Norway’s Foreign Minister visits Serbia (Beta)
Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said during a June 24 visit to Belgrade that bringing Serbia and Kosovo back to the negotiating table was the only way to resolve open issues. “We want the dialogue to continue because it’s the only way to resolve open issues. I’m traveling to Pristina later today, and it’s my intention to bring up the same issues there, hoping to see the talks back on track soon,” the Norwegian foreign minister said.
Belgrade is prepared to reach a compromise through a dialogue with Pristina, the Office of the Serbian President quoted President Vucic a meeting with Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide. The president explained to the Norwegian minister the reasons behind the deadlock in the Belgrade – Pristina talks. Vucic shared Serbia’s commitment to identifying a mutually acceptable compromise in a dialogue mediated by the European Union. For that to happen, he said, Pristina must first withdraw a 100-percent import tariff on Serbian products. The two officials agreed that Serbia and Norway had developed a successful political dialogue, along with great potential for the development of economic ties. Vucic also said that the Nordic Council, offering a unique example of strong regional ties, could serve as a model of integration in the Western Balkans as well. Creating stronger regional ties is one of Serbia’s key priorities, the president stated.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that Norway’s assistance in breaking a deadlock and moving forward the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina was very important for Serbia. The Serbian cabinet quoted Brnabic as saying that Belgrade was prepared to continue the talks with a view to reaching a compromise, as soon as Kosovo decided to revoke the 100-percent tariff on Serbian and Bosnian imports. The deadlock has only increased tensions across the region, Prime Minister Brnabic has warned.
Gojkovic thanks El-Sisi for not voting against Serbian interests (RTS)
Serbian parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for not voting against Serbian interests in international organizations. According to a press release issued by the speaker’s office, Gojkovic also thanked El-Sisi for being understanding regarding Belgrade’s stances on resolving the Kosovo issue. El-Sisi and Gojkovic also discussed improving bilateral cooperation. They agreed Serbia and Egypt had traditionally good and friendly ties. The officials stressed the importance of an imminent session of the Mixed Serbian-Egyptian Committee, which will be a chance to sign many agreements to advance cooperation between Serbia and Egypt. El-Sisi sent his compliments to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and said he anticipated a visit to Serbia soon, the statement read further.
Venice Commission: Church property seizures only with court ruling (Beta)
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has praised the intention of the Montenegrin government to regulate freedom of religion in a modern way through legislation, while at the same time warning that religious communities’ property could not be seized without a court ruling.
In its opinion on the bill, released on June 24, the Venice Commission said it could understand the government’s concerns that certain religious property, part of Montenegrin cultural heritage, had been illegally registered under religious ownership in the 1990s.
However, the Commission recommends adding a provision to the legislation that would only permit the state to claim ownership over such property after a final court ruling.
Further, the Commission recommends that the draft law should clearly state that change of ownership of religious community property would not automatically impact an existing right to use said property.
The bill on freedom of religion adopted by the Montenegrin government states that all religious communities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, have to prove that they had owned any church property before 1918, or that property will be seized.
The Serbian Orthodox Church staunchly opposes this part of the legislation and maintains that the Montenegrin authorities want to grab the property “unilaterally, bypassing the courts.” According to the Serbian Orthodox Church, this provision of the law does not have a positive opinion of the Venice Commission. Podgorica, on the other hand, hailed the opinion of the Venice Commission, stressing that it had never intended to seize religious community property unilaterally.
Dacic: We expect Montenegro to respect Serbs’ rights (Beta)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on June 24 that Belgrade expected Montenegro to respect the rights of Serbs in that country and refrain from moves that could cause conflict. Commenting on tension surrounding the Bill on freedom of religion in Montenegro, Dacic said Belgrade was absolutely against escalation between Serbia and Montenegro. “We are absolutely against escalation between Serbia and Montenegro and the Serb and Montenegrin peoples. These aren’t any newcomer Serbs, but Serbs that have been living in Montenegro for centuries, who make up more than 30 percent of the population” Dacic said. The Bill on freedom of religion adopted by the Montenegrin government states that all religious communities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, have to prove that they owned church property before 1918, or that property will be seized. “We hope the opinion of the Venice Commission will be such that it will prevent any possible problems regarding that legislation” Dacic said.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Dodik: Thaci was not invited to SEECP summit as Kosovo President but rather as representative of Pristina, Kosovo remains unrecognized (ATV)
Chairman and Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik reacted on Monday to the media allegations that he sent an official invitation to Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, inviting him to attend the annual South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit, which will be held in B&H this year, starting on July 1. (The summit is expected to be attended by presidents and Ministers of Foreign Affairs of SEECP member countries.) In his reaction, Dodik stated that Thaci has not been invited to the SEECP summit as a Kosovo President, but rather as a representative of Pristina. Dodik noted that Kosovo has been invited to the summit as “an undefined entity”, with a footnote that it has been informed that it would partake in the summit as such. The B&H Presidency Chairman specified that the letter sent to Thaci differs from the letters sent to other participants in the summit, most notably that the word president has been placed next to names of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He stressed that only “Pristina” stands next to Thaci’s name in the letter. In this regard, Dodik stated: “Kosovo remains unrecognized. Let him (Thaci) attend, if he agrees to arrive to the summit in a way defined in the footnote. I have nothing against that.” Dodik reminded that he presented his stance on Thaci when he told him that the RS does not have any ambitions or territorial pretentions in Kosovo, but that he must understand that Kosovo is a part of Serbia.
