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Belgrade Media Report 17 October 2019

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LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: Pristina’s actions deteriorating security situation (Tanjug/RTV)
• Brnabic thanks India for firm stance on non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence (RTS/Tanjug)
• Support of Cuba to territorial integrity of Serbia (Tanjug)
• Dacic: Hypocritical response of the British Embassy (Tanjug)
• Ashton: Belgrade, Pristina were not requested to cross red lines (Tanjug/RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Izetbegovic: ‘Status quo’ will continue in B&H until SNSD decides to accept there is no supremacy of entities over state (TV1)
• SNSD sees Izetbegovic’s statement that only parties that put interests of B&H institutions in first plan can form B&H CoM as blackmail (RTRS)
• OHR calls on political leaders in B&H to intensify political dialogue in order to complete process of formation of authorities at all levels as soon as possible (N1)
• Dodik comments on Kosovo-B&H relations, says he prefers continuation of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina (N1)
• Komsic sends letter to the EU leadership (N1)
Montenegro
• Picula: Montenegro is definitely next EU member (TMN/CDM/Fena/Nova M)
• Orav: Montenegro must improve reform efforts in media freedom, fight against corruption, preventing human trafficking (TMN)
• Russian danger still lurks (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Zaev-Timmermans: The country’s achievements should be acknowledged with a decision for accession talks (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Milososki: Zaev and Dimitrov need to resign on Friday if we get no EU accession talks date (Republika)
Albania
• France opposes EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia (ADN)
• EU talks, Commissioner appeals for caution with Balkans (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Military neutrality does not contradict security cooperation with EU (European Western Balkans)
• Visegrad 4, North Macedonia in last-ditch effort to change French enlargement veto (EuroActiv)
• Merkel: Chances for opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania are not good (Deutsche Welle)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: Pristina’s actions deteriorating security situation (Tanjug/RTV)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday received Slovak Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-In-Office Miroslav Lajcak. Vucic expressed great concern over developments in northern Kosovo and Metohija, warning that Pristina’s unilateral, provocative actions were causing tensions and a deterioration of the security situation. Vucic particularly pointed to manipulations concerning an alleged poisoning suffered exclusively by Albanians during a vote count and called for a comprehensive investigation, the presidential press office said in a statement. “President Aleksandar Vucic expressed gratitude for Slovakia’s perseverance in the principled stance of not recognizing the so-called Kosovo in spite of pressures. In view of Slovakia’s OSCE chairmanship, he stressed it was very important that the organization maintain a status-neutral approach, in particular in the work of its mission in Kosovo and Metohija,” the statement said. Lajcak said the Western Balkans was the focus of the Slovak OSCE chairmanship and that he was watching the situation in Kosovo and Metohija very closely.

 

Brnabic thanks India for firm stance on non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence (RTS/Tanjug)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic spoke with a delegation of parliamentarians from India, led by speaker of the House of Commons of India, Om Birla, and noted that the political relations between the two countries are traditionally friendly, without open issues. She thanked Birla for India’s firm stance on non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence and unambiguous support for Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. She stressed that India is a great partner and associate of Serbia, and that she is pleased that relations between the two countries are getting better over time. The two officials noted that economic cooperation does not match the quality of political relations and that it can be significantly improved in the future.

In that light, Brnabic said that our country is fully open to investments from India, and that a special focus in the coming period will be on strengthening cooperation in the field of agriculture. The Speaker of the House of Commons of India invited Brnabic to visit that country soon.

 

Support of Cuba to territorial integrity of Serbia (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic met with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba Ana Teresita Gonzalez Fraga. In a cordial and friendly conversation, both sides noted the high level of bilateral relations and the concurrence of attitudes regarding the respect for key principles of international law. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba reiterated her country’s strong support to the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Serbia. Dacic expressed his appreciation for this position and at the same time expressed support for Cuba’s efforts to lift the economic and trade embargo imposed on that country. Both sides expressed readiness for further development of cooperation in a number of areas of common interest.

