Vucic: There is no conflict between Stefanovic and me (Beta)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has dismissed allegations by certain media that the ongoing arms trafficking affair is in fact his showdown with Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic.
Answering reporters’ questions after a tour of the Belgrade Waterfront, Vucic said that he had severely accused Nebojsa Stefanovic’s father when he said he was employed at the GIM company, because he had wrongly thought that to be true, but that Stefanovic had confirmed to him that Branko Stefanovic was not even an employee at the company. He told the heads of the opposition Alliance for Serbia several times to “stop lying” and to decide whether this was “big crime or a party showdown.” “You should be ashamed of yourselves, saying that this is crime, lying to the people, if we in the party are clashing with each other, convincing the people that this is big crime, how dare you lie, when you yourselves say that it’s an internal party showdown because I want to Europeanize the party, lying that we are all engaged in crime, how can you say that,” said Vucic and pointed out that the opposition “lies all day, every day.” “I ask again, was that crime or a party showdown? They are either morons or liars, there is no third option,” said the President. He added: “If Branko Stefanovic or Nebojsa Stefanovic have committed any crime,” those who claim that should press criminal charges. Asked to comment on a document stating that Branko Stefanovic visited Krusik in 2017 as a member of an official GIM delegation, Vucic said that it proved nothing and that he didn’t know where Branko Stefanovic had been at the time, “because I’m neither his father nor mother.” As for Aleksandar Obradovic, the whistleblower from Valjevo, Vucic said he was not a real whistleblower, that his mother had gotten him a job at Krusik and when she was dismissed she moved on to a position at a rival company, while Obradovic presented his findings to “a foreign state.” “Why did you destroy our defense industry, why didn’t you say that two Bulgarian companies which sell mines and grenades have the same program as Krusik, so you wanted them to sell and Krusik to fail,” said Vucic. Vucic underscored that the opposition was trying to cover up its own affairs and added that the real whistleblower, Lazar Lesnjak, who had uncovered the affairs of Belgrade’s Stari Grad municipal chief Marko Bastac, would be protected because he had witnessed the most severe criminal offenses.
Djuric: Kurti danger for stability of region (Tanjug/RTV)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has stated that the candidate for Kosovo premier Albin Kurti has been confirming what kind of danger he poses for stability of region and entire Europe. He says that Kurti, by saying that he doesn’t wish talks with Belgrade
but dialogue on dialogue, which is a euphemism for complete lack of dialogue, shows that his only goal is not ensuring a better life to Albanians, but inflicting damage to Serbia and Serbian national interests. “His clear intention is to extremize and militarize Albanians as much as possible with his fascist messages and moves so he could impose his Greater Albanian project in the future under the threat of force,” said Djuric in public statement.
France suggests new principles for WB EU accession (Beta)
Any new strategy to integrate the Western Balkans with the European Union (EU) should be based on the principles of gradual accession, strict conditions, tangible benefits and reversibility, says a non-paper that France has sent to the EU’s member-states. “Once the negotiations are open, the integration process would no longer be based on the opening of a large number of thematic chapters, but rather on several consecutive stages, which would form coherent blocks of policies and a scheme established by the EU relying on the specific characteristics of each candidate, as appropriate,” says the document that Beta was given access to on Nov. 16.
France voiced its “unambiguous” support to the Western Balkans’ accession, including Kosovo, and the rule of law remains a key pillar in the negotiating process, from the beginning to the end, with the ultimate goal being the region’s entry into the Union, the non-paper says.
“The rule of law and fundamental rights would remain an integral requirement from the moment the negotiations begin.. throughout each segment of the process. Full and complete accession would be the ultimate goal,” the document reads.
European Parliament delegation meets with Vucic (FoNet)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with the European Parliament delegation mediating talks on election conditions between the ruling coalition and opposition, a press release from the president’s cabinet said on Friday. The EP delegation met with Vucic during a break in the talks. The Serbian presidency is across the street from the old parliament building where the talks are being held. The press release said that the meeting “discussed all important questions and remarks by part of the non-parliamentary opposition to election conditions and procedures in Serbia”. Ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) MP Vladimir Djukanovic told reporters during a break in the talks on elections conditions that the mood is good and that ruling coalition officials are prepared to hear criticism and agree to any rational proposal while opposition Nova Stranka leader Zoran Zivkovic said that just three of the 17 proposals had been implemented and called the EU to keep watch over the un-democratic authorities, FoNet reported.
