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Belgrade Media Report 15 November

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LOCAL PRESS

• New era of alliance between Serbia, Greece (RTS/RTV/Tanjug/Beta)
• Drecun: Vucic’s decision forced by behavior of Croatian public (RTS)
• Heated debate at PACE over Pristina representative’s presence (RTS)
• Czech Republic ready to support Serbia by preventing Kosovo from joining international institutions (Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Leaders of SDA and HDZ B&H met, fail to reach concrete agreement (BHT1)
• Dodik: HDZ is not problem for formation of authorities, we will not accept ANP (RTRS)
• Collegiums of B&H parliament unable to agree on unblocking of B&H Parliament (N1)
• Dodik comments interference of international community in internal issues of B&H, problems with authority formation (Dnevni avaz)
• Dodik and Ivantsov discuss RS parliament conclusions (RTRS)
• OSCE’s Kavalec: RS parliament conclusions are cause for concern (Oslobodjenje)
Croatia
• EPP meeting not to be held in Croatian parliament (HRT)
Montenegro
• EU: Montenegro isn’t blocked, but still many challenges lie ahead (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Pendarovski: We may get a positive decision to start EU talks before May (Republika/TV Telma)
• Zaev: Greece will help us get date for start of EU accession negotiations (Republika)
• Varhely: Skopje and Tirana should start EU talks by May 2020 (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Kurti opposes the Balkan Mini-Schengen (Nezavisen vesnik)
Albania
• Cakaj seeks Kosovo’s UNESCO membership (ADN)
• New head of European Parliament Delegation: Negotiations will be discussed in May 2020 (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Statement on Western Balkans Mini-Schengen (US Embassy in Germany)
• Carpenter: Kosovo won’t be Trump’s foreign policy success in 2020 (European Western Balkans)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

New era of alliance between Serbia, Greece (RTS/RTV/Tanjug/Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias announce a new era in Athens-Belgrade relations, in which great friendship and historic ties between the two countries will be transformed into an even stronger alliance. Dacic said at a joint press conference with Dendias that the era should begin with the visit of the Serbian President to Greece and the signing of the Partnership Declaration, thus formalizing the highest level of cooperation between the two countries. He estimated that the relations between the two countries are already at an excellent level, adding that economic cooperation should be a priority in the coming period. He stressed that the priority would be to increase foreign trade and connect the two countries in different fields, including tourism. Dacic expressed gratitude to Greece for its support on Kosovo and Metohija, saying that the country could count on support for the Cyprus issue. Dendias announced that the Third Session of the High Council for Cooperation between Serbia and Greece will be held in Athens on 10 December, which will be an opportunity to enter a new era of bilateral relations and cooperation that will develop not only at the political but also the economic level, including “Belt and Road,” energy, digital connectivity, and commerce.

Greeks and Serbs have always stood side by side in both good and bad times and today Greece is most supportive of Serbia’s European perspective, the Minister stressed. According to Dendias, Serbia’s European path is an important factor of peace and stability in the region, and Athens’ position on Kosovo and Metohija will remain unchanged until a final solution is reached.

He pointed out that the EU cannot be complete without the Balkan countries and that the enlargement of the Union to the region is important for Greece’s foreign policy. This is not our strategy because it is based on interests but because it is important because of the value of the EU. We believe that the Balkans and Serbia belong to the EU, Dendias said.

 

Drecun: Vucic’s decision forced by behavior of Croatian public (RTS)

 

The decision of President Aleksandar Vucic not to attend the EPP Congress in Zagreb has been forced by the behavior of the Croatian public, the Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun told the Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) press review. He recalls that former Croatian president Ivo Josipovic was welcomed with an applause in the Serbian parliament, because it was considered that this country will realize that it will have to build good-neighborly relations with Serbia. However, Zagreb seeks to harm Serbia’s interests and thus destabilize the region, notes Drecun, adding that Croatian politicians think they will thereby improve their position. He recalls that Croatia has a very negative element in its near past, and this is the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs who are second-class citizens in this country. He expects a negative relation of Croatia in the future as well, assessing this is a long-term policy. He opines the EU should react. On the other side, Serbia is the leader in the region and takes this region forward, says Drecun, giving as an example the story about the “mini-Schengen”. Commenting the election of Peter Beyer as the new PACE rapporteur for Kosovo and Metohija, Drecun points out that the stands of the German MEP are unacceptable, that he is a bit lost in time and captured in the middle of the XX century. “Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija are not second-class citizens, but fiftieth-class citizens,” says Drecun, who expects Beyer to speak positively about the human right state-of-affairs in Kosovo and Metohija. He thinks that a more realistic image of what is happening in Kosovo and Metohija would be obtained had the Russian candidate Aleksey Kondratiyev been elected.