The Cabinet of the Serb member of the B&H Presidency issued a statement, reminding that Kosovo has been participating in the SEECP summit since 2014, under the same footnote, and Dodik was not the one who made that decision. The statement reads: “At least we in Republika Srpska (RS) recognize the warrant that Serbia issued against Thaci, despite the fact that some do not recognize it. However, for the duration of his attendance at the summit, he will have full immunity in line with the international law.”
RS MoI announces withdrawal of proposal on establishing reserve police unit; RS PM Viskovic: If we cannot have reserve unit, we will create gendarmerie (ATV)
The Republika Srpska (RS) Ministry of Interior (MoI) issued a statement on Monday announcing withdrawal of the articles on establishing the reserve police unit in the RS from the proposal of amendments to the Law on Police and Internal Affairs of the RS, which is currently in procedure in the RS National Assembly (RSNA). The RS MoI specified that this decision has been made, given that establishing a reserve police unit would require a longer period of time and funds in terms of carrying out vacancy procedures and selection, purchase of uniforms and other equipment, along with the time for an adequate training to put the unit in function. The RS MoI also announced its decision to reorganize its intervention forces for the sake of better and more efficient response to security challenges that the RS faces, including a huge number of illegal migrants. The RS MoI’s statement reads that, for better functioning, the support unit will change the name into the gendarmerie, and it will be strengthened with members of the active composition of the RS MoI, primarily young police officers who acquired their police education at the police academy.
RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic stated that “in a way, this law will be removed from the procedure at this moment”, but the RS Government already has the idea about its future moves. He specified: “If we cannot have the reserve unit, we will create gendarmerie based on the example of all countries in the region and the world. Therefore, we will capacitate our security forces to protect the citizens.”
The RS opposition said that this will only bring a cosmetic change, in which the support unit will be renamed and will be called gendarmerie from now on. The opposition wonders why the RS authorities decided to give up on formation of the reserve police unit given the fact that they have been insisting on the need to form this unit.
The Office of the High Representative (OHR) welcomed the fact the RS decided not to proceed with formation of reserve police units and stated: “As far as the announcement of the RS on reorganization of the police is concerned, the OHR wishes to gain better understanding on what the plans of the RS are before it presents possible comments on this matter. Regardless of this, there is still need to improve cooperation between law enforcement agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) with the goal to solve problems which appear in the entire country such as, for example, problems related to migrations”.
The US Embassy commented the decision of the RS Ministry of Interior to withdraw amendments referring to formation of the reserve police unit for the daily and stated: “As we stated previously, formation of reserve police units in any of the entities does not contribute to resolving transnational issues such as the migrant crisis.” The Embassy pointed out that the reserve police units would only additionally increase tensions and distrust amongst the peoples. The Embassy also plans to request an explanation from the RS MoI about plans to rename the Support Unit into ‘Gendarmerie’, which is defined as a military component of the law enforcement institutions.
UK Ambassador to B&H Matthew Field welcomed the RS MoI’s decision not to take further steps on formation of the reserve police unit, as such steps would be destabilizing in both entities. He stressed that it is necessary to see what the term gendarmerie stipulates in that contexts.
B&H HoP’s urgent session not held due to lack of quorum since SNSD and HDZ B&H delegates failed to come (Hayat)
The Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) House of Peoples (HoP) failed to appoint a delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) at an urgent session that was supposed to be held in Sarajevo on Monday. Only five delegates from the ranks of Bosniaks and one delegate from the ranks of Croats attended the session, while delegates from SNSD and HDZ B&H did not attend it. Therefore, the session was cancelled due to the lack of quorum.
