Vucic: We are not close to a solution for Kosovo and Metohija (Tanjug/TV Happy)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told TV Happy that, when it comes to a status solution for Kosovo and Metohija, he does not see one. “According to what I have received from our services, what the plans of others are, I don’t see any possibility of compromise and I don’t think that we are close to a solution. To talk is always healing, but when it comes to a status solution that Serbia would accept, I don’t see it. Merkel was honest there, she said, ‘Aleksandar, I don’t see this alternative for you, guard peace and stability’,” Vucic said, speaking about the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. He presented a graph showing the position of so-called Kosovo in the world, and recalled that 17 countries have withdrawn their recognition so far. “So-called Kosovo no longer has majority support in the world, you see that states are slowly withdrawing recognition,” said Vucic.
Dacic: Haradinaj and Kurti should the entire world that Pristina is the problem (RTS)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that he doesn’t expect a positive shift in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. He assessed that Ramush Haradinaj and Albin Kurti, with their statements, have shown the entire world that the Albanians are the problem. He notes that he doesn’t have a grain of optimism that the course of the negotiations will head for the better. “If you look who is the one in Pristina with whom one should talk and negotiate, I don’t have a grain of optimism that things will be any better than it was with Ramush Haradinaj, perhaps they will be even worse. What we had been saying earlier is being confirmed now. Look at the latest statements by Albin Kurti who is speaking of unification with Albania, the single Albanian nation,” notes Dacic. “I think it has become clear to everyone that Haradinaj, Kurti and others have done more for the Serb issue than anyone else. They showed the entire world who is in fact the problem. They showed that the Albanians are the problem,” says Dacic. He says there will be no success as long as pressure is not exerted on Pristina. “There can be whomever negotiator, but there will be no success until pressure is exerted on Pristina,” said Dacic.
Brnabic thanks Slovakia for principled position on non-recognition of Kosovo ‘s unilaterally declared independence (Tanjug)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic received on farewell visit Ambassador of Slovakia to Serbia Dagmar Repcekova and expressed her appreciation for Slovakia’s assistance to Serbia in the European integration process and underlined that the Serbian government remains committed to implementing the necessary reforms on that path. She also expressed gratitude for Slovakia’s principled position on the non-recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence.
Repcekova said that Slovakia will continue to support Serbia on its European path, and underlined that this path should be accelerated and that support for EU enlargement remains a principle of Slovakia’s foreign policy. The interlocutors assessed that the cooperation so far has been very good and that the bilateral relations between the two countries are at a very high level.
EU considering appointment of EU Special Representative for Western Balkans (RTS)
The EU is considering a possibility of appointment of its Special Representative for the Western Balkans, RTS reports. However, the EU did not provide information on any actions that have possibly been undertaken to introduce this position or on whether Slovakian Minister of Foreign Affairs Miroslav Lajcak could be appointed to this position, as some media have been speculating. Josep Borrell as the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is expected to pass the final decision on this matter, in consultations with the EU member countries. The European Commission (EC) issued a statement signed by EC Spokesperson Maja Kocijancic which reads that the Commission is firmly committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans and that it is ready to work towards that goal, using all available means and consulting the partners both at the regional and the global levels. According to RTS, this means that the option of appointing the EU Special Representative for the Western Balkans is certainly not excluded. The Slovakian Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided a statement with regard to the media speculations that Lajcak is currently the most likely candidate for the position of the EU Special Representative for the Western Balkans. In its statement, the Ministry underlined that “appointment of the Special Representative would be a good message and a good news for the region, as it would show readiness for engagement of Europe in helping to solve some of the open issues in the region”.
Mustafa: We will demand unification of Presevo valley with Kosovo (FoNet/Politika)
The leader of the Albanian Democratic Party in Presevo Ragmi Mustafa has announced that he will demand from Albanians in the Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities the realization of the result of the referendum from March 1992 for unification with Kosovo. He announced that he will convey this demand to politicians at the upcoming conference “The Role of Albania in the promotion of Albanian interests in Western Balkans”. “There have been negative tendencies in the Albanian politics lateral, this Albanian request is being avoided over the possibility that Serbia could also demand something from Kosovo,” he said.
