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Belgrade Media Report 3 December 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 3 December 2019

LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: I don’t mind what others think, Serbia will maintain good relations with Russia and China (Beta)
• Vucic: If that’s okay with them, all right and thank you, if not – thank you, anyway (Tanjug)
• Falconi: French enlargement reform proposal could benefit Serbia (Beta)
• Slovenian FM: No doubt about Serbia wanting to join EU (Beta)
• Djuric and Schieb discuss situation in Kosovo, chances for resuming Belgrade-Pristina dialog (Beta)
• Lukashenko welcomed: Anthem, honorary military salute and red carpet (Tanjug, VIP)
• SNS official says second pro-Vucic gathering spontaneous (Beta, N1, VIP)
• Opposition dissatisfied over not being invited to the meeting with EP representatives (FoNet)
• Association 1 in 5 million demands meeting EP representatives (Beta)
• Djuric: Indictments are a continuation of the pursuit, aim to blame the Serbs (RTS)
• Kosovo’s power network is being separated from the Serbian power network (Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• SDA is again postponing appointment of B&H CoM because of issues with forming of Federation of B&H Government (EuroBlic)
• PIC SB to discuss situation in B&H on Tuesday and Wednesday (ATV)
• Organizing Committee for Marking of RS’ Day, January 9, holds inaugural session (ATV)
Montenegro
• PM DuskoMarkovic: Montenegro is committed to reform (RTCG)
• Pazin: We’ll become EU Member State if competent institutions assume full responsibility (CDM)

INTERNATIONAL NEWS ARTICLES

• ‘Mini Schengen’: A Balkan breakthrough or political stunt? (BIRN)
• Four new Russia’s helicopters arrive in Serbia (Sputnik)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: I don’t mind what others think, Serbia will maintain good relations with Russia and China (Beta)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that Serbia was on the path to the European Union (EU), but that it would protect its good relationships with Russia and China, making independent decisions as to what was in the best interest of the state, adding that he “doesn’t mind what others may think.” “I laugh my head off every time I’m told we should restrict our cooperation with Russia and China, while they send their trade delegations to them 15 times a year” Vucic said, after a meeting with the European Parliament’s delegation, adding that “no one will lecture him.” President Vucic said he wouldn’t be lectured by those whose trade with China was “a thousand times larger,” and that “they might be allowed to do it elsewhere in the region.” The president said that he had just received confirmation, for the first time in writing, that his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, would visit Serbia next year. Vucic said he “understood remarks by the EP delegation” about the status of human rights, democracy and media freedoms in Serbia. After the meeting with the delegation, including the EP rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, and the European People’s Party leader, Manfred Weber, the Serbian President said there were many problems in those areas, as well as with respect to Kosovo.

 

Vucic: If that’s okay with them, all right and thank you, if not – thank you, anyway (Tanjug)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia wants to open new chapters in the accession talks. Vucic also said that he wants a clearer picture of what EU countries foresee as the future of the Western Balkans. “If that’s okay, thank you, if not, thank you, anyway! We will act rationally and pragmatically and consider what to do for our country” Vucic said at a press conference after meeting with Chairman of the European People’s Party group at the European Parliament Manfred Weber and European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik. “It is crucial to me that Serbia continues its European path. We have 67 percent trade exchange with EU” he explained.

 

He said he had good discussions with European Parliament officials on important topics, from Kosovo and Metohija, through the economic situation in the country, which he added was commendable, as well as Serbia’s economic progress. Vucic pointed out that a compromise solution for Kosovo and Metohija is the point where we are facing have many problems, so he is not certain how things will go in the future – but we are always ready to explore this issue.

 

Other issues also covered in the discussion were: the state of human rights, democracy, media freedoms and everything else that is in the interest of the citizens of Serbia, Vucic said, adding that he was critical of himself and of us, and that he understood well certain comments made by the guests, but also pointed to what he really thinks.

 

“I have spoken openly and expressed my views, which I normally present in the domestic public, as well. We all have to create the best possible environment for the elections in Serbia, to be better than 2012, when we had only one media outlet to which we, as the opposition, could go out. Today, the situation is different, but it can be further improved” he said. Vucic expressed his belief that the work, effort, and results of that work will always win, rather than how many times somebody will appear on a TV show or in a newspaper.

