanians, while Ukraine was always on the side of respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia,” Vucic said at a joint press conference with Poroshenko in Belgrade on Tuesday. According to him, there is mutual desire to promote bilateral relations, strengthen political dialogue and strengthen economic cooperation. “Serbia and Ukraine have no open bilateral issues. They consider each other to be highly friendly country. Our languages ​​are the most alike in the world and (in) the Slavic language group,” said Vucic.  He reiterated that, as Ukraine supports the territorial integrity of Serbia, Serbia supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine. “We think it is very important that we work seriously, responsibly and to improve our relationships and friendships. We think that in the coming period, a mixed committee can do a lot to improve economic cooperation, political and cultural ties,” he added. Vucic said that he believes there will soon be room in our cities for monuments to the most famous Ukrainian writers, and that cooperation in culture and sports will be opened, while readiness to exchange experiences in all other areas is also emphasized. Among them are also EU integrations, where we will point to each other’s mistakes and advantages, what we can and what we need to do together, he said.

 

Dacic: Withdrawal of recognition bothers the West (Tanjug/TV Happy)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has stated that the West is obviously bothered by the fact that some countries are withdrawing recognition of independence of Kosovo. “Now this is a political show when we are working on somebody withdrawing recognition, but it is not a political show when the Albanians are working on it, and not only the Albanians, but also the Germans, French, Italians, English, Turks, Emirates, Saudi Arabia, all of them are working on as many as possible countries to recognize Kosovo, but when we are doing this, then it is something non-important,” Dacic told TV Happy. He says there are attempts to change the format of the dialogue. “You have seen Haradinaj who says that the Americans should enter the negotiations. I visited Russia and met with Minister Lavrvo and he reiterated that if we want and request, and if the format is going to be changed, that Russia will take part in the dialogue,” said Dacic. Some EU member stated are not satisfied with the engagement of Federica Mogherini and the speed of the resolution of this issue, he says, adding that Mogherini is coming for talks in Belgrade, Pristina, Washington, Paris, London, Berlin, and that her modelling of the dialogue with certainly help. “It is complicated and I don’t understand why somebody opposes the fact that we are talking with different countries on their view regarding the Kosovo issue. Serbia is not doing anything whereby it is violating the negotiating process, this is an issue of our bilateral relations with those countries and there is a large number of countries that realize, when they are viewing all problems stemming from that, this can perhaps also happen to them,” said Dacic. He says that “third world” countries are now calling Serbia, because it is strengthening its foreign political and represent a bridge between those who had not had any relations until them. “It is an ideal for certain African countries to reach Lavrov, while when Lavrov sees and hears me, he asks me whether I am in Africa,” says Dacic.

 

Djuric: Arifi can negotiate something that his grandfather left him (RTS/B92)

 

The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric says the head of Pristina’s delegation in the technical dialogue is has no power to give anything. In response to Atif Arifi’s statement that Kosovo will never, at any price, give anyone a meter of its territory, Djuric said that the Pristina official cannot bargain with something that does not belong to him – and not one square meter of Kosovo and Metohija belongs to him. “Arifi can negotiate (away) something that his father or his grandfather have left him, if anything, but not the territory of Serbia. Kosovo and Metohija is the territory of Serbia and we will not give Albanian separatists one meter of Serbian land, because all of Kosovo and Metohija was and is the territory of Serbia,” said Djuric.

 

Strengthening cooperation between judicial institutions of Serbia, China (RTS/Tanjug)

 

Serbian Minister of Justice Nela Kuburovic spoke today in Beijing with Justice Minister of China Fu Zhenghua on the improvement of legal cooperation between the two countries, as well as the harmonization of regulations that will strengthen the implementation of the “One Belt, One Road”. At a meeting held on the second day of the International Forum on Legal Cooperation “Belt and Road”, held in Beijing, it was emphasized that it is necessary to improve the bilateral relations between the two ministries of justice through the signing of four new treaties on international legal assistance in criminal and civil matters, taking into account the intensified cooperation between Serbia and the People’s Republic of China in all social areas.
Also, the ministers concluded that it is necessary to strengthen direct cooperation between the judicial institutions, as well as the judicial professions of the two countries.