Statehood Day marked in Federation of B&H only (FTV)
The Statehood Day of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) was marked on Monday. November 25 is the anniversary of the first session of the State Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZAVNOBIH), which convened in Mrkonjic Grad in 1943 and declared B&H as the state of Serbs, Croats and Muslims who lived in unity and peace. The Statehood Day of B&H is nowadays marked in the Federation of B&H only. The ceremony was attended by Sarajevo Mayor Abdulah Skaka and Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic. Dzaferovic said that November 25 is the Statehood Day for the entire state of B&H and all its citizens, regardless of the fact that there are areas in B&H where this holiday is not celebrated. “I believe that the day will soon come when all people across B&H will mark November 25 as the Statehood Day. This is one of the most significant dates in the entire history of B&H,” he concluded. Dzaferovic was accompanied by SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, as well as the representatives of the Sarajevo Canton’s (SC) institutions. As part of the celebration, the officials also visited the grave of the late Alija Izetbegovic, first President of the Republic of B&H, and laid flowers there. Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic attended the formal ceremony in Chicago at the invitation of the Chicago-based B&H community. “We can and should be proud of the fact that, 76 years ago, the citizens of B&H – regardless of their ethnic and ideological choices under the conditions of fascist occupation – constituted the state authorities based on the principles of anti-fascism”, he underlined. Komsic also said that B&H will remain the same as it was ever before, the country for all its people, regardless of their religious, ethnic or any other background. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo congratulated the B&H Statehood Day to citizens of B&H. Pompeo said that the US strongly support the B&H road to the Euro-Atlantic integration and praised steps that the authorities made for making progress on this road.
Covic: It is yet to be seen when internal agreement on joint holidays will be reached in B&H (FTV)
A session of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) was held on Monday. Following this session, representatives of HDZ B&H congratulated Statehood Day to those celebrating it, adding that the joint holiday in B&H should be regulated by a state-level law. Leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic stressed that it is yet to be seen when internal agreement on joint holidays will be reached in B&H. Covic reminded everyone that in order to mark the Statehood Day of B&H throughout B&H, one needs unanimous interpretation of history and a law. “I would be happier if we had a law on holidays that would define that in a unanimous way so that we no longer speculate,” Covic underlined. Covic used the opportunity to remind of part of the resolution of the ZAVNOBiH which reads that all peoples and citizens of B&H should enjoy equal status and in this way – according to the reporter – he pointed out to his policy which claims that Croats do not enjoy the same status as the two other peoples in B&H. Covic did not take part in any of the events organized on this occasion and Monday was a regular working day for Covic as he attended a session of the HNS.
Dodik: November 25 is not a holiday in RS (BHT1)
Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that November 25 is not a holiday in Republika Srpska (RS) because of a simple reason that the decision on celebrating this date on the entire B&H territory was never adopted. Dodik noted that Serbs, more than other peoples, have historic right to the marking of the National Anti-Fascist Council of the People’s Liberation of B&H (ZAVNOBiH), because they suffered the most during the World War II. However, Dodik added that the date of marking ZAVNOBiH has no significance if date of marking of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) has no significance, either. “Manipulation with this date and imposing of November 25 as the statehood day is reflection of Bosniak politics in B&H, which through imposition is trying to establish something that does not exist,” said Dodik. He stressed that as long as this is the case, November 25 will be only a date celebrated by half of B&H. “What kind of holiday and what kind of statehood of B&H that is celebrated today is, can be seen in the fact that this day in the RS is regular working day without any festivities.” ‘United Srpska’ representative in the RS parliament Milan Petkovic underlined that, if the Federation of B&H is not denied the right to mark “their day”, then the RS has the right to mark January 9 as the Day of the RS, as well. SDS’ representative in the RS parliament Davor Sesic referred to marking of November 25, as the Statehood Day of B&H, as “a provocation to the RS and the Serb people”.