 

He thanked Bilcik for coming to Serbia for the second time in a short term, continuing that Weber was a great friend of the whole region. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank him, on behalf of Serbia and as a member of the EPP bloc, for his outstanding contribution both to our success throughout Europe, but also for his dedication to the advancement of the European idea, including Western Balkan region. Thank you for your hard work and dedication, as without your support, the new European Commission could not have been composed which speaks in itself about your importance” Vucic said.

 

President Vucic said that Serbia has four chapters ready for opening in the accession negotiations with the EU, and that it is realistic that one chapter will be opened. “I don’t know if the European Union is going to open one, maybe none, maybe sometimes two chapters, and we have four chapters ready to open, but we are not at that level to open those four, so it will be from zero to two, realistically – one, that’s what we deserved” said Vucic, with a touch of irony, answering questions from journalists. He stated that with this additional chapter opened, Serbia will “jump” from 17 so far open chapters to 18, which, as the president noted, is “of historic importance to our country”. He has repeatedly said that Serbia has done its job, but that it is not up to us, and that the EU is making a political assessment and deciding whether and how many chapters and at what speed it will open in negotiations with our country.

 

“If Webber were to decide, I know that they would want Serbian in EU because they had a clear vision of Europe, and since it is not up to him to decide, others will be asked, so we will monitor their compliance and look at what paths are being taken, to fulfill our obligations and I count that in three years, when they open a total of four chapters for us, we will already cross that number of 20 opened chapters and that will be of great importance for our country” Vucic concluded.

 

Falconi: French enlargement reform proposal could benefit Serbia (Beta)

French Ambassador to Serbia Jean-Louis Falconi has said the French proposal to reform the enlargement process was mostly geared toward countries that are yet to begin accession talks, but that it could also benefit nations that are already negotiating, like Serbia and Montenegro. Falconi told the European Policy Center Belgrade on Dec. 2, that the proposal envisages the possibility of admitting West Balkan states into the club sans voting rights, before officially inducting them into full European Union membership. “That is the most important aspect.  Instead of slicing the negotiating process into many chapters, the idea is to allow accessing countries closer, step by step, to final integration” the ambassador said. He also said that “it is worthwhile to consider, to see, if and how, Serbia and others, who have opened the accession process, can fit into that process.” He added that Serbian EU Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimovic‘s argument that the method agreed upon at the beginning of accession negotiations should not be modified in the course of the process was a “valid” argument. “I think our paper is directed, first and foremost, to those that have not yet opened the negotiations on accession,” the French ambassador said. He noted, however, that the French proposal could cause “those already in the accession negotiation process, like Serbia and Montenegro, to benefit from the process.”

 

Slovenian FM: No doubt about Serbia wanting to join EU (Beta)

Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said in Belgrade, that his earlier statement about Serbia’s commitment to integration into the European Union was not meant to convey doubt about that commitment. Cerar said early in the year that he expected Belgrade to give a definitive statement on whether it remained firmly on the European path, if it was ready to resolve the dispute with Kosovo and be a factor of stability and peace in the Balkans. “It was just emphasis on the need to be loud in one’s stands so there can be no room for different interpretations” Cerar told a news conference with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic. According to him, it is important for Serbian politicians to articulate the pro-European position clearly and reiterate it at every opportunity. “It is important to boost the signal and that we have a clear message when we’re trying to open doors that Serbia wants to become a part of the EU” the Slovenian minister said.

 

Djuric and Schieb discuss situation in Kosovo, chances for resuming Belgrade-Pristina dialog (Beta)

Marko Djuric, head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija, met with German Ambassador to Serbia Thomas Schieb to discuss political circumstances in Kosovo and avenues to resume the dialog between Belgrade and Pristina. According to a press release, Djuric expressed concern over he efforts by political figures in Pristina to relativize the agreements reached earlier in the dialog with Belgrade. Djuric stressed that implementing the agreements, whose guarantor is the European Union, was a prerequisite for establishing a normal social climate and conditions for living side by side in Kosovo. Djuric emphasized that Belgrade wanted the dialog to resume, but that the 100 percent tariffs on goods from central Serbia had to be lifted first.

 

Lukashenko welcomed: Anthem, honorary military salute and red carpet (Tanjug, VIP)

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, on Monday, arrived in an official visit to Serbia, where he was greeted by his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. “Welcome you great and true friend of Serbia”, stated the Serbian President. On Monday, Vucic and Lukashenko laid wreaths at the memorial cemetery of the liberators of Belgrade in World War II. Vucic and Lukashenko, on Tuesday, will first have talks in private, which will be followed by a plenary meeting of the delegations of the two countries. Then there will ensue a ceremony of exchange of signed bilateral documents, after which they will address the media. Lukashenko was greeted in Belgrade with the highest state honours, including the firing from an honorary platoon.