Joint press statement after European Parliament facilitated inter-party dialogue (Tanjug)
The 2nd European Parliament facilitated Inter-Party Dialogue was held on 14 and 15 November in the Serbian parliament. It took-stock of the achievements since October’s 1st Inter-Party Dialogue (IPD) and called for the full implementation of the commitments in the annexed “Implementation Table”, and to come forward with additional initiatives to improve the conditions for holding parliamentary elections in-line with the recommendations in the reports of the European Commission and OSCE/ODHIR. The political groups, taking part in the IPD, recognized the progress made regarding the training of officials on the Single Electoral Roll and on the new internet site created to inform citizens about the electoral roll. The Dialogue noted the organization of the Open meeting on the role and conduct of the REM at the parliament and called for the urgent follow-up with concrete actions to address concerns about the overall media environment. The importance of a complete membership in the REM, including the “3+1” formula, and guaranteeing fair access and coverage by the public broadcasters was considered a priority. The Dialogue also called on all state institutions to fulfil the commitments under their competences and apply the highest standards of transparency in their work. After the dialogue Serbian parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic stated: “The Dialogue in the parliament underlines the importance of the parliament as the venue for discussing important reforms necessary for improving the conditions for holding parliamentary elections. I appreciate the support of the European Parliament with the facilitation of the Inter-Party Dialogue on the electoral conditions, as well as the long-term commitment to work with the paliament and on Serbia’s EU accession agenda.” European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Serbia Vladimir Bilcik stated: “There is limited progress since the first round of the Dialogue, the government and the opposition need to move further – beyond their initial positions. We heard real frustrations related to the lack of trust and that something significant would be needed to build trust across the political spectrum and show to the citizens that real efforts are being made to improve conditions ahead of the elections. In our productive meeting with President Vucic, it was agreed that “3+1” new representatives would be appointed in the REM, to adopt a new Regulation based on best European practice for the Public Broadcasters to ensure fair access and coverage during the electoral campaign, and to establish the Supervisory Board in the parliament to oversee the implementation of all election related commitments. These steps and the commitments in the IPD Conclusions should all be achieved before our next Dialogue.” Tanja Fajon, Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee stated: “We got some new proposals from all stakeholders, however the clock is ticking and we call on the governing coalition not to waste any more time discussing and start implementing. For this to be a success, we call on the opposition to come back to the parliament and engage in dialogue to hold the government to account on its commitments.”
SNSD, HDZ B&H delegations met, but fail to bring progress in formation of CoM (TV1)
A delegation of SNSD, led by leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik met a delegation of HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), led by leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic in Mostar on Friday. TV1 reported that the meeting did not bring anything new or concrete in process of formation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM). According to Dodik, there was no need to discuss this issue on Friday as the two parties harmonized everything about this issue a long time ago. Dodik strongly supported HDZ B&H in efforts to change the B&H Election Law in a way that one people does not elect political representatives of the other people. Dodik also said that he does not like to attend meetings in Sarajevo because they are unproductive and tiring. According to Dodik, the issue of the ANP was raised in order to prevent some other issues. Dodik said: “I think that teasers from Sarajevo are working hard to disable any kind of progress”. The reporter noted that unlike Dodik, Covic was optimistic as usual. Covic said: “I deeply believe that it is about time to establish the B&H CoM and to start functioning. It seems to me that we are not far from this”. The reporter concluded by saying that three meetings held in the past ten days failed to bring anything new and the real question is whether authorities at all levels of power in B&H will be formed at all. Both SNSD and HDZ B&H expressed willingness to sit down with SDA and again put the agreement on formation of the B&H CoM signed on 5 August on the agenda. “We agreed to move with certain intensity towards formation of the executive authorities, i.e. the B&H CoM and of course in parallel towards formation of parliamentary authorities. In that sense, certain activities regarding commissions in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) have been launched,” Covic told a press conference following his meeting with Dodik. Dodik stated that he is not so optimistic about soon formation of B&H CoM as he does not trust SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, stressing that talks with Izetbegovic are just a waste of time.
SNSD delivers proposal for commissions to Collegium of B&H HoR (FTV)
SNSD submitted its proposal of all six members of parliamentary commissions to the Collegium of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) on Friday, by which the work of the B&H HoR was expected to be unblocked. According to SNSD representative in the B&H HoR Stasa Kosarac, this is a response to SDS and PDP’s initiative for the B&H HoR Rules of Procedure to be amended so that they could “usurp” the work of Republika Srpska (RS) and its institutions. Representatives of the opposition parties in the RS assessed this move as “humiliating and unprofessional,” especially since it is a response to SDS and PDP’s initiative. They reminded that SDS leader Mirko Sarovic and PDP leader Branislav Borenovic had enough support to amend the B&H HoR Rules of Procedure, which means that this move is a result of fear. SDS representative in the RS parliament Nebojsa Vukanovic reminded that the work of the B&H HoR was supposed to be unblocked, so SNSD realized that they can no longer obstruct it and that member of the B&H HoR Collegium Nebojsa Radmanovic might be removed. “SNSD was then forced to nominate members of the commissions after a year,” Vukanovic said. Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic dismissed the statement of Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik that everyone in B&H is tired of Dzaferovic’s efforts to ensure the rule of law and compliance with the laws. Dzaferovic argued that people are tired of those who violate the laws and prevent progress of B&H in this way. SDA representative in the B&H HoR Alma Colo stressed that it is also necessary to nominate members of a total of six joint commissions of the B&H HoR and the B&H HoP. “They should also nominate their members of the commissions in the B&H HoP, so that the B&H Parliament can function as a whole,” Colo explained. Head of DF Caucus in the B&H HoR Dzenan Djonlagic assessed that the B&H parliament is a “political hostage” of inter-party conflicts and political games between the two political blocs in the RS. SBB B&H representative in the B&H HoR Damir Arnaut argued that B&H HoR Speaker Denis Zvizdic, B&H HoR deputy speaker Nebojsa Radmanovic and B&H HoR deputy speaker Borjana Kristo keep each other at these posts. SNSD leader Dodik stated that the list of candidates was submitted only with the goal to preserve the RS’ interests. He stressed that SDS and PDP that have already submitted their proposal of amendments to the HoR’s rules of procedure should respect the conclusions of the RS parliament opposing the amendments to the rules of procedures that degrade the position of the Serb Constituent People. Dodik explained that the primary stance was that the HoR should not work because of failure to form new convocation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM), but that SNSD submitted proposal of members of B&H parliament’s commissions because of responsibility towards the RS and in order to prevent the possibility of outvoting in joint institutions. According to Dodik, this was not done willingly but with an aim to prevent realization of the initiative announced by SDS and PDP. Head of the Serb Caucus in B&H HoR Nenad Stevandic confirmed that this Caucus also decided to submit the proposal of members of permanent commission, noting that the motive was protection of the RS’ interests.