 

Heated debate at PACE over Pristina representative’s presence (RTS)

 

At Thursday’s meeting, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) appointed German MP Peter Beyer its special rapporteur for Kosovo and Metohija. The Serbian delegation engaged in a heated debated with the Committee Chairperson Ria Oomen-Ruijten due to the invitation and presence of so-called Kosovo ambassador who is not accredited by the CoE. The Serbian delegation found her presence to be a form of pressure exerted on the Committee members in the vote for rapporteur.

Though the Committee Chairperson admitted it was a mistake and the Serbian delegation insisted that the representative of so-called Kosovo be removed, that did not happen.

The Serbian delegation decided to inform PACE President Liliane Maury Pasquier about the incident and the Committee Chairperson’s actions.

 

Czech Republic ready to support Serbia by preventing Kosovo from joining international institutions (Tanjug)

 

In the course of its visit to the Serbian parliament, the delegation of the Committee on European Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies of the parliament of the Czech Republic headed by Committee Chairman Ondrej Benesik met with the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Committee deputy Chairperson Dubravka Filipovski spoke about the two countries’ traditional friendship, both politically, as evidenced by the recent 16 reciprocal visits, and economically speaking, evidenced by the many Czech investments in Serbia. Serbia, she said, has clearly defined foreign policy goals – EU accession, strengthening regional cooperation and maintaining peace in the region, as well as continuing the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to come to a mutually satisfactory solution. Cooperation with the US, Russian Federation, People’s Republic of China and African countries is also one of Serbia’s strategic foreign policy goals, Filipovski added. She stressed that, as a military neutral country, Serbia enjoys excellent cooperation with NATO. Benesik said that a withdrawal of the recognition of Kosovo by the Czech Republic is at present doubtful if not impossible, but the Czech Republic is ready to support Serbia by preventing Kosovo from joining international institutions. He believes that, to resolve the outstanding issues in its relationship with Pristina, Serbia should focus on countries with a “reserved” stance on the issue or are insufficiently informed about the situation in the region. Filipovski said that Serbia is ready to continue the talks when the representatives of so-called Kosovo institutions abolish the customs taxes on Serbian goods. She hopes dialogue would lead to a compromise solution and lasting reconciliation, but stressed that Serbia would never recognize the self-declared independence of the southern province. Filipovski reminded the guests that the Serb List achieved notable results in the elections in Kosovo by which the Republic of Serbia proved that it wanted to participate in work of the institutions and fight for the rights of Serbs living in Kosovo and Metohija. Committee members Ljiljana Malusic and Jelena Vujic Obradovic also took part in the meeting. They believe that the Czech Republic should think again about withdrawing its recognition of Kosovo independence and follow the example of the 16 countries that have done so, plus the additional four that will, according to announcements, do so by the end of the year. Committee member Dragan Sormaz asked the Visegrad Group to send a strong message to Pristina to approach the negotiations in a constructive and civilized manner.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Leaders of SDA and HDZ B&H met, fail to reach concrete agreement (BHT1)

 

The delegations of HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and SDA met on Thursday to discuss joint solutions regarding amendments to the Election Law of B&H and the formation of authorities in B&H. No concrete agreement was reached at the meeting, but the two parties’ delegations announced that they will present a joint solution to the issue of amending the Election Law of B&H by the end of the next week. Addressing the joint press conference after the meeting, HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic stated that the process of seeking joint solutions when it comes to amendments to the Election Law is underway and that they set themselves a two-week deadline within which they will try to make a framework for implementation of rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H. They stressed that no agreement on formation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) is possible without SNSD as the third partner. Covic said that there is certain progress in talks on formation of B&H CoM and B&H Parliament’s work capacity. He reminded that HDZ B&H and SNSD will hold talks on formation of authorities in B&H in Mostar on Friday, adding that the meeting between HDZ B&H, SDA and SNSD might be held soon if these talks end successfully. According to Covic, in that case the story about formation of B&H CoM and new parliamentary majority would be finally completed. Izetbegovic stated that as soon as HDZ B&H and SDA prepare a framework solution on the Election Law of B&H, they will engage SBB B&H and DF as coalition partners in the process as well. According to Izetbegovic, when it comes to formation of the Federation of B&H Government – the two parties’ delegations reached an agreement to finalize the proposals on new Ministries next week.

