Brnabic: We warned them (B92)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated that Belgrade has been warning for seven months on the possible consequences of Pristina’s taxes imposition. According to her opinion, closing of grocery shops on the north of Kosovo is exactly the consequence of this move, stressing Belgrade’s readiness to help Serbian people on Kosovo and Metohija at any moment. Brnabic stated that Belgrade had been warning the international community for seven months on this issue, but unfortunately, they hadn’t regarded it seriously. “Apart from verbal appeals to abolish taxes, nothing has been done, although much could have been done. This is a reasonable outcome,” Brnabic told press conference. She added that alternative directions for goods trade were disrupted, while it also happened that trucks carrying groceries were shot at, causing no reaction whatsoever. Belgrade kept warning about this for seven months now. “It seems really incredible that nowadays we allow European citizens to be deprived of buying groceries based solely on national and ethnic origin. This is not the Europe I belong to,” the Serbian Prime Minister stated. She expressed hope that Europe and the US will react to this, although we have no grounds to expect their reactions, given previous experience. Brnabic also said that she considers the decision to close grocery shops rational, as we cannot expect to get goods that citizens need in such small quantities – goods should be available, or should not be available at all. Brnabic concluded that Belgrade will closely follow the situation and will be ready to react and help the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija at any moment.
Ljajic: Goods were smuggled into Kosovo (N1)
Serbian Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic told N1 on Monday that some goods were smuggled into Kosovo after the authorities in Pristina imposed 100 percent taxes on goods from Serbia proper. “There were goods brought into Kosovo through smuggler channels. The customs service suddenly became more efficient, trying to demonstrate their statehood and the power of their institutions,” he said. He said the decision to close shops in the Serb-majority northern Kosovo municipalities are “a desperate cry for something to be done”. Ljajic said that there are shortages of milk and milk products in the north of Kosovo. “Milk products were available until recently but not fresh milk. Today, there isn’t even that. There is no meat or meat products, fruit and vegetables for some time. The situation is difficult,” he said. According to Ljajic, everyone has been waiting for Pristina to revoke the taxes for the past seven months. “Nothing has happened for seven months,” he said. Ljajic said the taxes are inflicting damage on the Serbian and Kosovo economies. “Everyone is losing, the consumers are losing. Viewed economically, this is a certain loss for the economies of Kosovo, central Serbia and the region,” he said. “These are not 100 taxes, this is a ban on trade,” he said. He said a humanitarian catastrophe is not possible because people can go shopping wherever they want.
Mustafa suing Vulin for hater speech (Beta)
The president of the Albanian National Council Ragmi Mustafa said on 1 July that he had filed a lawsuit before a court in Belgrade against Serbian Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin for hate speech. Mustafa told Beta that he filed a lawsuit against Vulin on 25 June on behalf of the Albanian National Council, because he had on several occasions publicly called Albanians Shiptars in a derogatory and insulting tone. “The Albanian National Council does not accept that hate speech insulting a minority… which comes from a minister of defense, be seen as an individual act. That kind of mentality speaks of the current Serbian government and the official Serbia,” said Mustafa. He recalled that Vulin, when he heard about the announced lawsuit, responded via the media by saying that it was a compliment for him as a minister. At the time, Vulin, according to Mustafa, also said that he did not know how they (Albanians) want to be called: Arbanasi, Arnauti, Shiptars. “Respecting minorities is both a legal and constitutional obligation of the government, while respecting and accepting another is a prerequisite for a democratic society. In a democratic government and democratic state, any minister who constantly insulted minorities in public would at least be dismissed. It is not the Albanians’ fault that the Serbian government has no democratic capacities,” said Mustafa. In his words, these are precisely the reasons why Serbia rightly is not accepted in the European Union and why Albanians do not feel Serbia as their own state.