SNSD calls on SDS and PDP to give up on amendments to B&H HoR Rules of Procedure, SDS and PDP refuse to do that (N1)
Representatives of SNSD stated on Saturday that their proposal of members of parliamentary commissions in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) is not an act of capitulation. They called on SDS and PDP to give up on amendments to the B&H HoR Rules of Procedure. Representatives of SNSD announced that they will also submit their proposals for the B&H House of People (HoP), which is also expected to be unblocked soon. They added that everything will be accelerated in the upcoming period, but the question is if this refers to the process of formation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) as well, according to the reporter. When asked about the Annual National Program (ANP), SNSD Vice President Nebojsa Radmanovic replied: “If the ANP is related to NATO, i.e. to the MAP (Membership Action Plan), we cannot adopt it. What is written in the document, i.e. the reforms that are already being implemented, should not represent an issue.” On the other hand, representatives of SDS and PDP made it clear that they will continue the process of amending the B&H HoR Rules of Procedure despite the announcement that the work of the B&H parliament will be unblocked. SDS leader Mirko Sarovic stated: “Nothing has changed. We are not giving up. We did not submit our request because of one case only, but also because of cases that might happen at any time.” He assessed that things have moved on in this way, expressing his expectation that the B&H HoR will hold a session next week already. PDP leader Branislav Borenovic wondered what an acceptable and undisputable part of the ANP is as far as SNSD is concerned. “Are they sending the document to Brussels? If the document is being sent to Brussels, even with a header or with two sentences, it is activation of the MAP. This should be clear to citizens. If they agreed, they should get out and tell the citizens: ‘Yes, SNSD agreed to send the first document of this kind to Brussels’,” Borenovic argued. The reporter noted that nobody has confirmed the unofficial announcements that the ANP will certainly be sent under some other title and with only tens of pages.
Migrant shot by Croatian police while attempting to cross border (FTV)
One migrant was shot by the Croatian border police while trying to cross the border between B&H and Croatia in Gorski Kotar on Saturday afternoon. Doctors stated on Sunday that his life is still in danger. The Croatian Ministry of Interior (MoI) confirmed that the migrant was shot. The Croatian police performed a police operation near the border in Gorski Kotar, near Tuhobici. Anesthesiologist of the Rijeka hospital said that the migrant underwent urgent surgery and was admitted into intensive care. Croatian Minister of Interior Davor Bozinovic said that the police acted as usual and protected the state border in order to stop migrants from entering the country illegally. The goal of the migrants was most likely Slovenia. Asked whether the migrants were armed, Bozinovic said that he does not know and the competent county prosecution is conducting the investigation. He added that remaining 15 migrants from the group were apprehended. Tea Vidovic from the Center for Peace Studies said that accountability for the abovementioned incident should be established and accountable ones should be processed. Vidovic reminded that this is not the first time Croatian police used deadly fire during intervention concerning migrants. She reminded that the European Parliament has recently expressed concern with behavior of Croatian police towards migrants.
Parliament speaker says Serbia will have to open its archives (Hina)
Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic spoke to reporters on Monday at the event marking the 28th anniversary of the town’s fall into the hands of Serb insurgents and the Yugoslav People’s Army on November 18, 1991. “A large number of people gather here every year and they feel Vukovar’s wounds, as well as great pride and gratitude to the town and the people who defended it, because it was their heroism and selflessness that resulted in Croatia’s victory in the war and paved the way to freedom and independence,” Jandrokovic said. Asked by reporters if Croatia should block Serbia on its path to EU membership, as suggested by the Croatian president, in order to get information on people gone missing in the 1991-95 war, Jandrokovic said that Serbia would have to open its archives to show what had happened. He said that the policy Serbia was pursuing did not contribute to reconciliation in the region. “Croatia is a member of the EU and there are mechanisms which we can use as regards negotiations of any EU aspirant. Data on war victims and people gone missing are in a way part of the acquis communautaire because they concern human rights and fundamental values on which the EU is based. I am confident that Serbia will have to meet all of its obligations,” Jandrokovic said. Asked again if blockade was an option, Jandrokovic repeated that Serbia would have to meet its obligations, that its negotiating path was long and that he believed that “what we are talking about today will eventually happen.”