 

Dodik: HDZ is not problem for formation of authorities, we will not accept ANP (RTRS)

 

Delegations of SNSD and HDZ B&H, led by leaders Milorad Dodik and Dragan Covic respectively, will discuss possibilities of finding a solution for the state-level blockade in B&H during Friday’s meeting in Mostar. Dodik said that Republika Srpska (RS) will not accept the Annual National Program (ANP) for the NATO, nor any other document that is similar to that one. He points that HDZ B&H and SNSD are not to be blamed for the created situation, as SDA is the only one that is stating some impossible conditions for the process of formation of the authorities. “In regards to the ANP story, they can create any kind of a document, but we are not dumb. We will not say create it, name it something else and send it to Brussels; and then they will perceive it as the ANP. Do they really think us to be such morons?”, Dodik asked the reporters in Banja Luka. According to Dodik, they have no problems with HDZ B&H as they agree that winners of the elections should form authorities at the B&H level. Dodik also said that he does not trust the leader of SDA, adding that he fails to respect everything whatever the three leaders agree. Dodik said: “They want from SNSD a technical document and to put it before the Council of Ministers (B&H CoM) that does not have any member of SNSD and they demand from the structure that knows that if this is adopted and if they adopt this – as (leader of SDS Mirko) Sarovic said – this would open doors for reshuffling of authorities, new authorities and this is why they do not want this. We have no one in the CoM and then, they try to transfer responsibility to us, tell us how to reach a decision. Well, we will not reach the decision”.

 

Collegiums of B&H parliament unable to agree on unblocking of B&H Parliament (N1)

 

Sessions of the B&H House of Peoples (B&H HoP) Collegium and the Joint Collegium of both Houses of the B&H parliament were held in Sarajevo on Thursday. Around 50 points of the daily agendas were formally considered during the sessions, but decisions will have to wait for the formation of the parliamentary commissions and unblocking of the state parliament’s work. When asked about the initiative of the PDP and the SDS to call an emergency session to form commissions and unblock the work of the B&H Parliament, HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic refused to comment saying that all initiatives are legal and legitimate if they are in the spirit of Rules of Procedure of the B&H parliament. SDS and PDP MPs must decide if they wish for their initiative to be discussed during a regular or an urgent session of the B&H HoR. The regular session requires a discussion of members of the parliamentary commissions, which is not possible at this moment, since they were not formed yet. That leaves the possibility of holding an urgent session. Speaker of the B&H House of Representatives Denis Zvizdic said that every meeting like the one on Thursday gives hope and optimism that they are moving towards a solution. Zvizdic said that the solution to form legislative and executive authorities could be found soon.

 

Dodik comments interference of international community in internal issues of B&H, problems with authority formation (Dnevni avaz)

 

Member of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik said that the entities are the ones making decisions in B&H, not the international community or the Office of the High Representative. “We are going to propose, draft an operational plan, a team of people and we will submit a proposal. We do not need to abolish the Prosecutor’s Office at any cost, but we need to put it in order. The Court and the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H should be dealing with the issues in the competence of B&H, not meddle in everything. We need to restructure the Constitutional Court, expel the foreigners from it. Establish such Constitutional Court as it is everywhere else in the world. That is our standpoint, and if we do not find understanding about what we need to do, the RS has its own ways to decide on those issues,” said Dodik commenting the most recent conclusions of the RS National Assembly about the interference of the OHR and transfer of entity competences to the state level. Dodik underlined that the RS parliament has a capability to pass decisions on these issues and nobody can stop it. “For example, it can reject the Law on Defense and say that the decisions of the Court and the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H are not going to be implemented on the territory of the RS… Nobody should doubt us.”