 

Changing format would disturb Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (Beta)

 

EU officials feel that a move to change the format of the Belgrade-Pristina talks wouldn’t expedite a deal to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Instead it would only weaken the process, they said, Beta is reporting. Instead of the substance of the talks, the negotiators will have to deal with who should be involved, at least for a while, they have cautioned. Beta has learned this from European Commission sources privy to the talks, who underlined that it was precisely at the latest meeting in Brussels between the Serbian and Kosovo presidents, Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci, that an agreement had been reached to step up the effort to make a legally binding comprehensive agreement to arrange the Belgrade-Pristina relationship.
The officials in Brussels said that it’s also necessary to implement the agreements that were reached earlier, about the Community of Serb Municipalities, as well as other matters, including energy. They underlined that only if the pace at which those open issues were resolved was quickened, the principle of “communicating vessels” would apply, and the talks to produce a comprehensive agreement would move forward. Both sides are working on it, as well as the European External Action Service (EEAS) mediating team, including Angelina Eichhorst, traveling and maintaining contacts with the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina. She did it before, and her trips are not part of “circular diplomacy”, but rather regular, now a little quicker, contacts with the negotiators. The EU sources say it’s not impossible to have another round of talks by the end of the month. Answering a remark that Washington is visibly in favor of a speedier dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and a quicker final solution, whereas the authorities in Pristina insist that the US should have a direct role in the dialogue, the EEAS sources say that the Americans have been directly involved all the time. The EU diplomats have said to Beta that it’s useless to change the format of the talks now, because the momentum will be lost. If the Americans get involved directly, Belgrade will insist that the Russians join in, too, and the permanent direct involvement, and even an impact by the Americans on the talks have been useful and necessary before, because Washington has a much stronger power of persuasion on the authorities in Pristina than the EU.

 

German government toppling would be bad news for Balkans (B92/Beta)

 

The possible fall of the German government would have a bad influence on the dynamics of the process in the Western Balkans region. This includes the normalization of the relations between Belgrade and Pristina, says professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade Dragan Djukanovic. “It would influence pretty bad the dynamics of the ongoing process in the region, primarily on the process of normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina, in which the German government has a very constructive role,” Djukanovic told Beta. He said that the breakup of the ruling coalition in Germany would in some way slowed down the rather significant momentum that the process has now received. He added that the engagement of Germany is also important for other processes in the region, because it is a multi-related equation with several linked elements. “Along with the process of normalizing Belgrade-Pristina relations, the engagement of Germany in Bosnia and Herzegovina is also important, in a very important period before the general election in that country in October, and Merkel’s government has made a special contribution to the agreement between Greece and Macedonia,” said Djukanovic. The survival of the German coalition government is jeopardized by the policy towards migrants, that is, disagreements on the matter between Merkel’s CDU, and the CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who serves as interior minister in Merkel’s government.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Two-thirds of delegates from Bosniak Caucus in Federation of B&H HoP ask for urgent session to discuss proposal of Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates (TV1)

 