 

Dacic: Hypocritical response of the British Embassy (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has assessed the response of the British Embassy in Pristina to the criticism of President Vucic as “utterly hypocritical”. Dacic told Tanjug that anyone who sits with the future prime minister of so-called Kosovo with the Albanian flag thereby supports his/her publicly demonstrated aspiration for the creation of a “greater Albania”. He says that an ambassador should not decorate party premises, but he/she can refuse to sit there, just as some other ambassadors did so.

 

Ashton: Belgrade, Pristina were not requested to cross red lines (Tanjug/RTS)

 

Former EU foreign policy and security chief Catherine Ashton, who facilitated the start of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in 2012, said in Belgrade Thursday the two sides had not been requested to cross their red lines and that the objective had been to at least get their representatives to the same room and the same table. Serbia was not requested to recognize Kosovo, and Kosovo was not requested to deny itself as a state, Ashton said at a Belgrade Security Forum panel titled Sustainable Solutions for the Western Balkans. Speaking about the first Brussels Agreement and the six years of failure to implement it, she said agreements must be implemented to make life easier for ordinary people. That was the first agreement, and it was definitely not intended to be the last, she said.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Izetbegovic: ‘Status quo’ will continue in B&H until SNSD decides to accept there is no supremacy of entities over state (TV1)

 

SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic commented on the failure to complete formation of the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) for over a year since the general elections, stating that ‘status quo’ will continue in B&H until SNSD decides to accept that entities cannot command the state. “The situation will remain ‘status quo’ up until the point that SNSD decides to accept that there is no supremacy of entities over the state.”  Izetbegovic also reacted to the announcement of SDS leader Mirko Sarovic, who said on Tuesday that SDS is capable of forming a new parliamentary majority at the state level if it engages in talks with SDA. In this regard, the SDA leader underlined that Sarovic believes that, if he initiates the talks on formation of the authorities, it would be rather easy to secure the parliamentary majority. According to the SDA leader, SDS would probably be able to achieve that. However, Izetbegovic considers that forming such authorities would bring nothing new as the outgoing convocations in the institutions formed with SDS are not functioning. Izetbegovic stressed that HDZ B&H would most likely refuse to form such a coalition.

 

SNSD sees Izetbegovic’s statement that only parties that put interests of B&H institutions in first plan can form B&H CoM as blackmail (RTRS)

 

SNSD stated that the statement of SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, who said that only parties that put interests of B&H institutions in the first plan over the interests of entities can form B&H Council of Ministers (CoM), represents blackmail and planned provocation. SNSD also commented on Izetbegovic’s statement according to which the current status quo will remain until SNSD realizes that entities cannot have command over the state. According to SNSD leader Milorad Dodik, Izetbegovic’s constant denial of constitutional structure of B&H and efforts to destroy Republika Srpska (RS) represent an introduction into B&H’s downfall. “B&H is not in the status quo but it is in the state of stagnation of disintegration, which cannot by stopped by anyone,” Dodik stressed. SNSD representatives in B&H Parliament also condemned Izetbegovic’s statements. B&H House of Representatives (HoR) deputy speaker and SNSD Vice President Nebojsa Radmanovic stated that the process of formation of authorities cannot be blackmailed in this way, reminding that no conditions for the formation of authorities were set from the RS but the only condition was to complete this process in line with the election will of citizens. B&H House of Peoples (HoP) Deputy Speaker Nikola Spiric (SNSD) assessed that Izetbegovic’s statements are not in line with healthy political principles because he cannot be the one who dictates the behavior of entities.

 

OHR calls on political leaders in B&H to intensify political dialogue in order to complete process of formation of authorities at all levels as soon as possible (N1)

 

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) calls on political leaders in B&H to intensify political dialogue in order to complete the process of formation of authorities at all levels as soon as possible, as well as to ensure the progress on reforms that are in line with the current political goals and obligations of B&H. “They should be focused on formation of the elected bodies and their work, as well as on formation of the remaining executive bodies at the level of B&H, the Federation of B&H and cantons. Snap elections mentioned in the Election Law of B&H can be held only after dissolution of the related bodies and only if this is explicitly defined by competent laws or the Constitution of B&H,” the OHR said in a statement.