Asked why he is often threatening, Dodik said that he is reacting to the behavior of political Sarajevo. “Many things have been taken from us. B&H does not have many competences, but it seems like it has. We just want to introduce order. We have been harassed by the High Representatives for the past 20 years and now is the time for us to reject it… The foreigners need to be put in their place. The country is not going to be sustainable if it is ruled by the foreigners. That is a serious delusion of Bosniak politicians. It is great that they are now on the side of Bosniaks, but looking at it long term, it does not provide sustainable system. We never had an internal agreement without foreigners here,” said Dodik and added that the foreigners are using the inability of domestic politicians to reach an agreement. He went on to say that even though throughout history they were never on the same side, now they should be able to respect everyone’s rights. “We are ready to stop denying each other in any sense, not just the national one.” He rejected any talk about a civic country, underlining that the Bosniaks are constantly denying the RS. Commenting the Annual National Program (ANP), Dodik said that SDS and former Member of the Presidency of B&H Mladen Ivanic intentionally left the issue to be discussed after the elections, which was accepted by SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic. “And now we are in a position not to have the Council of Ministers. Why should we worry about that? We said we are going to do it the same day the conditions are met. Those conditions are intentionally not being met. And now what?” wondered Dodik and pointed out that HDZ B&H is not hiding the fact they are for NATO integration, but they do not believe the state-level authority should suffer for it. “SDA believes everything should be stopped. I believe they are under the influence of Komsic (Chairman of B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic).” Dodik said that SDA is blaming him for failure to implement the agreement reached this summer, but they are the ones unwilling to compromise. “I am not against cooperation with NATO, or continuation of reform of the Armed Forces, especially because we are interested in cost reductions,” said Dodik and pointed out that they oppose membership in the alliance which bombarded the Serb people. Also, he said that the membership in NATO would mean B&H would have to double the money it is allocating for NATO, which would mean less money for the internal projects and local communities. Dodik concluded that B&H can and should be neutral when it comes to the global issues. Asked about the lack of state authority, Dodik said that SNSD is willing to enter the parliament of B&H and vote, but many believe that is unnecessary now. “If we wanted it at any cost, we would have finished this a long time ago. We are trying to have responsible politics. But I believe that some in Sarajevo are acting irresponsibly,” he said and added that it is the same as when Izetbegovic chose SDS as its partner in 2014. Dodik went on to say that everything is too complicated in B&H, which is why he is proposing a reset, but he rejected an armed conflict as a consequence of that reset. SNSD leader said that he is for cooperation amongst the entities, not the blockade of the projects, which is what political Sarajevo is doing when it comes to the RS. He said that Sarajevo does not have to love him, but they must understand the importance of the projects beneficial to both entities. Asked to comment his claims that Serbs do not need B&H, he said: “You must understand that… I do not want to endanger the status Serbs have as a people through my work, but I want to ensure they have the rights Bosniaks have.” Asked about his support to the claims of French President Emmanuel Macron that B&H is ticking time bomb, Dodik said he wishes Macron was wrong, but considering his experience, he must say that the problem of Islamic radicalism is real in B&H. He underlined that B&H authorities must consider how they are going to deal with returnees from foreign battlefields, so they can contain spreading of that ideology. Dodik said that he does not hate anyone, including Bosniaks, but political Sarajevo is making him a boogeyman. “I am a political representative of one people and of course I am trying to fight for a position of that people, not endangering anyone else.”

 

Dodik and Ivantsov discuss RS parliament conclusions (RTRS)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik and Russian Ambassador to B&H Petr Ivantsov agreed during their meeting in Banja Luka on Thursday that conclusions adopted at the special session of the RS parliament are in line with the principles of the Dayton Peace Agreement and that they defend the basic principles of the peace agreement such as the equality of the three constituent peoples and the two entities with wide powers. Dodik thanked the Russian Ambassador for always trying to understand the position of the RS and the entity’s need to protect the Dayton Peace Agreement. Dodik underlines that the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in B&H is not a ‘supreme interpreter’ of the Dayton Agreement, adding that since it was signed until this day, the RS has been interpreting and respecting the Agreement properly.

 

OSCE’s Kavalec: RS parliament conclusions are cause for concern (Oslobodjenje)

 

Head of the OSCE Mission to B&H Kathleen Kavalec stated for the that the citizens of B&H, including those who live in the RS, expect from their political representatives to deal with the real problems, not to artificially create the new ones. Commenting the conclusions of the RS parliament regarding the Office of the High Representative and transfer of entity competences, Kavalec said that the preliminary analysis of those conclusions causes concern regarding many significant legal and political issues.

 

EPP meeting not to be held in Croatian parliament (HRT)

 

The leadership of the European People’s Party has decided to not hold a technical meeting in Croatian parliament. They confirmed that they made the decision because they don’t want to damage the group. Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman confirmed that the meeting would not be held in parliament. “That is an agreement with the organizer regarding where the best locations are with the best access. When you organize something, you need to see all the possibilities that are actually the best available, it’s a demanding manifestation,” said Radman when asked by reporters why the decision was changed. The opposition commented the decision. “That is a shameful decision and it can only happen in the European Union. Now at the last moment they are protecting their partner, the Croatian Democratic Union. How can you allow a party of which Chetnik (Serbian President Aleksandar) Vucic and Fascist (Member of the European Parliament Antonio) Tajani are members, to be in parliament at the time we remember Vukovar?” asked MOST party MP Miro Bulj, who called the decision a victory and defense of parliament’s dignity. “I doubt the European People’s Party think more about damages to the Croatian Democratic Union than the Croatian Democratic Union itself. They concluded themselves that this will be damaging and the European People’s Party are only an excuse” said Social Democratic Party MP Arsen Bauk who believes that public pressure was successful.

Croatian Peasant Party leader Kreso Beljak noted that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is still coming to Zagreb, as a part of the same political group that the Croatian Democratic Union belongs to. “I think it would be too much to see a Chetnik speak in Croatian parliament, a man that in 95 in Glina spoke about how it will never be a part of fascist Croatia, and now he would speak in what he would call Ustasha parliament. That would be too much for (Croatian Prime Minister Andrej) Plenkovic. But he will be in Zagreb, he will be here, they are a part of the same family, it doesn’t change anything,” said Beljak.