On Monday, two-thirds of the delegates from the Bosniak Caucus in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina House of Peoples (HoP) asked Federation of B&H HoP Speaker Lidija Bradara to urgently schedule an extraordinary session, at which only one point of the daily agenda will be discussed and that is the proposal of Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates. Deputy Speaker of the Federation of B&H HoP Jasenko Tufekcic (SDA) said after speaking with Bradara and several other relevant people that there should be no problems or obstructions when scheduling this extraordinary session. “I want to believe that we will adopt this Law, that we will have enough votes, if we take into consideration the fact that by adopting this Law, we will eliminate all potential problems that might be created after October election results”, said Tufekcic. SDP B&H delegates in the Federation of B&H HoP said they will support this Law, because it is a fair solution which will stop the several-months long obstructions of HDZ B&H regarding this matter. SDP B&H delegates added that they believe that HDZ B&H delegates will ask for protection of vital national interest at this extraordinary session. The Law on Constituencies and Number of Mandates will also receive the support of the delegates from ‘Nasa stranka’ (Our Party). They believe this is a good solution, but an interim one, that only partially implements the decision made by the Constitutional Court of B&H. “The only permanent solution for this issue is the abolition of the House of Peoples and transferring of vital national interests to the House of Representatives, through the Caucuses. So, that would mean creating Caucuses in the House of Representatives that will be ethnical and it would be clearly stated what are the vital national interests, and they would be addressed the same way they are addressed in, for example, cantonal assemblies”, said ‘Nasa stranka’ delegate Edin Forto. Bradara must schedule the extraordinary session within the next fourteen days and if she fails to do so, the deputy speakers can schedule the session. Tufekcic already announced that he will schedule the session if Bradara does not do it first. HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic stated that Bosniak parties have jointly initiated the attempt to resolve the issue of election legislation on their own and added that this sends out a negative message. He noted that this is not in line with the decisions of B&H Constitutional Court. According to Covic, Croat parties will make their contribution to the effort to resolve the issue, but will not accept any violation of the Constitution. Covic also said that HDZ B&H will primarily respect the Constitution, when it comes to the Federation of B&H HoP, and insist on securing legitimate representatives of all three constituent peoples at all levels of government. Covic also stated that HDZ B&H and other members of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) will not allow adoption of electoral legislation at the Federation of B&H level that would allow outvoting of Croats. According to Covic, it is now crucial to find a way how to implement results of the October elections and make sure the country does not fall into a crisis.

 

One of SDS’ candidates for parliament of B&H is standing trial for genocide in Srebrenica (Oslobodjenje)

 

SDS has recently presented the list of party’s candidates for the Republika Srpska (RS) Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of B&H. One of SDS’ candidates for the parliament of B&H is Dragomir Vasic, who is charged with genocide in Srebrenica and is currently standing trial before the Court of B&H, together with four other persons. Vasic worked as commander of police forces in Zvornik during the war in B&H, and that an indictment against him was filed almost immediately after the previous elections in the country, when he won the seat in the RS Assembly. He used to be a representative in the RS Assembly more than a decade ago as well, until former High Representative in B&H Paddy Ashdown removed him because of his support to then war crimes indictees Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Vasic was banned from performing any kind of political duty until 2011, when the Office of the High Representative lifted the ban. The indictment against Dragomir Vasic was confirmed in December 2014, and the trial commenced in April 2015. Representatives of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of B&H told daily that deadline for submission of lists of candidates expires on July 9, after which the CEC B&H will start vetting candidates and verifying the lists. The Public Relations Office with the US Embassy to B&H told daily that “the Election Law of B&H clearly defines who is qualified to be candidate at any elections”. “The US Embassy’s policy is not to comment on individual candidacies for the upcoming general elections in B&H. As we have said many times before, we support policies which contribute to progress of B&H on country’s path towards Euro-Atlantic integration, and put citizens of B&H and their priorities first”, reads the statement issued by the US Embassy.

 

Parliamentary commissions for education of RS, Serbia hold thematic session to harmonize school curricula for ethnic group of subjects (BHT1/N1)

 

Parliamentary commissions for education of the RS and Serbia held a thematic session in Banja Luka on Monday. The session was dedicated to harmonization of curricula for ethnic group of subjects in the RS and Serbian schools. As stressed at the session, harmonization of the curricula does not exceed the framework of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA). It was announced that the curricula for ethnic group of subjects in the RS and Serbian schools, i.e. the Serbian language, geography, history, nature and science, are supposed to be harmonized and applied in certain number of lower grades of primary schools as of September this year. Addressing the press conference after the session, RS Minister of Education and Culture Dane Malesevic said that the idea was that the Serb people should study the same language, history and geography regardless of their place of living since the Serb people have one history and one language. Representative of the parliamentary commission for education of Serbia Ljubisa Stojimirovic stated that Serbs have nothing against the principle in which everyone will respect its own history, nation and language, but they also want the same thing for themselves – to be allowed to respect the Serbian language and history. In a written statement, representatives of the OSCE Mission to B&H told N1 that regional cooperation in the area of education is good, but that harmonization of curricula of the RS and Serbia could be counterproductive. “Harmonization of one curriculum with curriculum of a neighboring country can be counterproductive and undermine the process within which B&H authorities are implementing a reform to improve the quality of education for all students in B&H,” reads the statement of the OSCE Mission to B&H. DF leader Zeljko Komsic stressed that the purpose of this plan is to institutionally make genocide and ethnic cleansing through learning the ethnic group of subjects acceptable because, according to him, on the path of fighting for the Greater Serbia, it is necessary not only to deny these crimes, but also to glorify them. Representative of the Civic Alliance (GS) Emir Suljagic underlined that all of this is a part of a bigger plan, stressing that the RS and Serbia are integrating in other aspects, including the infrastructure and energy sector. HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic did not give a direct answer as to whether there is anything controversial in the announcement that the RS and Serbia will harmonize curricula for the ethnic group of subjects. Namely, Covic said that “if they as constituent and sovereign people want to do something on the entire territory of B&H, basis for that is that segment of our education and our language because everything else arises from that.” “Of course, we do not want in any way to deprive representatives of the other two constituent peoples of their right because that is their freedom,” Covic underlined.