 

Dodik comments on Kosovo-B&H relations, says he prefers continuation of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina (N1)

 

Commenting on relations between B&H and Kosovo, B&H Presidency member Milorad Dodik said that movement of people should be enabled and he “cannot understand what is problematic with regards to disputable documents.” He also stated that problems between Belgrade and Pristina need to be resolved and that he supports stances of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic as he is a politician who will build a consensus in Serbia on this issue. Dodik stressed that after recent elections in Kosovo some people think that the situation will be worsened, while others believe that it will be easier now to have the dialogue. He assessed that he certainly prefers the continuation of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Dodik reminded that B&H does not allow RS to recognize self-declared Kosovo, noting that this is a logical thing because if Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a state the RS cannot recognize it either.

 

Komsic sends letter to the EU leadership (N1)

 

Presidency Chairman Zeljko Komsic addressed a letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, President-elect of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy. Komsic wrote to EU leaders regarding the ongoing discussions in the European Union on the opening of the negotiations between the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the Republic of Albania with the European Commission, bearing in mind that the opening of the negotiations became questionable, the chairman’s office said. Komsic said in his letter that it was extremely important for the two countries to continue their path within the framework of a stabilization and association process that applies exclusively to the countries of Southeastern Europe, which in fact sends a positive message to the whole region and therefore to Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Given that the European Commission has already stated that the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the Republic of Albania have fulfilled the required criteria for the opening of the negotiations and, if their request is denied, I believe that this will send the wrong message to my country, regarding both work and to the difficult decisions that await us, they simply do not deliver the expected result” Presidency Chairman said in a letter. “The absence of negotiations could also slow down the process of implementation of measures and recommendations from the European Commission’s opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for the EU membership, as well as the process of adopting the European standards that I stand for. I think that there is no need to speak about the possible increase of Euroscepticism in the countries of the region, as well as the possibility of reinforcing the presence of some other factors and influences in the region,” Komsic added. Komsic also said that he is sending the letter because of the solidarity with friendly countries and in desire for all the countries in the region to become full members of the European Union, one day. “For the sake of principals when it comes to meeting the criteria that are set for individual countries, solidarity with the friendly countries of the region and the desire for all countries of the region to one day become full members of the European Union, I hope that the decision for the opening of the negotiations with the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the Republic of Albania is a positive one,” Komsic concluded in a letter.

 

Picula: Montenegro is definitely next EU member (TMN/CDM/Fena/Nova M)

 

Montenegro has made serious progress on its path to the European Union and will be its next member, said new European Parliament rapporteur for Montenegro Tonino Picula, reports Fena. According to Picula, Montenegro will be the first in line as a new EU member state, but there’s still a lot to do until then. The EU has been facing numerous issues and it seems that the enlargement policy is not its top priority. Some EU member states clearly state that now is not the time to speak about the enlargement, which calls the whole story about the expected 2025 enlargement into question. In an interview for CDM, the newly-elected European Parliament Rapporteur on Montenegro Tonino Picula claimed the enlargement policy hadn’t been the EU’s topmost priority anymore. He said that some EU member states categorically refuse further EU enlargement until the Union consolidates. “No one will state loud and clear to be against the enlargement, it’s a part of a political game, but there’s a strong resistance within the EU member states, that is, they do not want the enlargement to happen until the rearrangement of power relations takes place, and some new models are adopted,” Picula explained. “In any case, the next enlargement of the Union, when it happens, will not occur without Montenegro. Whether Montenegro will enter alone or with another country is an open question. Still, if it continues this kind of work as it has done for ten years, then the next expansion will not be possible without Montenegro,” Picula said in an interview with Nova M. He said that the work that Montenegro has done so far must be noted, but it must also continue with reforms and next projects, because if there is no further progress, it can lead to serious frustration for both sides. He also added that the enlargement policy reached a peak in 2004 when ten new states joined the EU and in 2007 – when Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession took place. “Currently, the enlargement policy is not one of the EU’s top priorities as the Union needs to consolidate itself first. Montenegro has procedures in place, mechanisms to move forward with the conclusion of the negotiations, but what has not been done so far will have to be done in circumstances that will not always be easy. At the moment, the political scene in Montenegro is polarized; there are serious disagreements between the authorities and the opposition on how to proceed. However, I will try to overcome this gap with my experience in order to reach a common goal – Montenegro’s membership in the EU,” Picula concluded.