Fabrizi: Macron’s stand doesn’t imperil Belgrade’s membership (Beta)
The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi said on Tuesday the bloc’s attitude was clear regarding the enlargement in the Western Balkans, Beta reported. However, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he was more than skeptical toward those who explain to us that the European future is in new enlargement when the 28 of us cannot agree. He added: “I will be intransigent and will refuse any enlargement before deep reforms of our institutional functioning are over.” Commenting on Macron’s statement, Fabrizi told reporters in Novi Pazar that he did not see that the reforms and the enlargement should be looked at separately. They are parallel processes which will only lead to a bigger, wider Europe, but also a more efficient one.
US Congressman Engel to meet with Vucic in Belgrade Wednesday (Tanjug)
US Congressman Eliot Engel, one of the toughest and most active pro-Kosovo Albanian lobbyists in Washington, will visit Belgrade Wednesday to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Tanjug learns. Vucic and Engel already met in February at the 55th Munich Security Conference, when Vucic spoke with a US Congress delegation that, as media reported at the time, also included Engel as chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. The meeting focused on the Bytyci brothers case. Engel has been engaged on the issue of Kosovo and Metohija – as well as Serbia – continuously for decades now. He was an advocate of the bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the establishment of a Kosovo army and the withdrawal of an arrest warrant for Ramush Haradinaj, and has said Serbia must be kicked out of Partnership for Peace and was not ready to join the EU.
Minister Sarovic and Minister Ljajic to discuss countermeasures against Kosovo (BHT1)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) loses 5 to 6 million Euros per month due to the 100 percent tariffs imposed by the Kosovo government. During their last meeting in Sarajevo, foreign trade ministers of B&H and Serbia announced that they will consider introducing countermeasures against Kosovo, if the decision is not abolished by July 1, 2019. Since this deadline expired, B&H Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Mirko Sarovic confirmed that he will meet Serbian Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic soon and discuss these countermeasures. The Foreign Trade Chamber of B&H warns that consequences of tariffs imposed by the Kosovo government are deeply felt in B&H, pointing to the fact that Kosovo violated the CEFTA Agreement by adopting such a decision.
B&H officials meet with members of Working Party on the WB Region (Hayat)
Members of the EU Council’s Working Party on the Western Balkans Region (COWEB) held meetings in Sarajevo on Monday with Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic, Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic, and representatives of the B&H Parliament. During the meeting, Zvizdic informed members of COWEB about the current political situation and implementation of European goals of B&H. Zvizdic emphasized that the European Commission (EC)’s Opinion on B&H’s EU Membership Application represents an important step in the process of European integration of B&H. According to Zvizdic, obtaining the EU candidate status would be the best message of support for implementation of further reforms and recommendations from the Opinion. The meetings resulted in a message that B&H has achieved progress and that is why it got the Opinion of the EC, which brings the EU’s focus back on this country. Dzaferovic informed the delegation of the COWEB on the steps that the B&H Presidency has taken in order to implement the recommendations, as well as the fact that it tasked the B&H CoM to make a road map for their implementation.
Covic: SDS ministers in CoM are spokespersons of SDA (ATV)
HDZ B&H Dragan Covic is also aware that SDA is stalling with formation of authorities at the level of B&H; he accuses SDA of manipulation and an attempt to buy time, everything because of SDS ministers in the outgoing convocation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM). Allegedly, Covic called SDS Minister of Security of B&H Dragan Mektic a spokesperson of SDA’s policy because as Covic claims, they share the same interest and goals. Covic stated: “These people are spokespersons of this kind of SDA’s policy. The situation is similar in case of (leader of DF) Zeljko Komsic who is a product of this kind of Bosniak policy. On the other hand, their crucial game is to hold police and intelligence sector under their control. Today, this sector is under full control of one people, one party and possibly even under control of one or two persons. They believe that they lost ‘control’ over prosecutor’s offices, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), courts and because of this, they produce all these affairs in order to distract the attention and thus, always blame someone else. All this is being done with the purpose to buy time in order to save positions”. Republika Srpska (RS) President Zeljka Cvijanovic has the information that some in Sarajevo advocate formation of a new coalition. In her opinion, even bigger blockades of institutions will happen if those who lost the elections keep on representing the RS and in this way, the four-year-long agony of dysfunctional B&H – that witnessed obstructions instead of cooperation and agreements – would continue. According to Cvijanovic, SDS Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Mirko Sarovic blocked funds of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for the RS and added that if this happens again, “this would definitely be the end”. ATV noted that SNSD, HDZ B&H and SDA – as the parties that won the elections and the parties that have the biggest number of MPs – divided positions in the B&H House of Representatives and the B&H House of Peoples and now, SDA wants to keep the outgoing ministers in the CoM by force although they do not announce their clear stance on this issue. Commenting on the information that SDP B&H is supposed to make a deal with SDA on formation of new authorities, SDP B&H MP Sasa Magazinovic told ATV that SDP B&H previously decided not to make any kind of combinations with SDA, adding that nothing changed since then.