Izetbegovic says nothing in B&H is Serb, except name of RS; Dodik responds by saying that RS is property of Serb people and other citizens who live in it (RTRS)
The SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic again trampled upon the heritage and foundations, saying that nothing in B&H is Serb, except the name of the RS. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik responded to Izetbegovic by saying that the RS is the property of the Serb people and other citizens who live in it. Dodik stressed that what the RS has makes it, in legal and real terms, a republic, with all the characteristics of a constitutionally guaranteed and internationally recognized entity. “He can get carried away in all of that. There are institutions in Banja Luka which are under the management and political will of the Serb people. We do not want to send a message with that to Bosniaks that they are not welcome,” Dodik underlined, adding that he understands the frustrations of Bosniaks because, according to him, they have only a canton or two where they are sovereignly ruling. Dodik added that when it comes to the RS, Serb people have will to have its republic that has its border with Croatia and temporary border with Serbia. Dodik stressed that most important thing is that the RS has its institutions. Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic deemed Dodik’s statement as anticivilization. “That is a statement that justifies existing and encourages new discrimination within B&H. That is what politicians should know. B&H, its entities, municipalities, cantons, local communities, all this is common, and of all of us, no matter what part of B&H it is located in,” Dzaferovic underlined.
SDA’s Izetbegovic thanks SNSD’s Dodik for leading B&H towards NATO (BN TV)
SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic thanked Serb member of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik on Monday for “leading B&H towards the NATO”. Izetbegovic noted that document that was adopted by the state Presidency, the Program of Reforms of B&H, has unblocked the NATO path of B&H, which was at a standstill for quite some time. “We were called, in December last year, to submit the first ANP (Annual National Program), and based on that this new material was drafted. The document was supported by the NATO, countries of the Quint; they worked alongside the Presidency members on that material. That document has unblocked the NATO path of B&H,” said Izetbegovic. “It also unblocked the implementation of defense reform, i.e. Defense Review, unblocked the process of work of the B&H Parliament and formation of new authorities. That is a good document, a good compromise. I thank Mr. Dodik for having the strength to do such a thing,” Izetbegovic underlined. B&H CoM Chairman Zeljko Komsic commented claims of Dodik according to which the document which the B&H Presidency adopted does not mean activation of the MAP that Komsic disagreed with. “B&H has been in the MAP since December last year. Anyone who consults the official web site of NATO can see that.” Dodik, however, sent a message to the people of RS that the Program of Reforms of B&H does not prejudge B&H’s membership in NATO.
RS opposition demands from RS parliament to discuss Program of Reforms of B&H at session on Tuesday (BN TV)
Caucuses of SDS and PDP in the RS parliament asked on Monday for A discussion on the recently adopted Program of Reforms of B&H to be included to the daily agenda of Tuesday’s session of the Assembly. They made a request to RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic, asking her to schedule a special RS parliament session for the purpose of revealing, as they explained, “if SNSD’s Milorad Dodik sold out the RS for his own goal of being part of the state-level authorities”. The same request was submitted to the RS parliament Collegium on Monday, by which SDS and PDP asked for session’s daily agenda to be supplemented with Information on the Program of Reforms of B&H. SDS’ goal is to gain basic information on this document, then form a thorough report and for the content of the mentioned document to be revealed to the public. “It is quite humiliating that RS parliament could discuss the political Declaration of SDA at a special session but that we cannot discuss the Program of Reforms for the NATO membership. I expect that the RS President will have enough understanding, accept our request and schedule the special session of the RS parliament”, stated member of the SDS Presidency, Nedeljko Glamocak. He underlined that all that was so far stated about the mentioned document in the public proves that its content is harmful for the RS and its interests. Since it was adopted on November 17, the Program of Reforms of B&H was not presented to the public. Only a few people actually know what is stated in it and the content will be revealed after the state-level authorities are formed and the document reviewed by the NATO member states in Brussels. Glamocak believes that this document is the Annual National Program (ANP) for the NATO membership, but only bears a different name. “After the document is sent to Brussels, I fear it will be too late for the RS parliament or any other institution to discuss it, especially after it gets accepted by the NATO”, he concluded. That is why SDS and PDP want the discussion in the parliament to be held before this happens, as the RS must form its own opinion about the document.