 

President Vucic estimated that there is lots of room for Serbia and Belarus to further deepen and improve cooperation. He said he was pleased to be in a position to once again welcome his Belarusian counterpart, the only politician to visit Serbia during the NATO bombing.

“We will never forget your visit in 1999. You were the only world leader who, at a time when it was hard for Serbia, came and wanted to show how much you love the Serbian people and our Serbia” he said at the beginning of the tete-a-tete meeting.

 

The Serbian people, Vucic emphasized, loves the Belarusian people and respects everything Lukashenko has done and made of his country. “We want to preserve the best relationships between our friendly nations and states. Our political relations are sincere, open and friendly and fraternal, as trade relations grow, so much more can be done to increase economic exchange by up to $ 500 million on annual basis” he said. Vucic expressed confidence that with the support of Lukashenko, his energy, work and effort, it will be able to carry out this work. “Thank you for coming to Serbia. Your visit means a lot to us and we invite you to come to visit our country more often” said Vucic.

 

SNS official says second pro-Vucic gathering spontaneous (Beta, N1, VIP)

A day after the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) organized a “spontaneous” rally in support of their leader, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, in Nis, at the same time claiming it has nothing to do with it – another one was held on Monday in Krusevac. There were exactly same posters and messages, exactly same choreography – but the SNS still insisted the rally was not organized.

 

The head of the local Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Krusevac told the Beta news agency on Monday that a crowd of thousands gathered in that town in a show of support for President Aleksandar Vucic. SNS local branch chief Nenad Andric said that the gathering, which he claims was spontaneous, was held under the slogan Stop to Bloody Scenarios to show the level of support for Vucic and opposition to what he said are “unjust and brutal attacks” against the president. Andric claimed that the protest march was not linked to the SNS. According to him, the crowd gathered in front of the local SNS offices and the party officials “could not refuse to heed their desire for the march”. The march started in front of the SNS offices and the crowd carried banners saying Stop Bloody Scenarios and Djilas Don’t Kill Serbia.

 

This is the second gathering of its kind in support of Vucic following the publication and ban on a photograph of the president at an arms fair on the cover of NIN weekly. The SNS is known to have organized mass gatherings in support of Vucic since it came to power.

 

Opposition dissatisfied over not being invited to the meeting with EP representatives (FoNet)

It was not just Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic who expressed his dissatisfaction on Monday by that which he perceived as an unjust relation of the EU and the West in general towards him and Serbia. The representatives of two pro-EU parties also gave an announcement. The general secretary of the League of Social-Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV), Bojan Kostres, expressed “surprise” over the announcement that the European Parliament Manfred Weber and European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik would only meet with the representatives of the opposition bloc Alliance for Serbia (SzS) and the Movement of Free Citizens (PSG), “and also with the representatives of the other opposition parties”. “It is highly illogical for the European parliamentarians to decide on meetings with the political parties which are opposed to European values and nurture close relations with the official Kremlin and its security services”, stated Kostres in the announcement. His statement is an allusion to the fact that in the SzS there are also conservative, anti-EU and pro-Russian parties. “Unfortunately, it is clear that support to pro-Russian populism, xenophobia and nationalism will return as a boomerang to Europe itself”, said Kostres, adding that “a European Serbia cannot be built with anti-European politicians”.

 

The long-discredited leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Cedomir Jovanovic also reacted. Commenting on the fact that his party had not been invited to the meeting with Weber and Biclik, Jovanovic wrote on Twitter: “Hallo Weber, Bilcik, EU, is there not enough of your stupidities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, and like (the Russian military intelligence agency) GRU you have to plot with Fascists behind our backs”. After this, there is no longer any sense for the participation of the LDP at the round table of the authorities and opposition in parliament, with the intermediacy of the EP representatives, he concluded.

 

Aleksandar Sapic, leader of the Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) also expressed dissatisfaction for not being invited to the meeting.

 

Association 1 in 5 million demands meeting EP representatives (Beta)

The 1 in 5 million civil association wrote to the European Parliament (EP) a letter requesting as meeting with its representatives who mediated inter-party dialogue in Serbia regarding election’s conditions, in the country’s Assembly on December 12, the Beta news agency reported.