 

Orav: Montenegro must improve reform efforts in media freedom, fight against corruption, preventing human trafficking (TMN)

 

Head of the European Union Delegation to Montenegro, Ambassador Aivo Orav, welcomed the agreement of political actors in Montenegro to hold the next local elections on the same day in all cities. “There is a principle, and as agreed, that all local elections be held on the same day. That, if confirmed, would be excellent news,” Orav said. Speaking at the opening of the 13th Joint Advisory Board of the European Committee of the Regions and Montenegro, Orav said that Montenegro must improve its reform efforts, especially in the area of ​​media freedom, the fight against corruption and the prevention of human trafficking. “These reforms require the reflection and involvement of actors from all parts of Montenegro’s political scene, as well as representatives of civil society. Parliament’s boycott and lack of genuine political dialogue are not sustainable for a country negotiating its accession to the EU.” Orav welcomed the establishment of the Comprehensive Electoral Reform Committee, which included representatives of the government and much of the opposition. “Last week, the Committee adopted all the rules and criteria regarding its functioning, and this was a crucial moment in the removal and the last operational obstacles to starting concrete work on electoral reform. I sincerely hope that the Committee will now be able to focus on the substance of its work and deliver tangible results in the ambitious agenda for reforming the institutional and legislative framework for elections,” Orav said. He reiterated that Montenegro had made some progress in the accession negotiations. The priority now was to deliver a much more tangible result to the rule of law system, that will convince the EU that Montenegro is indeed ready to deal with this crucial issue in a European way. “Progress in the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights in Montenegro is crucial, and it determines the speed of your entire EU negotiation process,” Orav stressed. Part of the political public in Montenegro, otherwise, believes that the EU, dissatisfied with the substantive simulation of reforms and especially the poor and selective functioning of the Montenegrin rule of law, has raised the manual in the accession negotiations with Podgorica, which have been ongoing for eight years. So far, our country has managed to open 32 and temporarily close only three of the 33 negotiating chapters with Brussels. Still, for more than a year, it has failed to open the last ones – Chapter 8 (Competition), negotiated for years. “Montenegro has fulfilled all the prerequisites for opening the only remaining one – Chapter 8. I hope the Member States will make an affirmative decision, so the Montenegrin negotiating structure can devote itself to fulfilling the obligations leading to the temporary closure of the other chapters.” Montenegro’s chief negotiator with the European Union, Aleksandar Drljevic said. He reaffirmed Montenegro’s continued commitment to European values ​​and membership of the European community of peoples as the most important foreign policy goal. “The results are in support of this since our country has achieved the highest number of candidates, and that we are at the forefront of enlargement, which carries with it a special responsibility,” the head of the Montenegrin negotiating team said.

 

Russian danger still lurks (Pobjeda)

 