 

Germany wants to stop migrants at Croatian-Slovenian border? (Vecernji list)

 

Although the last weeks’ meeting of the European Council, the summit of 28 heads of EU states and governments, ended with an apparent success for Croatia, which demanded speeding up the readmission of rejected asylum-seekers back to Serbia and the strengthening of border capacities of Croatia’ neighbors which are not part of the European Union, what followed was an unpleasant surprise for Croatia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s statement that the German border police officers are willing to help protect external borders in Slovenia and Bulgaria was surprising because the Slovenian border, unlike the Bulgarian one, is not the EU’s external border. It is just the external border of the Schengen area. And, in recent months, Croatia has been trying to explain to its European partners the importance of strengthening the EU’s external (eastern) border in Croatia, instead of creating additional barriers at the Croatian (western) border with Slovenia. The Chancellor’s idea, which focuses on the Slovenian border, is contrary to Croatian endeavors. Her statement also surprised Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar. “At this point, that is not necessary. This solution should be considered if a large increase in migration numbers occurs,” Cerar added, stressing that Slovenian police were well protecting the Schengen border. The idea of ​​sending German border guards to the Slovenian-Croatian border was not just a passing comment at the press conference given in Brussels, but part of the letter written by Angela Merkel who is trying to rescue her ruling coalition from a possible collapse if its sister party CSU is not satisfied with the decisions taken by Merkel at the summit.

However, the latest solution proposed by Merkel could be futile if the CSU and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer decide that the summit agreement on the migrant crisis is inadequate and if they continue to insist on a plan to send police officers to the German borders with orders to refuse asylum-seekers on the spot.

 

EC screening for Macedonia to focus on Chapters 23 and 24 (MIA)

 

The European Commission and Macedonia are synchronizing calendars this week for launching the screening of the national legislation – the first step towards EU accession talks. On 17 July EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn is set to visit Skopje and along with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev officially announce the start of the screening process. The screening, or analytical examination of the EU acquis, is a preparatory phase of accession negotiations. The screening process is carried out jointly by the European Commission and each of the candidate countries. This process allows the latter to familiarize themselves with the acquis and, subsequently, to indicate their level of alignment with EU legislation and outline plans for further alignment. A further purpose of screening is to identify those areas of the acquis in which progress is needed if the candidate countries’ legislation is to be compatible with the EU rules. These areas are divided into chapters.

 

Zaev wants opposition to rejoice accession talks date (MIA)

 