20,000 gather in Zagreb to support teachers’ strike (HRT)
An estimated 20,000 school teachers and their supporters gathered in Zagreb’s main square at noon on Monday to demand a six percent increase in job complexity indices. Teachers from primary and secondary schools have been on strike now for the past 31 days. Initially, the strike was organised on a rotating basis, taking place every day in different counties, while a general nation-wide strike began last Tuesday. Teachers are demanding an increase to their job complexity indices which they hope will close the wage gap between them and other public-sector workers. So far, all government offers have been rejected, including a base wage increase of 6.12 percent next year and a promise to regulate the system of job complexity indices by the end of June 2020. Union leader Branimir Mihalinec appeared to break the stalemate on Friday after a meeting between the government and the unions, saying that they were getting closer to reaching a deal. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Monday morning he expected an agreement would be reached with striking teachers’ unions in discussions scheduled for 4pm.
“Talks will be held this afternoon after the protest rally. I appeal to all unions, union leaders, to take into account that it would be good for children to return to their classes as soon as possible. If the question was whether we heard the message, yes, we did,” said Plenkovic. “I think we have a solution. It aims to ensure that children go to school, that teachers are satisfied, and that this whole story ends in such a way that we can all say that we have improved the system,” added the prime minister while not revealing the details of the government’s latest offer. Mihalinec said before the protest rally on Monday if an agreement were to be reached, it would be put to a referendum of union members in the next two days, and if it endorsed, the strike would end and classes would resume on Thursday.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Kurti: I will not fall into Vučić’s trap (European Western Balkans, by Jovana Georgievski, 26 November 2019)
What is the scope of reciprocity with Serbia, put forward by the representatives of the coalition that will most probably represent a government in Kosovo in the next four years? What is the position of the future government of Kosovo on the existing agreements with Serbia, most of which are still not being implemented? What will the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue look like, and what are the possible concessions? These are some of the topics European Western Balkans discussed with Albin Kurti, the winner of the snap elections in Kosovo on 6 October and the candidate for the new Prime Minister.
European Western Balkans: You recently said that you are planing to abolish 100% tariffs on goods from Serbia, but that other measures will be introduced, based on the principle of reciprocity. Which exact measures Belgrade might expect and in which way do you believe this would contribute to the normalisation of relations?
Albin Kurti: Parliamentary group of Vetëvendosje! initiated a resolution adopted in the Assembly on 7 December 2011, which tackled comprehensive trade, economic and political reciprocity with Serbia. This was a big victory for us as an opposition party. However, neither of the governments has implemented the resolution so far. We are now aiming to become the first government that will do so, by introducing reciprocity as a criterium for good bilateral relations with Serbia. We regard Serbia as our northern neighbour and we believe that reciprocity represents a concrete, constructive and healthy solution.
Reciprocity we are talking about concerns the movement of people and goods. Export of goods from Kosovo to Serbia is currently impossible because the certificate states “Republic of Kosovo”, and Serbia does not recognize that. If you are driving a truck with the driving licence issued by the Republic of Kosovo, you receive 800 Euro penalty. We believe that, if a young woman or a man, after they graduate from the University of Kragujevac, Niš or Belgrade can teach in a school in Gračanica (Kosovo) and the opposite is not true – if somebody graduates from the University of Pristina, he or she cannot teach in Bujanovac – this has to change. When we establish full reciprocity, we would abolish the 100% tariffs, but not before that.