Head of analytics of the Digital and Forensic Center, Ljubomir Filipovic, thinks that Montenegro shouldn’t reduce the caution level when it comes to identification of external factors impacting the creation of political environment in our country. However, the situation is much more peaceful compared to 2016. On the other side, Serbian security expert, Darko Trifunovic, believes that the situation is still alarming and that Montenegro is amid hybrid warfare. According to his forecasts, the next attack on Montenegrin system will be nothing like the one in 2016. It will be even worse. Filipovic thinks that Montenegro has formed its security strategic position by becoming NATO member. It has definitely lessened the chance of being affected by external factors interested in setting our political stage. He points out that Montenegro isn’t in the focus of foreign factor at the moment. “However, we should not be calm. We should always be on alert, continue to learn how to respond to provocations,” explains Filipovic. Foreign factor, aimed at destabilizing some countries, prepares the ground by spreading misinformation through informal media groups. “Unfortunately, we have internet media on our public stage that fail to sort out the messages they convey” said Filipovic. He thinks that situation should be constantly monitored. “We must be aware that there’s always external factor, there are external interests. Those factors are not always state factors. There are also non-state factors that have interest in creating our political stage” Filipovic explained. He believes that the next election campaign will be welcomed with a great level of caution. “Montenegro has shown that it takes the threats seriously. Therefore, our state apparatus will have more cautious approach to the next election campaign. I think we have learned a lot for the past three years, we are familiar with threats, which means that the danger from malign external influences has been reduced to minimum” said Filipovic. Filipovic concludes that we should never allow to be somebody’s weapon when it comes to political elections. “There are different organizations in Montenegro that present themselves as media agencies, spread false news and thus shape people’s awareness by creating a distorted picture. That’s the basis of hybrid warfare,” Trifunovic said.

 

Zaev-Timmermans: The country’s achievements should be acknowledged with a decision for accession talks (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

The European Union should now take a decisive step and decide on a start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President-Designate of the European Commission (EC), said at a meeting Thursday in Brussels. It will also send a strong message to the other countries in the region that to make difficult and responsible decisions and pursue deep reforms is to invest into a better future, they concluded, the government’s PR sector said. At a meeting with Deputy PM in charge of European affairs Bujar Osmani in attendance, Zaev on his behalf and on behalf of the people of North Macedonia extended gratitude for the support of EU institutions and that of the EU members for its EU integration processes and domestic reforms. “A positive decision of the European leaders regarding the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia is a logical acknowledgement of the country’s current results and a strong incentive to continue to pursue reforms aimed at meeting the EU standards,” Zaev said at the meeting. “Any delay of the start of negotiations will ‘leave room for third parties to be able to spread influence, to whom democratic values aren’t a priority,” Zaev noted. Praising the government’s policies and achievements, EC Vice President Timmermans said they have the support of the European institutions and of a huge majority of EU countries that are in favor of approving a start for accession negotiations, reads the press release.

 

Milososki: Zaev and Dimitrov need to resign on Friday if we get no EU accession talks date (Republika)

 

If Macedonia does not receive the date to open accession talks by Friday, both Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov should resign, said former Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki. The European Council ends on Friday, and while some hope remains,

French President Emmanuel Macron personally came out in opposition to the request to open accession talks with Macedonia. “Like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, I’m persuaded that the Western Balkans is a strategic place for Europe. On the other hand, there are a few things we still need to finalize before we can open accession talks. I think that we need to reform the procedure, which is currently irreversible and not progressive. I share the geo-political and strategic vision with the German Chancellor. I would like to send a positive message to those leaders, but seriously looking at things I have to tell them that this time we need a little bit more time to settle things,” Macron said during his joint press conference with Merkel. Zaev announced his resignation in case the accession talks push fails a number of times, including in Vienna, but later in Brussels he seemed on the fence about the issue.

 

France opposes EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia (ADN)

 

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, failed to convince the French President, Emmanuel Macron, to vote pro the opening of the accession negotiations for Albania and Northern Macedonia. They sought to show on Wednesday the unity at a meeting in southern France, as the European Union and Britain appeared close to a tentative Brexit deal. “We must show that … we, Europeans, Germany and France in particular, are defending our common values and interests” Macron said at a news conference in the city of Toulouse. During the joint press conference, Merkel said that “as you know, the decision for the negotiations should be unanimous”. Meanwhile, the French President appreciated reforms undertaken by the two countries, but he underlined the fact that Albanian youth is constantly emigrating to the EU.