The name agreement has fulfilled the centuries-long aspiration of our predecessors to have our own country. Finally, we are a country recognized by the whole world. Our Macedonian language and Macedonian identity have been recognized and there is no more dilemma, stressed Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Monday. “Until now, we were fYROM, Former Yugoslav Republic. Humiliated wherever we went. An internal debate of whether our Macedonia will survive was always active. Today, there is no dilemma – the centuries-long aspiration to have our own country has been fulfilled,” Zaev said responding to a question of an opposition MP during yesterday’s Q&A session. Macedonian identity and Macedonian language, he added, are finally recognized. “This is a settled issue in Macedonia, but the final decision will be made by the citizens.” “After 27 years, Macedonia will have the chance to decide what kind of future it wants and what kind of future it wants for its children. Macedonia will survive, the country will be here even if the citizens support the name referendum,” Zaev said accusing the opposition of spreading ‘antagonism’ asking VMRO-DPMNE: ‘Why have you failed for 11 years to bring Macedonia into the EU and NATO?’ “Make up your mind, where do you want to go and only then you will help the citizens. I am pro-EU and NATO and I have wholeheartedly supported the deal with Greece and I’m prepared to assume full political responsibility.” Zaev’s speech sparked fiery debate between the ruling majority and the opposition party in parliament. Let’s finally rejoice this happy news – Macedonia received a date for the start of EU accession talks in June 2019. It is nice to sometimes celebrate together positive decisions for Macedonia. It is appalling to deny to this day the fact that Macedonia received an accession talks date, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told a Q&A session in parliament on Monday. Zaev was responding to VMRO-DPMNE MP Goran Manojlovski who asked whether Macedonia really received an EU accession talks date. According to the PM, one argument for the date is the launch of the screening process on July 17. “Another proof is that the European Council will never again return to the issue of Macedonia’s accession talks date. The opposition’s focus should finally be on the screening and the negotiating framework, so that the first chapters of the negotiating process open in June of next year,” stressed Zaev. Regarding a question from Besa MP Fadil Zendeli on the nationality inscription in the passports, Zaev said it would read “Macedonian/citizen of Republic of North Macedonia”, in line with the name agreement.

According to him, the term would be valid only following a constitutional revision and a referendum approval. “This has been done because Macedonia is a multiethnic country that is home of the predominant Macedonian community, but also the Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Vlach, Bosniak, Roma and other smaller communities,” stressed Zaev. The European Commission (EC) will keep supporting Macedonia’s reform efforts in preparing the country for starting the EU accession talks in June of 2019, EC spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told MIA on Monday. During the screening process the European Commission intends to focus on the Chapters 23 and 24 of the EU acquis, which cover the spheres of judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security.

 

Zaev: Referendum question yet to be defined (MIA)

 

The referendum question is not yet known. We should define, together with political stakeholders and the civil sector, whether it is going to be an advisory referendum or a legally binding referendum. In any case, the outcome will be mandatory, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Tuesday. “We haven’t discussed the issue yet. It will be put up for debate probably after July 11-12, when we expect to receive the NATO membership invitation. After these dates we will hopefully set the date for a referendum, define the referendum question and determine the style of the referendum itself,” Zaev told reporters. Most likely, the referendum will take place either in late September of in early October. “Together with all political stakeholders and the civil sector, we will decide whether the referendum will be advisory or binding. But, everyone needs to know that the outcome will be mandatory, meaning the will of the citizens should be respected,” he said. The PM said the question would likely include the name deal with Greece as well as NATO and the EU. “All options are open in the voting. It all depends on how the political stakeholders in the country will agree allowing the citizens to get a fair chance and to clearly say what they think it’s best for their future. I call on the citizens to vote for the Macedonian future,” Zaev concluded.

 

Parliament revote of law on ratification of name agreement on July 5 (MIA)

 

A session in which MPs will vote again for the law ratifying the name agreement has been scheduled on Thursday July 5, it was agreed Monday in a coordination meeting of Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi and coordinators of parliamentary groups. Last week, a decision of President Gjorge Ivanov was forwarded to the Assembly saying he wouldn’t sign the decree promulgating the law on the ratification of the final agreement for the settlement of the differences as described in the UN Security Council resolutions, the termination of the 1995 Interim Accord and the establishment of a strategic partnership between the parties.

Macedonia’s parliament ratified the name deal on June 20 – 69 votes in favor and 40 against. The same day, the document was signed by speaker Xhaferi before being set to the President’s cabinet. As announced earlier, Ivanov returned the bill without signing the decree.

Now, the law is in the hands of the lawmakers. The law on the ratification requires to be passed with a majority of 61 votes in favor. After a revote in Parliament, the agreement will be once again sent to the President, who is obliged under the Constitution this time to sign it.