 

EU: Montenegro isn’t blocked, but still many challenges lie ahead (CDM)

 

EU non-paper on the state of play concerning rule of law, whose final version will be adopted tomorrow, doesn’t indicate that Montenegro has been blocked in the European integration process as some media, NGOs and representatives of political parties tried to present it.

The EU requests continuation of reform processes but the situation isn’t hopeless. CDM had insight into the working version of the document. It doesn’t say that Montenegro has been blocked. The document on Montenegro’s progress in the first nine months if this year regarding two most complex negotiating chapters states that Montenegro continued to implement action plans for Chapters 23 and 24, as well as other strategic documents related to the rule of law.

Montenegro tackled many challenges, especially in critical areas such as media freedom, fight against corruption and human trafficking. It worked hard on harmonizing legal norms of the EU and strengthening institutions. Many challenges lie ahead, reads the document. As far as Chapter 23 is concerned, the document states that Montenegro is working on new legislative framework concerning media, including the new law on the national RTCG emitter. The document also says that new criminal investigations have been opened. The most important fact is that Montenegro isn’t going backwards and that it continues to fight corruption, while ensuring independence of all institutions. EU warns that Montenegro needs credible, independent and efficient institutional response to recent accusations regarding political corruption and illegal financing of political parties. Part referring to Chapter 24, reads that Montenegro increased participation in international police cooperation, which resulted in successful operation against Montenegrin criminal groups in the country and abroad. Huge amounts of drugs have been seized and members of highly-ranked criminal groups have been arrested. Center for civil education said today that EC’s Working Paper on the situation in Chapters 23 and 24 confirmed their allegations that Montenegro had stagnated in those areas. Director of the Center, Daliborka Uljarevic, says that EC has pointed at the current situation in judiciary, media and fight against corruption. However, president of Civil Alliance, Boris Raonic, disagrees. “Chasing exclusive news and commenting unofficial documents brings only temporary benefit. The process is vulnerable and, therefore, this act is bad, increases mistrust and undermined EU image,” said Raonic.

 

Pendarovski: We may get a positive decision to start EU talks before May (Republika/TV Telma)

 

“At the meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday, I did not get a signal that EU accession talks would start, I did not get guarantee that we would receive a positive decision in the spring. I received some kind of guarantee that the new methodology is underway and will be ready soon, and announced that the deadline for it to be adopted, according to him, should be no later than March,” President Stevo Pendarovski said Thursday in an interview with TV Telma and expressed hope that at the Zagreb Summit in May we will get a positive decision on the start of accession negotiations with the EU, but did not rule out the possibility of a decision being made earlier. Pendarovski says his general impression of the 20-minute meeting with President Macron is that he is a non-standard politician, straightforward, quite intelligent and does not use tiresome diplomatic phrases. At the beginning of the conversation, Pendarovski said, Macron told him that he wanted to discuss only EU enlargement. At the end of the conversation, one of the five most influential people in the world at the moment, Pendarovski said, told him what he could commit himself to and what he could not commit to. “He committed himself to the methodology, to the political decision that will follow the methodology and he committed himself to come to our country and explain to the citizens what his position is because in the meantime after 18 October and the Council of Europe there were many negative reports on France and its views on enlargement,” Pendarovski said. He added that French President Macron had told him that he had no intention of offering us an alternative membership or alternative to membership. I intend, Macron said, to improve the process so that it is not only formal and bureaucratic to enter the EU and ultimately, Pendarovski underlined, that we have negative tendencies in vital areas. “We received assurances that there will be no political decision later than May, at the EU Summit in Zagreb, scheduled for 6 May. We received assurances that it is coming in the first six months of 2020,” Pendarovski said. According to President Pendarovski, the methodology for EU enlargement is currently circulating as non-paper and so far, only a few EU member states have seen it. “If a positive decision to open negotiations is not made in March, if not earlier, and we wait for May, it is logical that they will want to see how we organize the early parliamentary elections. That is my assessment,” said Pendarovski among other things.

 

Zaev: Greece will help us get date for start of EU accession negotiations (Republika)

 

“Greece will help us get a date for start of EU accession talks, and the implementation of the Prespa Agreement will go as planned,” outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Thursday after meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Thessaloniki. “The implementation of the Prespa Agreement should go along with the positive and anticipated dynamics and we are working on both sides on this issue. Our focus was on the European Council, the European Council’s decision. I had the opportunity to get firsthand information about what was discussed, what the expectations are. The Prime Minister of the friendly Republic of Greece will fight for our country to finally get the date for start of negotiations and I am happy for that,” the outgoing Prime Minister Thursday said after the meeting. The outgoing Prime Minister, as he said, explained to me in detail his activities, plans, which steps to take and help us. We discussed border crossings, that it is a good things that the Markova noga crossing is being built. We discussed that the international expert group should continue discussions and meetings to find solutions acceptable to both parties. I believe that there is an acceptable solution to this issue, the talks should continue, the chambers are already communicating which will be of great help. And I know that we will find an acceptable solution that will truly benefit businessmen, producers, companies, both from the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Greece, said Zaev.