Minister Pendes explains importance of ANP (Vecernji list)
The daily reminded that SDA insists that the Annual National Program (ANP) must be adopted before the formation of the state level authorities, while SNSD wants the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) to be appointed without any preconditions. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense of B&H warned that it is necessary to keep harmonizing stances and look for solutions acceptable for everyone. Minister of Defense of B&H Marina Pendes reminded that the Draft ANP still has not been approved by the competent institutions at the state level and added that attempts to harmonize stances on this matter got stuck. “I deem that all political representatives in B&H realize and accept that it is in our interest to have a prosperous and substantial program of cooperation with NATO,” Pendes said and added that the matter of contents of ANP should be excluded from political quarrels and brought back in frame of pragmatic view on five fields which have been treated by five chapters of the ANP. Pendes emphasized that B&H needs reforms and added that it will be much easier to implement reforms by using the ANP as a tool to develop reforms. Pendes reminded that the ANP defines measures and activities in five fields, which creates potentials for defining strategic goals and priorities, as well as targeted activities with assistance of NATO. Finally, Pendes said that although the decision of NATO to accept B&H’s first ANP has no direct connection with the EU integration, there is no doubt that the active status of the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) supports and strengthens B&H’s perspectives in the context of EU integration.
USAID director calls on Bosnia to ensure independence from Russian gas (N1)
The head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in B&H Peter Duffy said on Monday that B&H had to secure a new gas supply route because currently, it relied entirely on one gas pipeline, which supplied natural gas exclusively from Russia. Efforts have to be made to secure alternative supply routes, Duffy said at a conference on the development of the natural gas market which USAID organized on Mt. Jahorina outside Sarajevo. Duffy stressed that the country’s gas market had to be organized more transparently than was the case now, with the two entities each having its own gas policy. The USAID has decided to finance a feasibility study on connecting Bosnia’s gas supply network with Croatia’s by building a new gas pipeline to run from Zagvozd in southern Croatia to Posusje, in Bosnia’s southern region called Herzegovina, where the pipeline would branch off towards Mostar and central Bosnia. Under the project, initiated by the B&H Gas company based in Sarajevo, this gas pipeline would be an alternative to a gas pipeline that has been transporting gas from Russia via Hungary and Serbia since the 1980s. Connecting to Croatia’s gas network would also provide an opportunity for Bosnia to buy liquefied gas from the future LNG terminal on the island of Krk. The Serb entity government has so far refused to give its consent for the project, called “Southern Interconnection”, and insists that B&H should connect to the Turk Stream pipeline, by which it would continue buying gas exclusively from Russia via Serbia.