EWB: You have been stating that, generally speaking, you would not hurry with the negotiations. Recently you assessed that, if the United States supports the acceleration of negotiations, this is not necessary.
AK: I believe that we first have to be well prepared for the negotiations. Of course, I would like to have an agreement, but the speed of its conclusion should not take priority over its contents and principles. We have had a lot of agreements during the six-year dialogue in Brussels, but the problem is that they are not being implemented.
EWB: What is your opinion on the obligations taken by Kosovo in the context of the dialogue, and do you think that the existing agreements should be cancelled?
AK: During our first month in the Assembly of Kosovo, we will take stock of the degree of implementation of the existing agreements and how they have influenced the everyday life of our citizens so far. We would create the foundation for the continuation of the dialogue there, but not with an idea to stop with these agreements, rather to see how to reach the final agreement better and more quickly.
We would regard these agreements as a preparation, like when you are preparing to drive a car: first you look at the rearview mirror, do you have fuel and oil, what is the state of the road, and then you take off. When we take off, we would talk about development, and not reconciliation. Serbs from Gračanica have done nothing to me, and neither have I to them, so there is no need to reconcile, we can immediately focus on the development.
I have to meet with Mr Borrell and reach an agreement on the continued dialogue with Serbia. Ms Mogherini has let many different thing reach the public, and I believe that the talks between Serbia and Kosovo should be regarded in the context of European values. Not everything should be on the table.
EWB: What do you mean by “everything”?
AK: I think that Thaçi and Vučić met on several occasions and lead secret talks in various European cities, and then they agreed to have an agreement. My impression, however, is that there are no details to that agreement.
EWB: If the change of the borders is not acceptable and if the Community of Serb Municipalities should not be formed, what are the concessions Kosovo will make in the dialogue?
AK: Community of Serb Municipalities is Repblika Srpska light, just like Marlboro light. Let us remember 1991, when 14 Serb-majority municipalities (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) united in a single community. In January 1992 they proclaimed independence, in February 1992 they adopted their own constitution, and in December 1995 they got international recognition in Dayton. I think that Belgrade wants the same in Kosovo, with the difference being that there will not be 14 municipalities but 10. This way, the Community of Serb Municipalities would become a sort of a state, which is not a republic, inside a republic which is not much of a state. It is similar in BiH, where there is Republika Srpska, which is a republic but not a state, inside of a state of BiH which is not a republic. Some sort of babushka doll. This is why I believe such solutions would only drag the conflict out and multiply the problems.
I believe that both Albanians and Serbs want two things: a job and justice. I think that the people should be the final beneficiaries of any sort of agreement, and not Vučić, Thaçi, Kurti. We cannot make agreements, if their purpose is the stability of career of a leader, whoever he may be. This is why I do not support the idea of Community of Serb Municipalities.
Besides, Constitutional Court of Kosovo said that neither of the 7 chapters of the agreement is in line with our Constitution, and that the Article 23 is also violated. This is why I think that our Constitutional Court has buried the Community in a form Belgrade wanted it to exist. And Belgrade does not want another sort of community. What it wants is a sort of a zombie: to dig out something the Constitutional Court has already buried and make it come back to life. However, they are loosing precious time.
On the other hand, it is very important to say that a big pressure on Serbs in Kosovo exists. Belgrade insists on the Community, but not one Serb protested against its annulment in December 2015. The question is, do Serbs in Kosovo have smaller or bigger pressures with the Community? I think that the pressure is bigger. Such a Community would not free Serbs from Kosovo, but strengthen the dictate of Belgrade over them.