Addressing a press conference on this occasion, B&H HoP Speaker Bakir Izetbegovic stated that he scheduled the session to be held in the afternoon hours because he expected everyone to work in line with the Rules of Procedure. He explained that he expected Speaker of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Borjana Kristo to schedule a morning session, so that the B&H HoP can confirm decisions of the B&H HoR later on. “I cannot understand why she did not do that. If this situation is not stipulated by the Article 58 of the Rules of Procedure, I do not know what situation is,” Izetbegovic said, explaining that it was necessary to save the dignity of the country.
B&H HoP Deputy Speaker Nikola Spiric (SNSD) expressed regrets over the fact that BiH did not appoint a delegation to the PACE, explaining that he does not want to violate the laws or the Rules of Procedure. “We had consultations in the Caucus of delegates from SNSD. We decided that we will not give legitimacy to sessions that violate the laws and the Rules of Procedure. More precisely, the Article 58 of the Rules of Procedure was violated” Spiric said.
Earlier, B&H HoP Deputy Speaker Dragan Covic (HDZ B&H) sent a letter to Izetbegovic saying that he is surprised by the way in which the initiative for the urgent session of the B&H HoP was submitted in the first place. He stressed that “everyone should refrain from such unilateral moves that do not contribute to agreement or cooperation that is necessary to stabilize the circumstances in B&H”.
Analysts comment on two announced presidential candidates (Hina)
Zoran Milanovic who is running in the presidential race on behalf of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), entered the campaign entirely unprepared and did not show any political will or ideas of what he would do as the country’s president whereas Miroslav Skoro, very convincingly presented his concept of reforms to the Constitution which would give the president more powers and is perceived by two analysts as a much better candidate for playing play a conciliatory role.
“Zoran Milanovic entered the campaign completely unprepared without any new ideas and without any announcements of what his objectives as president would be. Unlike him, Miroslav Škoro very convincingly presented his concept of reforming the Constitution which would strengthen the role of the president” political analyst Davor Gjenero told Hina. He underscored that the concept of “plebiscitary democracy” that Skoro is offering is de Gaulle’s concept of ruling, to which the model of the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic was adapted to and Croatia’s Constitution on the most part emerged on the example of that model. Gjenero briefly commented on Milanovic saying that it seems that his candidacy is “a mere attempt to escape from the hard work in the business sector where he didn’t achieve any great success.”
Analyst Zarko Puhovski agreed with Gjenero saying that Milanovic believes that his person and personality are enough of a platform for the presidential race. “The problem is that he is implicitly saying something similar to Skoro because our Constitution does not need a president with a strong personality. Our system requires a president as a mediator and conciliator and that is not a role that can be associated with Zoran Milanovic” Puhovski told Hina. He believes Skoro could have that role because he has shown to be polite and always rejects any radical formations and in that regard he could be a better candidate as a conciliator.
As far as the incumbent president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is concerned and her role as a conciliator, Puhovski thinks that she has been wandering – “she was very right and then a little in the center and now is on the right again.” “That is not conciliation. She did not show enough resoluteness. That is why Milanovic’s motto of a President with Character, is more a polemic with Grabar-Kitarovic who did not show sufficient character” Puhovski said. He said that Skoro is more or less a new face on the political scene but in fact represents Tudjman‘s old platform for the 21st century “but in a milder and less staunch way, because these are different times.”
“That is a populist platform. Populism today is the latest fad and Skoro is in the know of what is happening in large world centers.”
On the other hand, Puhovski thinks that Milanovic is the man the left wants yet he does not want to be a candidate for the left unlike Grabar-Kitarovic who wants to be the candidate for the right but the right does not want her.
Republic of North Macedonia
Visegrad Group offers strong support to North Macedonia (Nezavisen vesnik)
North Macedonia will always have our support on its road to European Union membership and the votes of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, heard an event regarding the handover of the V4 Presidency. Czech Ambassador Miroslav Toman, whose country takes over the presidency from Slovakia on July 1, said North Macedonia could be certain that the Visegrad Group countries would vote in favor of a date for accession negotiations, which has not yet materialized due to technical problems, not steps required by the EU. Hungarian Ambassador Laszlo Dux agreed that North Macedonia should get a date for accession negotiations, reiterating his country’s support on this path. According to the ambassadors, the start of the accession negotiations is necessary because reforms can be implemented in this stage only through the EU accession process. Slovak Ambassador Henrik Markus said the rule of law is one of the most important reforms, thus facilitating the EU accession process.