Russia willing to invest in Croatia, ambassador says (Hina)
No one can invest in Croatia as much as Russia can, neither the EU nor the US, but Croatia should first create the necessary preconditions, Russian Ambassador Anvar Azimov said at the Zagreb-Moscow economic forum on Monday. Speaking at the forum, held as part of the Moscow Days in Zagreb event, Azimov said that Russia was prepared to invest several billion euros in Croatia, but that Croatia needed to show an interest and create preconditions for such investment. He described Croatian-Russian relations and stable and friendly, saying that good political dialogue had been established and that relations in many areas were excellent, but that economic cooperation between the two countries was not so good. “Our trade and economy are limping, and as ambassador I am not pleased with that. Neither am I pleased with the fact that Russian businesses have not recognized opportunities available in Croatia,” the Ambassador said. He said that according to his statistics, Russia exported EUR 700 million worth of natural gas to Croatia last year and that Russian gas was the most affordable for the Croatian market. He noted that the future LNG terminal on the northern island of Krk was not regarded as competition. Speaking of Western sanctions against Russia, Azimov said that both Russians and the West were losing because of the sanctions, adding that Croatian partners were losing three or four times more. He said that Russia was interested in renewing ties with the United States and the European Union.
“We would like to be in harmony with our neighbors, and the EU is our neighbor,” the Russian Ambassador said. As for Croatia, Azimov said that it should not be afraid of any geopolitical plans and that Russians wanted to invest in the country. He said that Moscow had a budget of EUR 40 billion and that such potential should be tapped. Azimov said that he would like President Putin to visit Croatia soon. From 1993 until the third quarter of 2018, Russia invested EUR 410.9 million in Croatia, while at the same time Croatian investments in Russia totaled EUR 98.3 million. The head of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK), Luka Burilovic, said he was pleased with the economic cooperation between Croatia and Russia, noting that it was not as it had been in 2014 when sanctions were imposed on Russia, after which trade was nearly halved. “The last two or three years have seen continued growth and stabilization of economic relations. We are slowly returning to the pre-2014 level. The Russian market is traditionally inclined to us, our companies have been operating there for many years. We have 20 Croatian companies registered in Moscow alone, as well as in many other regions there. The HGK is institutionally working on strengthening economic relations with Russians and there is a lot of potential for stronger ties. I hope this will be visible in the years ahead,” Burilovic said.
In the first two months of 2019, trade between the two countries increased by 132 percent from the same period in 2018. According to the HGK, last year Croatia exported $147.7 million worth of commodities to the Russian Federation while imports reached $450.9 million. Also, over 122,000 Russian tourists visited Croatia last year, an increase of three percent over the previous year, while the number of overnight stays fell by two percent. Sergey Cheremin, a minister in the government of Moscow, said he would like to see more Croatian companies in Moscow and more investors from Moscow in Croatia. He said that Moscow was the Russian Federation’s leader in attracting foreign investment and that its economy accounted for 20 percent of the Russian GDP.
Macron’s views push Montenegro towards Russia, China (CDM)
Montenegro, as well as the Western Balkans (WB), received last night a negative message from France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, who said that there’s no space for further EU enlargement, as even the existing 28 EU member states cannot agree on many issues. Many people in Montenegro see this message as pretty uncomfortable, and the leader of the Liberal Party (LP) Andrija Popovic is one of them. He believes the views of Macron push the Balkan states towards Russia and China that have a strong geopolitical interest to use Montenegro and the WB for their own interests. “The EU itself is aware of the fact that Europe will be incomplete and extremely vulnerable without the WB countries and Montenegro, being the leader in the accession talks,” Popovic clarified. Executive director of the Civic Alliance, Boris Raonic, also has a clear position towards Macron’s message. He claims France’s views are well-known and already seen in all key moments, i.e. visa liberalization and opening negotiations. “We must not be discouraged in implementing reforms, as they represent the core not only for the EU membership. Our goal is to have an organized state and everyone wishing it the best should act in that direction,” Raonic told CDM.
SDP calls for political dialogue, technical government (CDM)
The Social Democratic Party, SDP, urged all the relevant representatives of the government and the opposition for a constructive dialogue, having in mind the level of public’s distrust in the election process. According to them, the technical government, as a legal and political guarantee, represents a key element for creating the democratic election environment in Montenegro.
The SDP is ready to closely cooperate will all the opposition structures in order to create a democratic election environment. As for the cooperation in terms of political programs, it’s possible only with those political subjects that share the same basic political principles, this party clarified for CDM. “A comprehensive political dialogue must include the highest political representatives of the government and the opposition, along with concrete topics, that is, the discussion on the legal-political guarantees and complete reform of the election and other legislation. We remind you that this model was used while preparing the parliamentary dialogue in the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016.”