Non paper: Macron’s award and punishment for Montenegro and WB (CDM)
If Brussels accepts to change the rules of the negotiation process, as suggested by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, that means there won’t be any deadlines for Montenegro and other Western Balkan (WB) countries. Macron’s plan is some sort of a punishment-award system, because it envisages that candidate counties should be integrated into the Union following chapter by chapter principle and that they should have an access to Brussels funds as soon as they close a chapter. Also, the plan suggests that candidate countries should be deprived of benefits if they fail to implement reforms. Therefore, Macron’s plan envisages the blockade in the process, in case a candidate country fails to reform the internal system in accordance with the EU recommendations. “Once again, we reiterate our full support for the WB countries’ European aspirations. Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia belong to Europe. Closer ties with the EU are the only way to consolidate these countries on the grounds of the rule of law, open and pluralist societies, and to continue to give young people perspective and future, promote reconciliation among nations,” reads the document.
STOP is also an option
In his document, Macron also lists the benefits that Montenegro and other countries would gain if they worked diligently on implementing reforms and followed the instructions of Brussels. He suggests establishment of reversibility principle for settling situations in which a candidate country, partially or in its entirety, fails to meet the criteria or fulfill the assumed tasks. EU’s response would be proportionate to the seriousness of the omission. President of Civil Alliance, Boris Raonic, says that this document was a step to right direction as it emphasizes openness to the countries in the region. “With new rules, the ball is in our court now. I hope EU members will agree on the paper so that, together with EC, they can move into faster reforms and efficient accession process” says Raonic. He thinks this is some sort of injustice to Montenegro, which now has to face a new model, although it has gone very far in the negotiation process. “But the fact that reform process will be accelerated is more important,” says Raonic.
Kurti: Vucic is like Milosevic, just uses other means (Pobjeda)
The early parliamentary elections in Pristina, Kosovo, held on 6 October this year, confirmed predictions of the majority of Pristina analysts who claimed that founder of the opposition party ‘Self-determination’ (Vetevendosje), Albin Kurti, would be Kosovo’s likely next prime minister. Kurti’s party hailed its victory in parliamentary election in Kosovo winning 25.49 per cent of the voters cast, ousting the once dominant Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, which came in third place after the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, writes Pobjeda daily. And while many observers interpret the victory of political parties and leaders whose biographies are not burdened with either criminal affairs or suspicion of war crimes as proof of the maturity of Kosovo society, the authorities in Belgrade are not thrilled with the fact they will have to negotiate with the Vetevendosje leader Kurti in the near future, as Kurti himself, before the election, had announced that his government would have no place for the Srpska Lista party, describing it as an extended arm of “Belgrade’s hegemonic politics.” Meanwhile in Kosovo – things are getting complicated. Kosovo’s Election Complaints and Appeals Panel, ECAP, decided to accept the complaint submitted by the NISMA-AKR-PD coalition (consisting of three parties, NISMA -Social Democratic Initiative, the New Kosovo Alliance – AKR and the Justice Party – PD), and has ordered the Central Election Commission to remove from the final election result the ballots of voters from Serbia. However, in the end it turns out that this gesture won’t affect the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista party but rather the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, which is going to lose three seats in the Kosovo Assembly at the recount. Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, commenting on this whole matter simply noted: “The NISMA-AKR-PD coalition convinced Albin Kurti that the actions were taken against Serbia and Serbs, but actually everything was done against him. In the end, Kurti turned out to be naïve and inexperienced.” On the other hand, Kosovo early parliamentary election winner, leader of the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party and future prime minister of Kosovo, in an interview for Pobjeda daily, says no math or any other recount of election votes would change the final parliamentary election result in Kosovo. When asked to tell about the principles of the future Kosovo govt, Kurti said: “The program we have harmonized and aligned so far, among other things, envisages that the new government of Kosovo has no more than twelve ministries, a maximum of two deputies per minister and at least 30 per cent of women. This phase of the agreement ended up very successfully, and we will discuss the division of the ministry in the coming period. I think it is also a logical order of things, which implies that the names of the candidates for the main functions come in the end. “ On the priorities of his government, he noted: “Our political agenda is based on three key pillars: justice, economic development and social protection. In order to achieve this, our priorities will be the fight against corruption and organized crime, economic development based on production and higher employment, institutional strengthening of the rule of law, quality health care system and education, the fight against poverty through social policies, etc.” As for the integration of Serbs in Kosovo’s society, Kurti told: “We will start talks with all minorities in Kosovo, which involves an open, democratic and social dialogue on the development of our society. For me it’s important that the new government has a representative of Serbs from Kosovo, not representatives of Serbia. The new government will not depend politically on Srpska Lista party.” Commenting on the claims of