It is expected after the revote President Ivanov again to refuse to sign the bill into law and to implement the so called ‘pocket veto’. He has already applied this veto regarding the Law on the Use of Languages. Ivanov has backed up his decision not to sign the decree promulgating the law on the agreement’s ratification with a list of reasons. Parliament speaker Xhaferi said that after the revote, he would send the law to the Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia having one signature only. He also said he would do the same thing with the law on languages, whose decree remains unsigned by President Ivanov.

 

Accession talks, Balla: Albania is closer than ever (ADN)

 

The head of the Parliamentary Group of Socialist Party (SP), Taulant Balla, declared on Monday that Albania is closer than ever with negotiations to European Union. According to him, these are not government words, but from the international friends of Albania. “Albania is closer to Europe. This is not said by me, nor the government, but from the international friends of Albania, who are more than ever closer to our old and new history. Albania was visited today by the reporter for Albania in the European Parliament, MEP Knut Fleckenstein, who spoke about the positive decision of the Council, for the great support that Albania has of the 6 largest political groups in the European Parliament. The Council’s report clearly states that there should be no boycott attempts and there must be a spirit of co-operation, which in our policy is lacking, as the opposition does not know other sub-initiatives except boycott and clash,” said Balla. He added that it is very important that Albania took a ‘yes’, a date and a preparatory job.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Balkans should build on momentum, focus on reforms – EU ambassador (EurActiv, by Sarantis Michalopoulos, 3 July 2018)

 

The attitude that the EU owes something to the candidate countries in the Western Balkans is wrong, as well as the belief that concerns over the growing Russian influence in the region will be enough to bring someone “closer to the EU”, according to the EU Ambassador to Montenegro. The EU has never been so active in the Western Balkans as in the last six months, Estonian diplomat Aivo Orav told the “Western Balkans and the EU – Where do we go from here?” event organised by pro-EU NGO European Movement Montenegro on 28-30 June.

“Juncker’s statements, the Western Balkan Strategy and the latest Council conclusions […] everything is in the hands of the candidate countries now,” Orav said, making clear, though, that the EU is not expected to “force” anyone to join the club. Montenegro, which broke away from a union with Serbia to become independent in 2006, opened the accession negotiations with the EU in 2012 and is considered the “frontrunner” compared to the rest of Western Balkan countries, followed by Serbia. Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are also candidate countries but they have yet to start negotiating. Due to reservations mainly expressed by France and the Netherlands, Tirana and Skopje did not get the green light to start the negotiation process at the EU Council in Luxembourg last week. Instead, the EU leaders decided to start negotiations in June next year, provided a string of conditions on rule of law, crime and corruption are met. The stance of France and the Netherlands did not please Greece’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Kotzias, who urged the EU to keep its word to Western Balkans.

“If some countries had issues with North Macedonia and Albania, they should have notified them before. Now, we have the Commission’s report and the proposal to look at the opening of the negotiations. Now we’ve reached the point and we have to do it,” he recently told EURACTIV in an interview.

 

Geopolitics versus technical criteria

Orav explained that Albania and FYROM needed further improvement in strengthening the rule of law, fighting corruption and ensuring media freedom. “This is not a joke,” he warned. Asked by EURACTIV about the Russian influence in the region, he said it was a big concern for everybody, but this argument alone is not enough. “The influence of third parties does not bring anybody to the EU. At the same time, due to this influence, I believe that the EU has become so active in this area.” He emphasised that decreasing third countries’ interest goes hand in hand with fighting corruption. “Those who are corrupted are also most exposed to the influence of third parties,” he pointed out, adding that the European Commission is strictly following the basic democratic requirements, known as the Copenhagen criteria. He also spoke in favour of the Council’s latest conclusions about Tirana and Skopje, saying the Council could have chosen to say nothing on the issue. Orav, who previously served as head of the EU Delegation to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the time of the Gruevski government, said he was satisfied with FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who went back to Skopje and “sold” the name deal with Greece as a big victory for his government. “He [Zaev] was always optimistic, even in desperate situations. Zaev inherited the urgent reform priorities as Gruevski dealt with other issues. It’s a question of how people will react to the referendum and if he will have time to deal with these unpopular reforms,” the EU diplomat said.