The Assassination said they the EP should hear them as the organizers of the civil protest going on in Serbia for a year, the initiators of the so-called Agreement with People and later of the election boycott supported by many opposition parties and people in the street.

“We believe that the EP representatives should hear our opinion,” adding they would present them “with a real picture of the situation in the society and lack of conditions for any choice whatsoever.”

 

Djuric: Indictments are a continuation of the pursuit, aim to blame the Serbs (RTS)

Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric said that the indictments against a group of people allegedly responsible for the murder of Oliver Ivanovic were a continuation of an organized pursuit, with the aim of blaming the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija for the crime. In a statement, Djuric said that blaming Serbs aims at weakening the Serbs’ position in the province and delegitimizing Serb representatives that “Albanian separatists and their sponsors could not defeat in the last elections”. “Pristina has so far, persistently refused to cooperate with our judicial authorities in the investigation of the murder of Oliver Ivanovic and did not want to respond to inquiries from our state authorities, acting all the time as if it was hiding something” Djuric said. He says that it is clear in what direction the leads are heading, and that he is convinced that soon this will be proven to be a politically directed process with dangerous and murky goals. He believes that the real culprits, the procuring entities and the perpetrators of the crime, that has hit the entire Serbian people, will emerge.

 

Kosovo’s power network is being separated from the Serbian power network (Tanjug)

Kosovo transmission system operator company (KOSTT) signed an agreement with the Transmission System Operator (OST) to establish Kosovo Energy Unit in Tirana. As it is estimated, this will pave the way for separation from the Serbian Electricity Network (EMS).

The new AK Unit will operate as a regulatory unit consisting of two KOSTT and OST regulatory zones, and is intended to facilitate the operation of the two power systems, both technically and economically, KOSTT announced on its website. The agreement was signed with the knowledge of the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO), and is a precondition for independent operation of KOSTT, the statement added. It is expected to enter into force in April 2020 after the signing and implementation of the new Association Agreement between KOSTT and ENTSO.

 

On the occasion of the signing of the agreement, KOSTT Executive Director Ilir Shala emphasized that this was a historic agreement for KOSTT, as it would mean the departure of KOSTT from the regulatory area of Serbia (EMS). “By signing this agreement with the OST and commencing its implementation in April 2020, we have definitely left the umbrella of the Serbian Regulatory Area for EMS and become part of the Regulatory Unit with the TSO of Albania”, Sala concluded.

 

Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric said Serbia is the owner of Kosovo power network and it constructed power plants in Kosovo and Metohija, so establishing Great Albania in the energy field will not be possible. He pointed out that this is not sustainable on the ground and must be stopped by the international community before it produces negative consequences for regional energy and political stability.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

SDA is again postponing appointment of B&H CoM because of issues with forming of Federation of B&H Government (EuroBlic)

EuroBlic daily wonders how it is possible that Denis Zvizdic can schedule a session of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Council of Ministers all the way from Saudi Arabia, but he cannot schedule a session of the B&H House of Representatives in order to discuss the appointment of Zoran Tegeltija to the post of the B&H CoM Chairman. Article argues that this question is raised by those who claim that appointment of the B&H CoM is questionable, due to behavior of SDA regardless of the fact that B&H Presidency appointed Tegeltija the B&H CoM Chairman-designate at their session on November 19. Article explains that the appointment of Tegeltija needs to be confirmed by the B&H HoR, but Zvizdic has not scheduled a session of B&H HoR Collegium, but at the same time he scheduled a session of the B&H CoM, which should have been held on Tuesday, but was postponed.

 

Author noted that Zvizdic and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic visited Saudi Arabia in order to preform Muslim pilgrimage. Daily also learns that SDA leadership, with Izetbegovic at helm, held a session on Monday and they should have discussed the issue of the B&H CoM appointment and whether agreement of B&H Presidency is still in force, stipulating forming of the B&H CoM and then publishing of Program of Reforms and sending it to NATO HQ in Brussels.

 

Daily’s unnamed source said that the session of the B&H HoR can take place on Thursday in the best case scenario or the next week, but in this latter case the B&H CoM appointment should not be expected before mid-January. This source stressed that accidentally or not, this is the period when publishing of some new US strategy for Western Balkans is expected and this source deems that SDA is postponing the matters, as they are more concerned about forming of the Federation of B&H Government and possible reshuffle of Sarajevo Canton Government. Daily’s collocutors argue that SDA wants to postpone forming of the B&H CoM in order to form Federation of B&H Government at the same time, but things with that are not going well, being that HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic is conditioning this with changes to B&H Election Law.