Zaev will try to get French PM Philippe to support his bid for opening of EU accession talks (Republika)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is expected to meet with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe during the Balkan summit in Poland later this week, and he is expected to use the meeting to plead for a date to open the EU accession talks. French President Emmanuel Macron firmly dismissed any chance of EU enlargement before the Union has reformed itself and deepened its integration. Macron decried the inability of European leaders to reach decisions, most recently on the appointment of the four new leading EU officials. “We can’t hold talks with world leaders, in this ever more violent world, and be a club that meets with 28 members and can’t ever decide anything. We have to profoundly change our rules. We will not be credible in the eyes of our citizens and it will be impossible to enlarge the EU in any way, until we have reformed the workings of our inter-governmental system” a visibly agitated Macron said after the failure of EU leaders to divide the top positions between the three groups – the conservatives, socialists and the Macron led liberal-democrats. Macedonia is in a group with ever more tense Albania, and hopes to open accession talks in October. Zaev was promising a date to open EU accession talks in June, and that promise has now been postponed to October, but it is pending French approval.
Borisov announces the Balkans will be left out in the cold by the coming EU leadership (Republika)
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov indicated that Macedonia and the other Balkan countries will be stood up by the coming European Union leadership. Borisov discussed the dispute between European leaders who were unable to divide the top EU positions between themselves, and explained that Bulgaria doesn’t want to take the EU foreign policy portfolio at a time when the Union will turn a cold shoulder to the Balkans. Among the numerous combinations at play in Brussels, Bulgaria was offered to have its valued candidate Kristalina Georgieva appointed to one of the top jobs, including the place of EU foreign policy chief, currently held by Federica Mogherini. But, Borisov said he turned it down. “It’s very likely that the Western Balkan countries are not invited. And then the Kosovars, the Albanians, the Macedonians, the Serbs will say that it was the fault of a Bulgarian they were not invited,” Borisov said. Borisov touted Mariya Gabriel as a candidate who should take a meaningful European Commission post instead. The appointment of Georgieva as foreign policy chief, Borisov said, would cost Bulgaria a seat in the Commission.
OSCE/ODIHR preliminary findings and conclusions on local elections (Radio Tirana)
The Head of the OSCE / ODIHR Mission Audrey Glover presented at a media conference the preliminary findings and conclusions on local elections of 30 June. Audrey Glover made public the findings of the short and long-term observers. “These are the 14th elections that the OSCE / ODIHR observe in this country. As a mission we came here since 23 May and afterwards we have been here with short term observers, in total 126. We observe the entire electoral process. We are here without a preconceived idea. We are completely impartial and as always, we let the facts speak. We do not care who wins the election, I judge on the basis of their compliance with the OSCE and international standards. The elections were held regardless of the electorate. The opposition decided not to participate in the elections, but the government was determined to hold the elections regardless. Mayoral candidates ran unopposed in 31 of 61 municipalities. In this context, voters often did not have a meaningful choice among political options, the statement concluded. “While a number of political parties, coalitions and groups of voters fielded candidates, the absence of the major opposition parties from the election considerably limited the choice of candidates for voters,” said Ambassador Audrey Glover, Head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “Initial refusal by the same parties to nominate members of election administration, plus the later politicized interpretation of electoral law, left the country’s election management imbalanced and reduced trust in the elections. Political confrontation led to legal uncertainty, and many decisions of the election administration were taken with the political objective of ensuring the conduct of elections. Although local issues were addressed at some small-scale events, the main focus in the campaign was on the non-participation of the main opposition parties and the date of the elections. There were also credible allegations of voters being pressured by both sides, the observers found. Ambassador Glover continued: “We saw evidence that voters were pressured by all political sides. This, along with polarized media focusing on the political crisis rather than providing impartial information about candidates, kept some voters from making free and informed choices.” Positively, voting was conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner. Over 3.5 million people were registered to vote and an estimated 21 per cent cast their ballots in 5,410 polling stations across the country. In total, 97 mayoral candidates, including 11 women, and 544 candidate lists for local councils, which were all gender balanced in accordance with electoral law, were registered in the 61 municipalities” Audrey Glover said.