the authorities from Belgrade that the Constitution of Kosovo would be violated if only the new Prime Minister did not include Srpska Lista as a future partner in Kosovo’s government, the likely new PM of Kosovo was adamant: “Instead of worrying so much about the Kosovo Constitution, the Belgrade authorities should change their own constitution, which still says Kosovo is part of Serbia. But let me answer you directly! The Constitution of Kosovo really stipulates that the government can have ministers from minority nations, with the consent and approval of representatives of those minority nations in the Assembly of Kosovo.” Kurti continued: “Aleksandar Vucic is the political successor of Slobodan Milosevic, just as Milosevic was the political successor of Aleksandar Rankovic. As a man who essentially belongs to the same historical line of Serbian expansionist politics, Vucic was logically minister of information during the Milosevic regime. Vucic is exactly like Milosevic just using other means. In that context, it would be unrealistic to expect him to be delighted with the new government of Kosovo, which will be the government of all its citizens; a govt without corruption; a govt that you will not be able to blackmail; that will be able to establish mutual relations at the bilateral level; a govt that will be socially and economically progressive.” On the continuation of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and the USA’s pressure to accelerate the negotiations, here’s what he said: “I don’t think we need the acceleration of negotiations right now. Why? Because any rush and urgent agreement additionally worsen the current situation. Moreover, the history has taught us that many inter-state conflicts started due to bad agreements and not because of the lack of deals. In this sense, our priority should be to have talks over results of the previous agreements and see what we should do. In addition, we need a dialogue with Brussels to discuss the one with Serbia, which means that we also must be well-prepared for this. “I will be leading the Kosovo negotiation team which is going to include members of the govt, oppositions and independent experts. This team will negotiate with Serbia based on the platform for dialogue, which is supposed to be adopted in the Kosovo Assembly before any negotiation.” As for the potential dismissal of the President of Kosovo, Kurti said: “Although we might not have enough votes to carry out this idea, I think Thaci’s political career is about to end. Thaci had two years for his own, that is, for Vucic’s idea of exchanging territory. Instead of leading the people of Kosovo, he staged the largest protest in post-war Kosovo against himself on 29 September 2018, under the motto: ‘The people won’t surrender to one man’. “The relations between Kosovo and Montenegro are very good. We appreciate Montenegro’s position on Kosovo’s independence, as well as support for our integration into international institutions. We didn’t forget that Montenegro accepted Albanian refugees during the war in the 1990s. I sincerely believe in the upgrade of our good bilateral relations,” said Kurti.
Government salutes the French ‘non-paper’ (Nezavisen vesnik)
The government of the Republic of North Macedonia finds the renewed approach in the EU enlargement process promoted by France, in which rule of law and fundamental rights remain an integral requirement while reversibility of the negotiating process a key aspect, worth saluting since “any idea that contributes to the faster start of North Macedonia’s Union accession negotiations and makes them more efficient, comprehensive and credible is welcome.” France has forwarded its “non-paper” to member-states and urges the European Commission to release the new methodology by January 2020. The government has also received the document, which will now be analyzed so that the country’s institutions provide their contribution in the process of reforming the negotiating methodology. According to the French proposal, the renewed approach would be based on four principles: gradual accession, more stringent conditions, tangible benefit and reversibility, making it “more gradual and stimulating”. “It is very important that the framework proposed by France affirms EU membership as the main and ultimate goal of the process, which for us, is the required condition for it to be even discussed,” reports the government.
Pendarovski: Macron guaranteed the new negotiating methodology would be adopted by March (Nezavisen vesnik)
North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski received guarantees from French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that the new negotiating methodology would be adopted by March at the latest, whereas subsequent developments depended on political decisions. “I am a moderate optimist, not a radical one. We did not get a 100-percent guarantee from President Macron that the Zagreb summit would produce a positive decision. The guarantee we got was that the methodology would be adopted as soon as possible, by March at the latest. So we can be certain in this part. Further developments depend on political decisions,” said President Pendarovski. Pendarovski said it is possible that in an organization with more members such as the EU there could be individual requirements, especially considering the period of six months leading up to the European Council summit in May. “I hope the situation will resemble the current one, when there are no additional requirements. Europe, as Macron said it himself, asked for some time to streamline the methodology for admission of new members, not saying there are additional conditions for us. Therefore, we will wait and see how fast can the EU restructure on the inside regarding this very important issue,” said Pendarovski. Concerning the issue of separating North Macedonia and Albania, Macron asked Pendarovski if this option would produce consequences. “I told him that all relevant politicians and political parties of ethnic Albanians in North Macedonia, including those in the highest government positions, have said it is not their wish for this to happen, but North Macedonia should not be punished or put in the same position, because the entire process is merit-based,” said Pendarovski.