Let us now reflect on the correction of borders, which is actually an exchange of territories. President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi calls the exchange “the correction of borders with a painful compromise”, and president of Serbia “demarcation”. What kind of corrections, what are the mistakes and why does it have to be painful? I think that the idea comes from the President Thaçi, and he has had two years to convince the people of Kosovo. Instead of convincing them, he caused the biggest protests in post-war Kosovo on 29 September last year, the consequence was completely opposite from the goal. So, that project has failed, but the idea has not. It is not the same situation as in the case of Community of Serb Municipalities, which was buried by the Constitutional Court, this is an unsuccessful project, in which the idea is not yet dead, it exists, just like the film Body Snatchers by Abel Ferrara, as some sort of spirit that wants to be embodied, but does not have a place to do it and so it floats without a body.
EWB: Following your interview with Jugoslav Ćosić on Serbian N1 television, representatives of Srpska lista said that they will not enter the Assembly under the conditions you laid out in Pressing. What will you do in the case of boycott of “all Kosovo institutions”, a possibility announced by the Director of Office of Government of Serbia for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Đurić?
AK: There have been temporary boycotts in the past, but nothing came out of them. I think that the representatives of Serb minority population in Kosovo know that they can help their community much more if they are in the Assembly and not outside of it. For five years I was outside the system: from 2005, when we formed the Vetëvendosje! movement to 2010. I think that it is important for us to be a part of institutions and contribute to the democratic development of this young country to the benefit of everybody. I do not think Srpska lista should be Belgrade’s tool – Kosovo should be a value in which all of us will participate. I call on them not to boycott our institutions, but to participate in their work. I believe that criticism is an engine of development, they should criticize everything they disagree with in the Assembly, I will meet with all parliamentary groups when we visit the Assembly, I will not excommunicate them.
This does not mean that I want a coalition with them. We have a constitutional responsibility to have one government minister from Serb community, and we will respect that. But I believe that they, as well as PDK, have gotten used to having a guaranteed place in the ruling coalition, no matter which governments are formed. Like an equation in which they are a constant, and everybody else are variables. That changed on 6 October election in Kosovo. A new chapter of our country is beginning, and I repeat, I will not excommunicate them, but it is regretful what kind of election Serbs got in Kosovo on 6 October due to irregularities and pressures and we will do everything for that to change in further elections. I want to see Srpska lista as the opposition during our future mandate.
EWB: Why would Serbia accept any kind of agreement on normalisation without concessions from Kosovo’s side?
AK: The President of Serbia has expressed two positions in the past two years, which represent a trap. He presents those positions as making a concession, while in reality he is asking for a concession. The first position is “Tell us what you can offer us, and I am ready to discuss everything, your imagination is the limit”. This could mean both national unification and border change in the Balkans, everything you want. This is the first position, which is an edge of an abyss.
The second position is “I cannot recognize the independence of Kosovo within the current borders”. I have done a lot of math during my studies and I can say that this position contains two negatives and zero affirmatives, because Vučić does not say “I will recognize the independence of Kosovo”, he is denying independence, denying borders, but not affirming anything. I am not the kind of politician that would fall in such a trap. My offer is our demands.
I think Serbia owes us: both for war reparations, and for succession, let me mention just a few figures: 10.000 unarmed civilians were killed in Kosovo, more than 1000 of which were children. About 120.000 houses were burned and demolished in 1998-1999. Around 1200 artifacts stolen from our museums, bank deposits and pension funds were stolen from to finance Milošević’s war machine. There is no justice nor reparation for missing persons and raped women.
I think Serbia should think more about that, than to mourn the lost Kosovo, not carrying at all about the suffering of Albanians in the meantime. I believe that in our future relations we should determine how to stop the tears of the President of Serbia, which are not the tears of Serbs. If Serbs in Serbia are crying, that is because of poverty, because they do not have a job, and not because of Kosovo. President of Serbia crying does not represent either Serbs from Kosovo or Serbs from Serbia. It is important for the Serbian establishment to focus on introspection, after which they should show much more care about Serbian people of today than Serbian state of the past.
Berlin and Paris outline plan for EU makeover (Politico, by Rym Momtaz and David M. Herszenhorn, 26 November 2019)
Two-page document aims to show Franco-German partnership overcoming recent tensions.