US Embassy on elections: Voters did not have a meaningful choice (ADN)
The United States welcomes the conclusions of the ODIHR election observation mission, which found that the municipal elections of 30 June were conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner and offered an overall positive assessment of the vote counting. “We recognize, however, as the ODIHR mission noted, that the political standoff and polarization contributed to an election in which voters did not have a meaningful choice. Despite the obstacles, the Albanian people, both those who participated in the elections and those who chose to abstain, exercised their democratic rights peacefully and we commend them for this,” stated the Embassy. The US Embassy urged all political leaders to respect the rule of law and work within established institutions to determine the path forward for Albania’s democracy and to work on the important electoral reforms recommended by ODIHR. “Those who wish to challenge the election results can look to the Constitutional Court, which we hope will be established soon with judges who have passed a rigorous vetting process. As always, the United States stands with the people of Albania as a partner, a friend, and an ally. We are committed in helping the strengthening of the rule of law and building a stronger democracy and a brighter future for all Albanians,” said the Embassy.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Hungary’s Growing Role in the Balkans (Hungary Today, by Dénes Sályi, 1 July 2019)
The break-up of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia modified the geopolitical situation in Central Europe to some extent, forming several small new states. The new situation is potentially advantageous for Hungary, in terms of representing its interest in the region (including help for ethnic Hungarians outside of Hungary to preserve their identity). It can well be seen in the Balkans, especially with the Hungarian economy getting stronger and Budapest’s diplomacy becoming more active on the peninsula. Even if the historically rooted, deep conflicts between the post-Yugoslavian states can be alleviated in the future, it is highly improbable that a united southern Slavic state will be recreated. This fact relatively increases Hungary’s weight and makes it a competitive participant in developing economic and political ties with Balkan states as an investor, or a mediator if necessary. Hungarian-Serbian relations, which used to be congenial in the past, are excellent now, with President Vucic and Prime Minister Orbán being on good terms personally, too. A number of joint economic and transportation projects are underway, the best known being the Belgrade-Budapest railway line, which will be reconstructed mostly with Chinese money. Thanks to these trends, Hungarians living in Serbia now feel much more comfortable than before, when Serbian frustration over the collapse of Yugoslavia (the Serbs’ Trianon) was occasionally manifested in anti-Hungarian incidents. The relationship with Croatia is not too cordial, despite the fact that the interests of the two countries coincide in many ways and the number of Hungarians there amounts just to a few thousand. Improving contacts would benefit both countries. Budapest has built good political relations with both Albania and Kosovo in recent years, and trading is dynamically expanding between the countries. There is no doubt that there is still huge potential waiting to be explored in this direction. The Hungarian Prime Minister has repeatedly pointed out that his country is willing to intensify its activity in the region and is ready to lobby for the enlargement of the EU with non-member Balkan states. This attitude is not without precedence in history since Hungary had a considerable influence on the Balkan Peninsula in the Middle-Ages and later during the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. As the Minister of Finance in the Monarchy, Béni Kállay was the governor of Bosnia for 20 years at the end of the 19th century. Of course, the conditions are largely different now. Great players like Turkey, Russia, and the West (the USA and the EU) are rivalling here predominantly. A good example of this power game is North-Macedonia, which is important for both Russia and NATO in spite of being a little state. (Interestingly enough, in the struggle for influence, Budapest supported the political wing here backed by Russia, giving asylum to its representatives, Nicola Gruevski, when he had to leave his country.) Still, there is room left for smaller states as well to gain economic and other advantages. In conclusion, it seems that at the beginning of the 21st century Hungary has a good chance to play a more important role in this culturally and historically very rich and diverse region than in previous decades.