Zaev: Time to take a step further, so North Macedonia can join the EU family (Nezavisen vesnik)
There’s only one road for North Macedonia and Western Balkan countries, that is the road towards the EU. Regional EU integration began right here, with a resolution of the 2003 EU Summit. Bulgaria and Romania were the first of the countries to accede. Now is time to take a step further, so North Macedonia and the rest of the countries can join the EU family, PM Zoran Zaev told a panel on “SEE: Taking forward regional cooperation and reforms”, which took place Thursday as part of the Thessaloniki Summit 2019. Greek and Bulgarian PMs, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Boyko Borisov, also took part in the summit. Zaev said that in the past three years, North Macedonia has accomplished a lot, both at home and on an international level. He underlined as one of the government’s leading priorities, the solving of bilateral disputes with Bulgaria and Greece, which made North Macedonia the only country in the region no unresolved issues with its neighbors. The Prespa Agreement, Zaev added, is an excellent example of successful diplomacy and dialogue. It put an end, he underlined, to a long and difficult dispute. “The Prespa Agreement is a dignified and acceptable solution for both sides, based on compromise. Our accomplishment should encourage other regional leaders to stay committed to balance and stability, improve regional cooperation, strengthen economic development and show commitment to EU integration. The whole world has recognized our efforts to solve ongoing disputes, and now it’s time to set an example for others and make a step towards goals set 2003 in Thessaloniki,” Zaev said. He underlined that North Macedonia has fulfilled preconditions to open accession talks with the EU and declared the Union’s decision to postpone this, a historic mistake, which will have a negative effect and send an unfavorable message to the region, as countries find motivation for democratic reforms in EU integration. “We won’t just sit and wait, but continue strengthening the society and implementing reforms. We’ll continue to fight organized crime and corruption, and won’t back down until we see positive results. EU and NATO membership will benefit not only North Macedonia and the region, but also the organizations themselves. It’s a good strategy for everyone,” Zaev said. He underlined that the country’s European prospects encourage economic growth, stimulate investments, trade, movement of people and goods, lower interest rates, and create better job opportunities.
“Regional cooperation and removing barriers for free movement of people, goods and capital opens opportunities for you to profit and will improve our GDP, development and open new job positions. It’s a win-win situation,” Zaev told representatives of the biggest Greek and regional companies. Zaev added that Western Balkan companies share European values and continue to implement EU standards in their societies. “From stagnation in interstate relations, we have now come to a point where Greece, Bulgaria and North Macedonia have partnered to transform the region. Strategic partnerships have been established and now its time to support and make room for business initiatives,” said Zaev.
Pompeo and Le Drian support North Macedonia’s accession to the EU (Nezavisen vesnik)
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian have expressed their support to North Macedonia’s EU accession. “Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Le Drian exchanged views on the importance of EU accession for North Macedonia and Albania, on support for Ukraine, and on holding Iran accountable for its ongoing provocations,” the State Department said in a press release. Pompeo and Le Drian discussed efforts to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, the importance of the NATO Alliance and the need for continued transatlantic cooperation to confront threats to shared security interests. Pompeo reaffirmed the U.S. administration’s steadfast commitment to the Alliance, and reiterated the need for Transatlantic cooperation.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Political dialogue in Serbia: No meaningful progress between the two rounds (European Western Balkans, by Aleksandar Ivković, 15 November 2019)
BELGRADE – In a joint statement following the first round of the European Parliament-mediated dialogue between ruling and opposition parties in Serbia on 9 and 10 October, Speaker of Parliament Maja Gojković and former MEP Knut Fleckenstein stressed that the steps to improve the electoral conditions need to be taken before the next meeting. One month later, the second round of dialogue is taking place today and there are no meaningful changes. Although initial steps have been made in some areas, such as the work of the electoral committees, the registry of voters and the misuse of public resources, the two most important problems of the electoral process – media reporting and pressure on voters – remain untouched. The second round of the dialogue will once again be boycotted by the representatives of the Alliance for Serbia (SzS), country’s main opposition coalition, who demand the change of the current format. There are already some improvements in this direction – apart from Fleckenstein and Eduard Kukan, new European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimír Bilčík and Chair of the Parliament’s Delegation for Serbia Tanja Fajon have arrived in Belgrade yesterday. However, SzS stresses for our portal that it will not give up the boycott of the elections next spring.
It is precisely the threat of a boycott that seems to have led to some concessions from the authorities and greater involvement of the EU in resolving the political crisis. However, the government’s current behavior shows that it is ready to risk the non-participation of the opposition after all.
The smallest concessions possible
The joint statement by Gojković and Fleckenstein emphasized the need to ensure equal access to the media for all political parties. Five weeks have passed since then, and no opposition party leader has appeared on a television channel with the national coverage. In fact, all that has been done with regard to the media is a meeting in the National Assembly to clarify the notion of “equal representation” that was held this Tuesday, Bojan Klačar, Executive Director of the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), told European Western Balkans. Apart from that, other steps that have been undertaken during the last month are the measures proposed by the Republic Electoral Commission aimed at the training of the members of the election committees, the publication of scanned reports and the additional regulation of conditions for domestic and foreign observers. “Overall, the measures adopted are important, useful and necessary, but in order to achieve meaningful progress, interventions in the areas of media and pressure on voters are needed,” Klačar emphasised. Another step the Government has taken over the last month is to propose the amendments to the laws regulating the misuse of public resources in a political campaign. They were adopted at the Government’s meeting on Wednesday. According to Program Director of Transparency Serbia Nemanja Nenadić, the proposed changes to the Law on Financing Political Activities are insufficient, and the changes in the remaining laws are “so minor that it can be said that they were made primarily to make the impression that there is a willingness to do something, and not to truly prevent abuses”. Nenadić explains that the changes in both laws specify what is meant by public resources that officials and especially directors of state-owned companies are forbidden to use for political activities.