 

Not a ‘business as usual’ approach

In an interview with EURACTIV, Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanović noted that even by mentioning a date [2025], the Commission gave some hope to the region. “Enlargement is not a matter of indefinite time but we live in a very difficult world. I am afraid that the ‘business as usual’ approach will not work that smoothly. Things are changing very fast,” he warned. He said Montenegro was interested in seeing FYROM and others moving forward with the accession talks and voiced hope that his country might be ready sooner than the timeline.

Referring to the recent Council conclusions, he noted that citizens in Macedonia might be a bit sceptical about the name deal because the EU did not invite Macedonia to start accession talks immediately. In June, Athens and Skopje reached a deal on the long-standing name issue and agreed the Republic of Macedonia be renamed “Republic of North Macedonia”. Zaev has said he was going to hold a referendum on the new name in September or October. “The courage demonstrated by the leaders of Athens and Skopje at this particular moment having in mind the difficult political landscape in both countries is something to be praised and rewarded,” Darmanović said, adding that citizens in Skopje want some impetus and encouragement. He added that Macedonia as a society has lost 10 years since the NATO negotiations begun and during that time things came on the brink of collapse. “Some incentives are necessary. In a year from now, anything can happen.”

 

Russia has accepted Montenegro’s Western path

Darmanović said there are strong competitors vying for influence in the Balkans and the EU was aware of this. “But sometimes more courageous decisions are needed. Maybe the events and the situation will lead Europe in this direction.” He also explained that the EU cannot neglect the geopolitical factor in the region. “In geopolitics, there is no luck. If someone is absent, somebody else will fill the vacuum. It’s a standard rule of international relations and Montenegro experienced that in a tough way in October 2016.” The minister referred to the alleged coup plans staged by the pro-Russian opposition to sabotage Podgorica’s efforts to join NATO.

“We were surprised by what happened in October. Our relations with Russia were a bit cooled down because Russia had started meddling in our domestic politics. On the other side, we are faithful to our progressive foreign policy and we ally 100% with the EU foreign policy,” he told EURACTIV. He added that things have calmed down now. “Russia has probably accepted that we became a member of NATO. We never wanted to have enemies anywhere in the world.”

Along the same line, Momčilo Radulović, president of the European Movement in Montenegro, said the Council’s decision was not promising. “The Macedonian leadership deserved a stronger support from the EU structures and it’s high time we realised that most reforms are fostered in the period after the negotiations start. The case of Montenegro is clear about it. All the reforms were strengthened when negotiations started,” Radulović emphasised. He said that the EU has a lot of tools to stop negotiations whenever it wants and that delaying decisions does not lead anywhere.

 

More transparency in IPA funds

As far as the pre-accession funds (IPA) are concerned, Radulović said their use should be better organised as there is lack of capacity in the public authorities. He also warned that some of the funds, which are allocated by the local EU Commission services, have not been distributed transparently especially those delivered to civil society. A number of NGOs have signed the “Balkan Voice”, an initiative which aims to better involve the civil society in the Western Balkan countries’ negotiating process. “We want to make this cooperation a standard for all countries,” Radulović concluded.

 

Macron’s European ambition begins in the Balkans (European Council on Foreign Relations, Commentary by Loïc Tregoures, 3 July 2018)

 

Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to block accession of Macedonia and Albania to the EU have nothing to do with the Western Balkans, and everything to do with the European elections

The European Council has reached an agreement on opening accession talks with Macedonia and Albania, to begin in June 2019 if reforms continue to deliver concrete results. The European Commission, the European Parliament, and other member states including Greece gave a green light to the process despite initial opposition voiced by France and the Netherlands. Emmanuel Macron set out the French position on enlargement at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in May, stating that there could be no enlargement before a deepening of the European Union itself. This move may have been related to worries about populist parties within his own country. But this intervention was very much in contradiction to his speech at the Sorbonne last year, where he made a strong case for a united Europe led by a clear vision which does not back down in the face of anti-European forces. It seems that Paris’s preference for delaying the opening of talks with Skopje and Tirana has fallen victim either to unfortunate incoherence or fears of populist politics at home.