BERLIN — Let the big thinking about the EU’s future begin! Germany and France have drawn up a blueprint for a two-year “Conference on the Future of Europe” aimed at overhauling nearly all aspects of how the EU functions, including possible treaty changes if need be, with a goal of making the bloc “more united and sovereign,” according to a document seen by POLITICO. The blueprint proposes that EU leaders hold a first discussion on the conference at their summit in Brussels next month. It calls for a two-phase initiative, with the first starting early next year and focused on “EU democratic functioning,” especially “regarding elections and designations in key positions.” That’s unencrypted code for fixing an election and leadership selection process widely perceived as badly broken after EU leaders this year cast aside the Spitzenkandidaten or “lead candidates” from the major political families and instead made the surprise choice of naming Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president — the top executive post. Supporters of the lead candidate process, particularly in the European Parliament, were infuriated that the top job went to someone who had not campaigned for it — even though the heads of state and government on the European Council had issued clear warnings they would not be bound to the system, which is not written into the EU treaties. French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, had pushed for the adoption of a new system of transnational candidate lists that would have created some Continent-wide competition in the European Parliament election. But leaders said there was not enough time for such a big change, and instead stuck to the existing system of 28 different national elections to fill the parliament’s 751 seats. The blueprint specifically calls for looking at “transnational lists,” the “lead candidate system” and “issues related to citizens’ participation.” The second, even more crucial phase of the Conference on the Future of Europe, would focus on “policy priorities” and it would last for two years, to be book-ended by the German and French presidencies of the Council of the EU, which occur in the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2022, respectively. The document was circulated to EU member countries on Monday and is expected to be discussed by ambassadors on Wednesday. The two-page blueprint does not offer a huge amount of detail, but calls for an event of large ambition, that would be led by a “senior European personality” who would chair a steering group of experts and require a major role of all three EU institutions: the Commission, Council and Parliament. Former Belgian prime minister and longtime member of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has been mentioned frequently in Brussels as one of the potential contenders for the chair position. The concept of such a conference on the EU’s future was proposed by Macron in his letter to Europeans in April ahead of the European Parliament election and has already been endorsed by Commission President-elect von der Leyen, and the apparent rushed publication of the blueprint suggests that officials in Paris and Berlin wanted to get it distributed to EU countries ahead of a Parliament vote this week to confirm the new College of Commissioners. The document also seems designed to address recent tensions in the Franco-German relationship that have begun causing substantial unease in Brussels and capitals across Europe. Macron’s penchant for disruptive politics, including his recent criticism of NATO, has grated on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has made little secret of the fact she is growing weary of her younger French colleague’s brazen exuberance. At various points since Macron’s election in 2017, other EU leaders have shown far less enthusiasm for his demands for greater federalism and EU sovereignty — an appetite that seems out of step with the current mood of voters. That said, many leaders also recognize some of the limits of the existing EU treaties, and a need for revision and renewal in response to numerous factors, including Brexit, rising nationalism and right-wing extremism, and the upending of transatlantic relations since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. The blueprint calls generally for an overhaul across many broad policy areas. “The Conference should address all issues at stake to guide the future of Europe with a view to making the EU more united and sovereign,” it declares, “such as Europe’s role in the world and its security/defence, neighborhood, digitalisation, climate change, migration, fight against inequalities, our ‘social market economy’ model (including social rights, industrial and innovation policy, trade, EMU, competitiveness), the rule of law and European values.”
It also calls for “bottom-up” citizen engagement, such as panels of randomly selected EU citizens to make proposals, as well as thematic policy conferences to be held in many different EU countries, and it calls for hard proposals, not vague conclusions. “The Conference should commit itself already in the inter-institutional mandate to produce tangible and concrete results,” the blueprint says, adding: “The final document with recommendations should be presented to the EUCO for debate and implementation.”