“The point is, there has been no doubt that either type of the abuse was forbidden even before the amendments. On the other hand, there are forms of the use of the public function as an instrument for party promotion which are not banned even now and which would not be banned in the future. Of course, I am speaking of the “public official campaign”, inventing public events with promotional potential at the time of the campaign etc”, Nenadić says for European Western Balkans. Even if the intention of the government is sincere, it is one thing to amend the law and quite another to change the exisiting practice. Nenadić agrees with this assertion, giving an even worse assessment of what is happening “on the ground”. “When it comes to practice, there have been some events (in the past month) that could even be interpreted as a change for the worse, given what the government is formally committed to. For example, the Prime Minister of (the Autonomous Province of) Vojvodina openly admitted that he had abused his office for party purposes (by sending government vehicles to the local elections in Lučani in 2018), and not only have there been no criminal proceedings against him, but he has not been dismissed or even reprimanded by his colleagues from authorities that reform electoral legislation”, he stresses.
Recommendations of the Republic Electoral Commission, updating of the registry of voter, roundtable discussions and legislative changes in the area of misuse of public resources – this exhausts the list of everything the Government has done to improve election conditions not only since the October meeting but since the Working Group of the Government for this area was established at the end of August. Political scientist Boban Stojanović agrees with the assessment that nothing of substance has changed between the two rounds of political dialogue. “It is enough to look at the case of the whistle-blower Aleksandar Obradović, who pointed at the abuses and the obvious conflict of interest, to see that, first of all, the media are not in the service of the public and that they do not inform the citizens as they should. In such circumstances, it is not possible to talk about any improvement of the electoral conditions, because they cover not only the election campaign period but everything that happens in the period between the elections”, said Stojanović. Whistle-blower Obradović was put under house arrest following his revelation that the father of the Minister of Interior has been receiving a privileged price for the trade of arms from a state-owned company. His claims, made more than two months ago, have not been seriously tackled by any media station with the national coverage. Problems with establishing fair and fair election conditions were also pointed out by Tanja Fajon during a recent session of the Parliamentary Committee on Stabilization and Association in Belgrade. On this occasion, she told N1 that the implementation of the adopted laws is what matters and that she is personally afraid that even if something is adopted, it will only remain on paper and will not be put into practice. To this end, the opposition and part of the expert public demand a new format of a dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties. According to them, the current format was doomed from the start. Free Citizens Movement (PSG) is the only relevant opposition party that has participated in the dialogue mediated by the European Parliament; other opposition actors Boban Stojanović describes as “lacking influence or support among the voters”.
SzS demands a change of the format, will boycott spring elections in any case
In a statement for the European Western Balkans earlier this week, President of Democratic Party and member of Presidency of the Alliance for Serbia Zoran Lutovac confirmed that international representatives from Belgrade have shown willingness to meet separately with opposition representatives but that they will also attend the previously announced SzS-boycotted government-opposition dialogue in the Parliament. “This could be the first step towards a definitive change in format. The format of the dialogue so far, mediated by NGOs and representatives of the European Parliament, has not led to a solution. That is why we (SzS) have suggested to EU representatives that free and fair conditions should be reached in bilateral discussions with the representatives of the opposition and then the government”, Lutovac says.
Under the proposal of the Alliance for Serbia, individual negotiations should result in a comprehensive agreement on electoral conditions, a mechanism for its implementation – a transitional government – with a minimum of nine months for the establishment of the conditions. Asked whether the election boycott of the Alliance for Serbia was guaranteed even if the format would change in a relatively short time, Lutovac answered affirmatively. “Given the fact that we are requesting at least nine months for the Free and Fair Elections Agreement to be implemented, it is clear that these elections could not be held on regular schedule (April-May 2020). The opposition has been demanded that the electoral conditions be changed from December 2018, when there was enough time. If something had been at that time, we would have elections within the legally stipulated time, but since this is not the case, it is necessary to postpone them”, Lutovac told EWB. The postponement of the election, although never actually implemented in Serbia before, is theoretically possible, requiring a special law to be adopted by the National Assembly. But will the government be ready to delay the election? While not ruling out this possibility, Boban Stojanović believes that a more likely scenario is that elections are held within the time stipulated by law but without the participation of both the Alliance for Serbia and the Free Citizens Movement. “In that case, the authorities will do everything they can to reduce the effects of the boycott, but I’m pretty sure that this will be the point at which a serious political crisis will arise, and the EU will have to ‘solve it’, whether through new, realistic negotiations on some new early elections in 2020”, says Stojanović. He concludes that the mere arrival of Fajon and Bilčík at today’s round of dialogues is an indication that serious problems exist and believes that the opposition should put more pressure on them to change the format of the dialogue. Judging by the state of reform on improving electoral conditions, the “Jean Monnet Dialogue” that was proposed by the European Parliament and welcomed by the Serbian Progressive Party in September has failed to avert the political crisis in Serbia, and its future scale will only depend on the level of further engagement of the opposition, civil society and the European Union.