 

EU talks, Commissioner appeals for caution with Balkans (ADN)

 

The EU’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos underlined this Wednesday that caution should be exercised with the Balkans, so as not to allow these states to Balkanize again. After the meeting of EU Ministers held on Tuesday, final report seeking the opening of EU negotiations for North Macedonia and postponement for Albania’s until 2020 was revealed. However, Avramopoulos stated that now it is up to the European Council to make a final decision, since European Commission is very clear that these two countries should start accession negotiations. “It is now up to the European Council to make a final decision as the European Commission is very clear that the two countries should start negotiations. Let us be very careful with the Balkans, otherwise the Balkans would be Balkanized again as it had happened in the past,” said Avramopoulos.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Military neutrality does not contradict security cooperation with EU (European Western Balkans, 16 October 2019)

 

Participating in the framework of European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy is not contradictory to Austria’s military neutrality as long as there is a possibility to opt-out and maintain national sovereignty, stated Robert Brieger, Chief of Defence Staff at the Austrian Ministry of Defence in Belgrade. Speaking in a special event of the ninth Belgrade Security Forum Brieger explained that this policy was the way for Austria to regain national sovereignty after the Second World War. “From this standpoint, it was a successful model – though I would admit that more military resources will be necessary for defence of our neutrality”, Brieger said.

Policy of military neutrality, however, does not prevent Austria to be active in security matters, which is also evident from its intensive cooperation with the Western Balkan countries, General Brieger pointed out. “Integration of the Western Balkans in the EU was once of the centres of gravity during our 2018 Presidency (of the Council of the EU). On the one hand, this strategy should enable the countries to become security providers under Common Foreign and Security Policy. Until then, Austria will remain the reliable provider of security missions”, he said.

One of the most important issues Austria is interested in is migration. Protecting the external borders is an important challenge and has to be implemented in partnership with the Western Balkans, Brieger emphasised. Of the whole region, Serbia is the only country that has chosen the policy of military neutrality. Brieger’s colleague Milan Mojsilović, Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, explained that this choice was based on historical circumstances, as well as political estimation that the foreign policy goals of the country can be best achieved by pursuing that policy. An important factor in reaching the decision was the international reaction to Kosovo’s independence, Mojsilović reminded. However, Serbia is also cooperating with various international actors on security matters, from United Nations to Partnership for Peace with NATO. “I believe that military neutrality is not a threat for widespread cooperation with other stakeholders. Even though Serbia is neutral has strong partnership with other international organisations, OSCE, EU, UN, PfP”, General Mojsilović emphasised. He added Serbia has a unique position because it cooperates with NATO and PfP without being NATO member. “We are a part of EU military operations, because we believe that foreign policy goals can be achieved in this way”, Mojsilović explained. He concluded with a reminder that there is a mechanism to pull out of the battle groups if this is a political decision, which is enabling Serbia to fully cooperate with these international actors.

 

Visegrad 4, North Macedonia in last-ditch effort to change French enlargement veto (EuroActiv, 16 October 2019)

 

Officials from North Macedonia and the Visegrad Four nations attempted to rally the importance of enlargement on Wednesday evening (16 October), in a last-ditch effort before today’s EU summit. After France blocked the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania during an EU affairs minister’s meeting on Tuesday (15 October), the enlargement deadlock sets up a showdown between French President Emmanuel Macron and the rest of the bloc’s leaders.

At the eve of the EU summit, several EU diplomats had called the French veto “a clear disappointment” for member states in favour of the opening and voiced concerns that it could mean “a major strategic mistake has been made”. The Visegrad Four – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – have a joint position in strongly supporting the opening of EU accession negotiations by North Macedonia and Albania. In a letter by the V4 countries written to European Council President Donald Tusk, seen by EURACTIV, the four countries jointly pushed him to unblock accession stalemate and accused French President Emmanuel Macron of undermining European Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen’s “geopolitical Commission”. “Despite the important advancements we have made together, some member states continue to obstruct the very opening of accession talks, although it is only the first step in the long and demanding accession negotiations” they wrote. “Further delay in making the positive decision will cause a serious deterioration of the instability in the region and will to a large extent limit our ability to take an active role in our own neighborhood,” the V4 warned, calling for a “decisive discussion” between EU leaders during the summit. Earlier on Wednesday, a diplomat from a Visegrad country recognized that the French opposition was unlikely to change, but said that now it would be up to Tusk to set the tone, hoping that the Council chief “will take over the show from Macron during the summit” and “act as the savior”.