 

Varhely: Skopje and Tirana should start EU talks by May 2020 (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

Hungarian Oliver Varhely, who is the Commissioner-designate for Neighborhood and Enlargement, for two and a half hours on Thursday was speaking at a hearing where MEPs had to test his general competences to do his job in the coming five years. In his opening remarks, Varhely said he would do his best to convince the EU members that the two hopefuls, North Macedonia and Albania, should be allowed to start negotiations with the EU ahead of the Zagreb Summit in May 2020. Three countries, namely France, the Netherlands and Denmark, object to the enlargement process, according to him. Expressing full support for the European perspective of North Macedonia and Albania, Varhely said he hoped that if approved to assume the post of EU commissioner for enlargement, Skopje and Tirana would be likely halfway through the negotiations process by the end of his term. On North Macedonia, the Hungarian diplomat noted that majority of EU leaders had visited Skopje ahead of the 2018 name referendum, promising the country the opening of accession talks if the referendum was to be successful. “What is at stake here is the EU’s credibility in the region and beyond,” Varhely said while being heard by the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET).

 

Kurti opposes the Balkan Mini-Schengen (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

The leader of the Self-Determination Movement, the next Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, said that the Ohrid meeting for the Mini-Schengen should have been postponed until the formation of the Kosovo government. According to Kurti, participation in this project must focus on the principles of political and economic reciprocity. For Kurti, focusing on the regional initiatives does not serve to the unification of the Albanian people. He also urged officials in Tirana to first remove barriers between Albania and Kosovo before “hurrying” into the Mini Schengen agreement. Authorities in Kosovo have rejected involvement in the initiative by Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia, calling it meaningless as long as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina do not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Political parties have even described it as an attempt to revive former Yugoslavia. Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, rejected such assessments, while stressing that Kosovo was not impeded by anyone, but was self-excluded. Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also expressed reservations and have asked for time to assess this regional initiative. Three Western Balkan EU hopefuls, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, have decided to advance regional cooperation by forming the so-called “mini-Schengen” in order to improve life and the economy in the region until the EU opens its doors to them.

 

Cakaj seeks Kosovo’s UNESCO membership (ADN)

 

Albania’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Gent Cakaj said on Thursday that he stressed the importance of Kosovo’s membership at UNESCO during the meeting with UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay. At the meeting, Cakaj raised the issue of Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO. “I stressed the importance of the Republic of Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO. Kosovo is today a regional example in protection of the rights of minorities and cultural heritage in general,” said Minister Cakaj.

 

New head of European Parliament Delegation: Negotiations will be discussed in May 2020 (Radio Tirana)

 

The new head of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Albania Stabilization and Association Committee, Manolis Kefalogiannis, said the decision to open the negotiations for Tirana and Skopje would be discussed again in May 2020, hoping France would change its stance.  He also opposed the separation of the two countries, Albania and Macedonia, on the issue of negotiations. “The decision to start the membership process has been delayed; it is set for May 2020. However, this is something that should not disappoint both candidate countries and their people. They must stand in their efforts to intensely complete all necessary reforms without failing their European orientation and their European future,” said Kefalogiannis.

Greece has always acknowledged that under certain circumstances the European Union can begin the process. This is something that will contribute to the stability and peace in the Balkan area which has experienced so much turmoil over the centuries. The European Union must face two challenges in the next five years, reform and enlargement. I truly believe we can make great strides in both areas, noted the head of the European Parliament Delegation. Europe is the land of creative dialogue and compromise, so I sincerely hope that by May next year any opposition from France will be wiped out and the accession process of the two Western Balkans countries will begin. I think any separation between the two countries would send the wrong message.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Statement on Western Balkans Mini-Schengen (US Embassy in Germany, 14 November 2019)

 

“We welcome the Western Balkans’ ‘mini-Schengen’ initiative as a way to jump start the free movement of people and commerce. We believe that for this initiative to be successful, it must include everyone in the region, including the Government of Kosovo. The Trump Administration is focused on helping the entire region create economic opportunities and jobs for young people.”

 

Carpenter: Kosovo won’t be Trump’s foreign policy success in 2020 (European Western Balkans, by Nikola Burazer, 15 November 2019)

 

What is the US policy on the Western Balkans, how to understand the US support for border change between Serbia and Kosovo and is there a rift between the EU and the US in the region? About these and some other issues, EWB spoke with Michael Carpenter, Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and former foreign policy advisor to US Vice President Joe Biden.

European Western Balkans: The last time we spoke was in spring 2017. Back then, it was not really clear what the US policy in the Western Balkans was going to be. Two and a half years later, how do you assess Trump’s policy in the region?