What happened between the vision in Sorbonne and the slammed door in Sofia has barely anything to do with the Western Balkans themselves, especially considering Macedonia’s remarkable achievements in just the last year. It has to do with domestic French populist parties and the Republicans turning Balkans enlargement into an election issue ahead of the 2019 European parliament poll. However, pledging to block Macedonia and Albania is unlikely to move any votes. Moreover, this strategy of appeasement of populist and far-right parties has never produced proved effective for pro-European or centre-right parties, implementers of these strategies themselves, be it several decades ago or today. Instead, it jeopardises a government that has bet its entire credibility on moving forward towards the EU and NATO. Telling Skopje that negotiations may open in June 2019 after referendum on Macedonia’s future name is reminiscent of a popular formula used in the Balkans: “We’ll vote for the opposition when they are in power.”

At the Sorbonne, Macron put the values of democracy and rule of law at the core of what he believes should be a new European project. Criticising inertia and fear of expressing pro-European ideas and values, he advocated strong, audacious, and proactive ambition as the only way to counter the populist and far-right narrative on Europe. On the Balkans, he had highlighted the strategic choice of binding the region to the EU and underlined the necessity to respect the acquis and democratic reforms. Several months later in Sofia, Macron drew a surprising distinction between a sovereign Europe and a united Europe. Sovereignty meant that the Balkans should be anchored to the EU for historical, geopolitical reasons. Yet unity meant that there can be no enlargement before the EU itself is reformed.

This is a very debatable argument considering that the process is at least a decade old, and so there was little point in the president attempting to block the simple opening of negotiations, paving the way to a long and demanding process. Besides, as far as the legal and political balance of the EU and its functioning are concerned, Macedonia, or Montenegro, – countries of respectively fewer than two and less than one million people – can hardly be compared to Turkey or Romania. Has anyone noticed a significant change to the internal balance since Croatia became an EU member in 2013? Macron also stated that: “it would not be serious to open a new enlargement process today without conditions”, adding that the Commission has pointed to specific issues like corruption and migration on which much more should be done. It ought to be noted though that no enlargement process has ever opened nor concluded without conditions. Moreover, he stated that countries working hard, like Macedonia, should be rewarded.

It was never a given that enlargement would naturally find its place in Macron’s design for a more democratic Europe. There was hope, especially regarding the positive change in Macedonia, that enlargement policy would be more political, based on values, along with Macron’s aspirations for Europe, against illiberal regimes influence within and out of the EU. Unfortunately, this did not materialise. Thus, what is still lacking is an enlargement policy designed after Macron’s own vision of Europe developed in Sorbonne, in order to show, with his own words, that enlargement can go hand in hand with a renewed European ambition, provided it is defined.

It could be argued, from a liberal perspective, that countries in a situation of illiberalism and state capture, where the hegemonic party in power has undermined the rule of law and established a fully clientelistic model, should not move closer to the EU, provided it works the other way around for pro-EU governments like the Macedonian one, hence Belgrade’s deafening silence over the name deal reached by Skopje and Athens. But this approach is not even discussed openly. Furthermore, Skopje’s name deal referendum may fail this autumn, which would entail the government’s resignation. Likewise, the 2019 election in Greece could bring to power a government opposed to any deal with Skopje. Therefore, blocking the opening of negotiations is a very risky move for no political gain for Macron, for pro-EU parties and for the EU itself. On the contrary, it could very well backfire, only to the benefit of illiberal forces in the region backed by Moscow.

The Balkans is the only region where the EU has the power to design a new reality, but it is also the region where Europe has failed the most. The referendum in Macedonia this autumn and election in Bosnia in October should be closely followed given potentially negative outcomes. In the wake of a perilous NATO summit considering the views of Donald Trump on the alliance, if Europe is to become an autonomous and powerful actor, including from a military standpoint, along Macron’s ambition, it starts in the Balkans.

Loïc Tregoures, PhD, is a lecturer in conflict analysis at the Catholic Institute of Paris.

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