 

PR stunt

It is obvious that the Visegrad goup tries to capitalize on the enlargement dossier, in an effort to make it up for its negative stance on other policy topics, such as solidarity in sharing the refugee burden. Pundits also recall that Hungary’s position on North Macedonia is ambiguous, to say the least. Viktor Orbán was in close relations and gave political asylum to Nikola Gruevski, the former PM of the country, whose VMRO-DPMNE party was a powerful detractor of the Prespa agreement. The European Commission earlier in May had recommended the Council should open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia after the two countries had delivered on reforms. Meanwhile North Macedonia in particular has resolved a decade-long conflict with Greece over its name that had induced Athens to uphold its right to veto North Macedonia’s EU accession bid, while the name deal had cleared the way for NATO membership for the country, which will probably join the military alliance in December or early January. The EU’s executive reasoned then it was wrong to add more conditions because both countries had met targets set by the EU member states. “If our partners deliver, we have to deliver, and this is our justifiable expectation” said EU’s enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn in a joint press with Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev, who had come to Brussels far last-ditch talks on Wednesday evening. According to Hahn, huge majority of member states ask nothing more than the green light for opening accession negotiations, a signal of clear commitment to European path of North Macedonia. “Respected European leaders do not become our obstacles. I invite you to become our heroes. European path is our only path”, a disappointed Zaev said in Brussels, adding that in June his country was promised a positive decision will be made in October.

“There will be disappointment among citizens and in our parliament. Trust into EU could be put into question” if there is no green light during the summit, Zaev told reporters. This attitude “could strengthen third parties in our region that would fill in the vacuum” he added. Macedonian officials repeatedly stated that the bottom line of such a decision would play into the hands of third parties in the Western Balkans, such as Russia and China, which already are heavily investing in the region. Earlier on Wednesday, Dimitris Avramopoulus, the EU’s Commissioner for migration, warned against a “re-balkanisation” of the region if Albania and North Macedonia would be denied the opening of accession negotiations. “After all that we have done, we are sure and convinced more than ever before that we should open the negotiations because we are ready, both politically and institutionally. Our citizens are also more than ready”, Zaev concluded. One solution on the table is a possible decoupling of the two candidate countries, with green light to North Macedonia and a postponement for Albania, but an EU diplomat stressed this seemed “rather unlikely”.

 

Merkel: Chances for opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania are not good (Deutsche Welle, 17 October 2019)

 

The chances of reaching a consensus at the EU Summit for opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania are not good, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on Thursday, writes Deutsche Welle. “We have responsibility towards these countries. I think it’s worth giving a European perspective to North Macedonia and Albania” said Merkel. Ahead of the start of Thursday’s EU Summit in Brussels, Chancellor Merkel addressed the Bundestag discussing, among other, the topic of EU enlargement with North Macedonia and Albania. Merkel said that attempts have been made to reassure EU-partners who still had reservations about opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and insist on making the process more transparent. However, she noted, the chances of reaching a consensus at the EU Summit are not good. “Germany feels particularly close with Western Balkan countries and wants to integrate them into the EU,” the German Chancellor noted, adding that the accession of Western Balkan countries is in the interest of Germany and of the EU itself. Merkel pointed out that EU member states must stick to the promises made to these countries because it would also bring stability and harmony to the EU. After yesterday’s meeting with Merkel in Toulouse, French President Emmanuel Macron said that North Macedonia and Albania should be a bit more patient before getting an approval for the start of EU accession negotiations. Macron noted that North Macedonia and Albania have made significant progress in domestic reforms, adding however that this is not sufficient for the time being. On the other hand, Merkel said there is still little room for harmonization of positions until Thursday’s EU Summit.

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