Michael Carpenter: I think it is a mixed record. There have been some successes, like the Prespa Agreement. I wouldn’t necessarily call it Trump’s success, but it was on his watch and he supported it, so I think that is positive. But, there have also been a stasis in terms of Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and not a lot of progress in other areas. The administration has clearly tried under Wes Mitchell to achieve some home runs in the Balkans, so you had some attention from Pompeo and Bolton, but at the end of the day, there is not that much to show for their efforts.

EWB: Many believe that Trump needs a foreign policy success before the presidential elections in 2020 and that Kosovo-Serbia normalization can be such a success for his administration. Do you share that belief, or you think that Western Balkans is not that important for Trump?

MC: I think he really wants a foreign policy success he can point to in 2020. And his flailing with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria means that he really needs something positive to be able to show the population that he has had at least one success in his foreign policy.

Certainly, he would like to have a success here, but I do not see the circumstances leading to a success in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Not for any reasons having to do with Trump, but simply because of other political factors between the two countries. And also, this strange duality of appointing two envoys that I don’t think is a recipe for success. So, fundamentally, I don’t think Trump is going to achieve what he wants.

EWB: Could then the Western Balkans theoretically be this foreign policy success for Donald Trump?

MC: Theoretically, it could be. In contrast to all these foreign policy hotspots that I have mentioned, those all had Trump’s personal involvement. So, maybe that is a positive thing since he has left this to Bolton and Pompeo and the professionals to try to establish the groundwork for success. By the same token, the fact that he does not have a personal stake in any particular outcome in this region means he is not all that vested in it, he is not going to spend a lot of unnecessary time or energy pursuing something here.

EWB: There is an impression that in recent months the USA is getting more involved in the Western Balkans. I am referring to the appointment of two envoys, the support for EU enlargement after lack of decision on opening EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. How do you assess this?

MC: It is hard to say. It is true that the two envoys show that the US is paying more attention to this region. At the same time, Mathew Palmer was already a deputy assistant secretary, so he was already covering this region to begin with, the fact that he now has a title of envoy does not change that much. The fact that Grenell was appointed as an envoy for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is, on the one hand, a positive step, since someone is being appointed for such an important foreign policy topic. But the fact that he is currently serving as the US ambassador to Germany to me doesn’t make any sense and I think the administration is not taking it seriously, since the US is not appointing someone who is just going to focus on this issue, like, for example, Kurt Walker, who is just focused on Ukraine. That would be a smart thing to do: having someone who is an expert in the Balkans dedicated to this issue. Having Grenell appointed is not serious.

EWB: Having in mind that he already has the Western Balkans in his portfolio, where is this designation of Mathew Palmer as a „special representative“ coming from?

MC: I cannot tell you exactly because I don’t know, but my suspicion is that you have seen with this administration on many occasions that there is an official State Department foreign policy and there is often a parallel policy run by Trump insiders, people that have some personal connection to the President and his campaign. Grenell is obviously someone who has the ear of the President, that is his trusted envoy, while Palmer is a career diplomat, but he doesn’t necessarily have the trust of the President. That is the only explanation I see for having these dual envoys in the region, because otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it leads to confusion, and not just here among the leaders in Belgrade or Pristina, but also in the European capitals, because they do not know who to call and who to deal with.

EWB: Maybe the most controversial US move in the Western Balkans was the support for border change. Where does the support come from? Is it like a quick fix solution or is it a long-term evolution of US policy?

MC: I don’t think the previous administration had a position on the possibility of the land swap and within the Democratic Party, which is my party, the opinion is quite divided, there are some people who are for and other people who are quite vehemently against it. I think the Trump administration’s support for a land swap comes from a few influential personnel in the administration like John Bolton and Wes Mitchell. I don’t know if this is a conviction shared by everybody inside Trump’s administration, but certainly those two individuals and then Pompeo by extension was convinced by Mitchell to go along, and this is where we are now.

EWB: So you do think this may be a way for Trump to have a „quick fix“ solution?

MC: I don’t say this critically, but I think these individuals that I mentioned – Bolton, Mitchell and Pompeo – saw this a potential win that could be racked up before the Trump administration, so they decided to get on board with this policy of supporting whatever the two sides agreed to.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve a major breakthrough in the diplomatic dispute in this region. In fact, that is a good thing. But I don’t know if they thought through all the various complications, especially the fact that politics is Kosovo not aligned at all to support this solution and I am not sure they thought about these couple of steps ahead to figure out what to do with the situation. That’s the trap they are in now.