Greek PM Tsipras: Our neighbor meets the required criteria for starting the accession process (Nezavisen vesnik)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the delay of North Macedonia’s accession negotiations is owed to the German Bundestag’s impossibility to give the green light “because of the summer break”.
“The delay of North Macedonia’s accession negotiations is not a result of the country’s failure to implement reforms, but mainly because of procedural reasons”, says Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “As far as I could gather, the position of the EU leaders was that the accession process would begin in 2019, most likely in October, because our neighbor meets the required criteria and reforms. Of course, the start of the accession process does not mean membership. There is a long road ahead, lots of reforms and many chapters to open,” says Tsipras.
Referring to the Prespa Agreement, he says the name row settlement has increased Greece’s credibility, voicing assurance that “even the last Greek citizen who was against the agreement is now starting to realize its importance for our national interests”, supporting this argument with the fact that North Macedonia’s airspace is currently not overseen by Turkish F16 jets.
“I believe that all those opposing the deal and even calling us traitors now see its importance for the defense of our national interests. We now have a country-friend on our north border and our armed forces are there to support it” adds PM Tsipras.
Postponing start of accession negotiations was unfair, says Hungarian FM Szijjarto (Nezavisen vesnik)
Postponing the start of the accession negotiation was unfair for your country, because everyone was aware of the schedule and there was enough time for preparation. I find the argument about the lack of time as ridiculous, because you have been a candidate country for 14 years and this is enough time, said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who is paying a visit to North Macedonia on Monday. FM Szijjarto said Hungary considered EU enlargement as one of the most important processes, while enlargement to the Western Balkans is in the interest of the Union, both economically and from a security standpoint.
“We believe that EU enlargement is in the Union’s interest and the decision to postpone the start of the accession negotiations is a great loss for the EU and goes against Hungary’s interests. We are a neighboring country to this region and that is why we are sensitive to the significance and the need for Euro-integration” said Szijjarto. He added that Hungary would continue to support North Macedonia’s Euro-integration process and the stability on its southern border, where joint forces have been deployed.
Asked about the asylum of former PM Nikola Gruevski, FM Szijjarto said his presence in Hungary is considered as a legal issue and has no influence on the country’s foreign policy.
“We are one of the most vocal supporters of your country, both publicly and behind closed doors, and this will continue in the future” he added.
French Ambassador Thimonier bluntly lists areas where Macedonia falls short (Republika)
French Ambassador to Macedonia Christian Thimonier bluntly explained why the country can’t expect French approval to get a date to open EU accession talks, when he pointed to rampant corruption and partisan influences over the public administration. Thimonier asked why is everybody pushing on a date to open EU accession talks given all the problems, and continued to point out to a list including the actions of the Mayor of Struga, the danger that UNESCO revokes its World heritage status for the Ohrid region, the way school principals are appointed, and numerous other examples of malfunctions in the Macedonian society. He said that Macedonia should not be isolated from the EU, but it can’t expect to get an easy pass, and noted that previous times, when unearned enlargement was approved, was as a mistake.
President: Only Constitutional Court can turn down my decree (ADN)
The Albanian President, Ilir Meta, said that his decree on municipal elections cancellation is in force and local elections cannot be held. “This act is an obligation for everyone. Only Constitutional Court can turn it down, no other court or institution” said Meta. He urged to ruling majority to made steps back and reflect on this situation. He said that elections in June cannot be realized and that those who continue insisting on this idea will face the law.
Electoral college adjudicates the complaint of NUP party to be deregistered from elections (Radio Tirana)
The Electoral College endorsed the Central Election Commission (CEC) decision. The leader of the National Unity Party, Idajet Beqiri initially asked the Central Election Commission to deregister the National Unity Party from the elections, based on the second decree of the President for the annulment of local elections. Beqiri submitted the request sent to the CEC, but the request was turned down by the CEC, with the argument that the elections will be held on 30 June. Under this condition, Beqiri submitted the request to the Electoral College. The latter backed up CEC decision. The panel of judges of the Electoral College who reviewed the request was composed of Astrit Kalaja, Ridvan Hado, Tomor Skerli, Artur Malaj and Lindita Sinanaj.
It is expected to be seen what will be the reaction of the Albanian political class, President Meta and especially the international community, which already has a legal act in hand to adjudicate the disputes on June 30th elections.