France outlines proposal to overhaul EU accession process (Politico.eu, by David M. Herszenhorn and Rym Momtaz, 17 November 2019)
After leading effort to block starting talks with North Macedonia and Albania, Paris pushes for procedural changes.
France wants to change the rules for countries to join the EU club. In a two-and-a-half page “non-paper” shared with other EU countries, along with an annex listing new stages, Paris calls for replacing the current accession process, which divides the EU acquis — the body of rights and obligations that includes the EU treaties, as well other rules and laws — into 35 chapters.
EU countries must agree unanimously to formally begin negotiations for accession. An aspiring member country then works with the European Commission to adjust its national laws to match the acquis, and once it has done so, an accession treaty is drawn up, and must be approved by the Council of the EU and ratified in each of the existing member countries. Under the French proposal, there would be a new, seven-stage process, with “stringent conditions in order to effectively converge towards European norms and standards,” plus a “reversibility” component, allowing the EU to abandon membership talks if a candidate country’s government backslides away from the bloc’s standards. “Once negotiations are opened, the integration process would no longer be based on simultaneous opening of a large number of thematic chapters, but on several successive stages, which would form coherent policy blocks,” the paper states, adding: “The closing of negotiations corresponding to each stage completed by the country would open up the possibility to participate in EU programmes, to be involved in certain sectoral policies and, where appropriate, to benefit from certain targeted finance.” The proposal comes after France found itself at the center of a contentious, unwanted debate at the most recent European Council leaders’ summit, during which President Emmanuel Macron prevailed in his push to block a proposal to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. France was not alone in opposing the start of such negotiations, but it was most forceful in the face of a large majority that supported going forward, especially in opening talks with North Macedonia. Part of the French argument was its insistence that the current membership process is flawed and is in need of an overhaul. Some French officials have conceded that making that point without first coming forward with ideas for a new system was potentially a tactical mistake, opening up Macron to criticism. But even with the new non-paper, there was some quick and forceful pushback in Brussels, where some EU diplomats and officials said it was little more than an attempt by Paris to justify its prior position, and that Macron’s advisers seemed not to fully understand just how much support candidate countries already receive. One diplomat’s interpretation was that France simply wants to block any further expansion of the EU. “There will be the usual pompous framing by Paris,” the diplomat said. “All this can’t mask the fact that the French proposals are not really about reforming the accession process but about putting an end to EU enlargement. They are a poisoned chalice for countries like North Macedonia that have done much to fulfill strict EU conditions in order to start accession talks. If France joined the EU consensus on this, we could actually see more reforms and more progress on the ground than by engaging in lengthy discussions about methodology.” One French diplomatic official fired back, calling that reaction “a stupid comment” and urged other countries to refrain from such accusations. “Let’s be serious and try to be constructive because otherwise, we can accuse each other of various things,” the diplomatic official said. “It’s not only France, it’s not a way to kill anything. It’s a way to re-engage and the Commission should have done it. Fine we are doing it and we hope we can open the debate now. So nobody’s forced to accept the paper or to say that it’s perfect. It’s to open the debate and trigger a discussion on this. “If we wanted to be against the enlargement process, it would be very simple, we could just veto,” the official added. “That’s not what we are doing.” In the non-paper, France reaffirmed its support for the EU’s overall approach to Western Balkan countries, including North Macedonia and Albania, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, which the paper said “belong to Europe, by virtue of their history, culture and geography.” But the French paper says, “The profound political, economic and social transformations required for a future accession to the European Union continue to be too slow and the concrete benefits for citizens in candidate countries remain insufficient.”
France has voiced total confidence in its position, but the Elysée has also seemed sensitive to accusations that it unfairly crushed the spirits of North Macedonia and Albania. Macron met with North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum last week and sought to clarify the French position. Pendarovski tweeted afterward that his country did not oppose a new system for EU membership. “We don’t object to altered methodology for EU accession talks which makes for a more thorough accession process,” he wrote. But in a sign that the EU faces continued competition for influence in the Balkans, Pendarovski also used the Paris event to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. An EU official said the paper “looks like it is written without full knowledge of what is already available to Western Balkans countries, and certainly with the agenda of slowing the process by front-loading difficult stuff, such as environment.” But the official said France’s approach was not helpful. “Most importantly, coming with a French-only proposal is not the way to keep enlargement as a consensual matter,” the official said. The French diplomatic official said Paris had conferred with other capitals, including Berlin, The Hague and Copenhagen. Denmark largely supported the French position during the European Council debate and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen will visit Paris on Monday for a working lunch with Macron, where the enlargement issue is certain to be discussed. EU ministers are also scheduled to revisit the issue at a General Affairs Council meeting on Tuesday. The French official said the main goal of the paper was to jumpstart the discussion before Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s about having stages toward real integration and convergence, so that countries are starting to get involved politically, financially, in terms of policy and programs, step by step,” the official said.
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.