EWB: US officials mentioned several times that it is the fear from Russian influence is why the US insist on a solution that entails the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia since they see the Russian non-recognition of Kosovo as the main vessel of Russian influence in the region. Does this logic make any sense to you

MC: I think there is an element of truth to that, but I wouldn’t overemphasize support for the two sides coming to a resolution of the conflict as being motivated exclusively by some sort of animosity towards Moscow. I think you are right – the fact that there is a dispute between Kosovo and Serbia allows Russia to portray itself as the representative of Serbian interests on the world stage, that is certainly how Moscow plays it. It would be nice for the US to be able to play a bigger role and undercut that notion that Russia is always going to be by the Serbian side and have the US play a more constructive role. But I don’t think it is motivated purely by wanting to counter Moscow. I think having a resolution of this conflict would definitely promote stability and security in the Balkans and that has traditionally been the overriding foreign policy goal and think it continues to be the number one goal, and then Russia is simply a side-product of that goal.

EWB: Speaking of Russian influence in the region, do you think it decreased in the last couple of years, having in mind that Montenegro joined NATO and North Macedonia is soon to follow suit?

MC: That is a good question. You have seen a decrease of Russian influence in Montenegro and I think you have seen it diminish at least temporarily in North Macedonia, but the Russians are still very much wanting to exert influence in both countries and the Serbian Orthodox Church is a key instrument to that certainly in Montenegro, and to a slightly less extent in North Macedonia. The Russians are still trying to project influence and are having a lot of success in the Republic of Srpska, here in Serbia and in other places. So, I would not say its influence is diminished, I would say the influence has increased if you look at the region as a whole, but yes, perhaps in those two countries, it was attenuated as a result of a successful NATO accession.

EWB: Do you think there is a rift between the US and the EU when it comes to the Western Balkans? We could see a few turbulences between them in general, but do you think they have a shared interest in the region or they have some competing views about how should things look like in here, and what are the priorities?

MC: I think strategically there is no daylight between what the US and EU want to achieve. At least theoretically, we should be on the same page and we should be 100 percent aligned. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be. Of course, there are, amongst different politicians, there are tactical differences, we were just speaking about tactical differences in how to approach Kosovo and Serbia amongst the politicians within the US foreign policy establishment. It stands to reason that there are different approaches across the Atlantic as well. Frankly, the biggest outlier is the president Macron of France. He has taken a position that is devastating for the region, in terms of diminishing the potential of countries in this region, specifically North Macedonia and Albania, but it impacts the entire region, because it diminishes the European perspective. That is a tragic decision he has taken in a crucial moment in time, as timing really couldn’t be worse for his announcement. So, I see Macron as the outlier, not necessarily so much daylight between Brussels and the US. In fact, I think Von Leyen is probably more aligned with the US the position of supporting Euro-Atlantic integrations than Macron. Yes, certainly there are fissures in the transatlantic relationship, but they are primarily between Paris and the rest.

EWB: Speaking of Macron, he also gave an interview a couple of days ago, stating that NATO is practically brain-dead. How do you see this statement? Is NATO itself actually under question?

MC: No, I think the survival of NATO shouldn’t be under any question. I think NATO continues to be the most successful alliance in the world and it will continue to be so. I think Macron’s remarks are very unfortunate. I think he should have thought more carefully when he spoke. It is reminiscent of what Donald Trump said at the campaign trail when he talked about NATO being obsolete. That is a very deleterious and injurious term to use. And now ironically you have Macron backing up something that Trump said. But you also have to understand the context in which Macron said what he did. And the context is, unfortunately, that the US under Trump has cast a lot of doubt about the credibility of Article 5. Let us not forget Trump’s comments about defending Montenegro in the event of a crisis. Unfortunately, my own country and this obsessive talk 2 percent spending on defence has created certain fissures in the Alliance that are real. That said, Macron’s statement was overblown, and it was almost hysterical in terms of the language he used, and the institution and the organization is on a very solid footing and will continue to be so.

EWB: Are these rifts, such as this Macron’s statement and this decision not to open EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, creating more space for Russia and other external actors to get involved in the region?

MC: Yes, definitely. Because whenever NATO leaders undercut the credibility of Article 5 or cast some doubts, even rhetorically, this opens space for Russia to come in. Of course, the Russian propaganda outlets rebroadcast the statement about NATO being braindead everywhere. This is music to their ears, they love this, just as they loved Trump’s comments on NATO being obsolete. It is playing on Russian interests, it is really an own goal in a sense. But I have to say if you look at NATO military capabilities, and how they evolved over the last 5 years since the Wales Summit, there is a clear story of increased capabilities being deployed to the Eastern flank of the Alliance. And in fact, our deterrent capability has never been higher than it is today. So, if you look at the objective military capabilities, you see one thing. If you take a look at the politicians’ statements, you see eroding confidence in the organization. But, hopefully, in a few years’ time, if we have a different leader, and I am speaking, of course, from my personal perspective, then we will be able to fix some of these perceptions regarding the political will.

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