The other problem for SDA represents the interpreting of the Program of Reforms, which is not published and which is interpreted by everyone as they please and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik claims that this Program is not Annual National Program. The third problem for SDA, daily noted, is composition of the future B&H CoM, where SDA would have only one minister, as the other two posts will be given to DF and SBB B&H.

 

Daily concluded that both Dodik and SNSD’s Nikola Spric have warned about possibilities of postponing of the appointment of the CoM, but Spiric did not want to say who is trying to postpone the appointment.

 

PIC SB to discuss situation in B&H on Tuesday and Wednesday (ATV)

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) announced on Monday that the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) Political Directors will hold a meeting in Sarajevo on Tuesday and Wednesday, in order to discuss the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). According to a press statement published by the OHR, the PIC ambassadors are scheduled to meet with representatives of local authorities in B&H.

 

Organizing Committee for Marking of RS’ Day, January 9, holds inaugural session (ATV)

The Organizing Committee for Marking the Day of Republika Srpska (RS), January 9, held an inaugural session in Banja Luka on Monday, which was chaired by RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic. The Organizing Committee adopted a proposal of program of celebration and formed a working group tasked to prepare and organize the celebration of the Day of the RS, reads a statement issued by the RS President’s Office. The Organizing Committee decided that the central event marking the Day of the RS will be a ceremonial parade at the Krajina Square and a ceremonial session at the Sports Hall ‘Borik’ in Banja Luka on January 9.

 

The presenter reminded that Cvijanovic earlier said that there is a way to “preserve January 9” and respect the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) decision. “The RS has prepared answers to the decision of the B&H CC, it has constitutional, political and democratic tools and mechanisms to protect its markings. I deem that many processes in B&H go in the wrong direction, including this issue of disputing the RS Day. B&H is not able to make the smallest step forward and it is obvious that to some it is more important to attack a date then to deal with essential issues” said Cvijanovic.

 

Montenegro

 

PM DuskoMarkovic: Montenegro is committed to reform (RTCG)

Prime Minister Dusko Markovic takes part in the meeting of heads of state or government that is being held within the XXV Conference (COP25) of the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Madrid. Markovic has been greeted by Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sanchez. On the sidelines of the event, the Prime Minister congratulated EC President Ursula Von der Leyen on election to the responsible post and reiterated Montenegro’s full commitment to reforms and the successful continuation of the European integration process, the Government twitted. The Prime Minister will address the participants of the Conference, which will be opened by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sanchez.

 

“The Madrid Conference will be an opportunity for further affirmation of Montenegro’s environmental and climate change policies, particularly bearing in mind that our country opened a negotiating Chapter 27, as well as for bilateral meetings of Prime Minister DuskoMarkovic.” the Government said.

 

The conference will be attended by 36 heads of state or government, as well as the top officials of the European Union: President of the European Council Charles Michel, President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen and Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

 

Pazin: We’ll become EU Member State if competent institutions assume full responsibility (CDM)

Montenegro will become EU member only if all competent institutions show responsibility at all levels, said Vice-President of the Government, Zoran Pazin during session of the Council on the Rule of Law. “Although EC stated progress in many key areas of the rule of law, I want to focus on the areas where we can and must do better. Institutions in charge of the rule of law must show more than responsible work, individual and institutional quality. That will be possible when all institutions assume full responsibility at all levels” said Pazin. He pointed out that there was no room for a laid-back atmosphere in performing duties. Results, Pazin says, need to be essential and citizens must feel them.

 

Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, Aivo Orav, also attended the session, during which European Commission unofficial working document (non-paper) on the rule of law was presented. According to Orav, European Commission recognizes and welcomes Montenegro’s progress in the adoption of EU regulation and development of institutions. However, Orav points at remaining challenges.

 

INTERNATIONAL

 

‘Mini Schengen’: A Balkan breakthrough or political stunt? (BIRN)

A week before the European Union dashed the EU hopes of Albania and North Macedonia back in October, the prime ministers of those countries met with Serbia’s president and unveiled a regional initiative that was quickly dubbed the “mini Schengen”. In a nutshell, the idea was to create a Balkan version of the European Union’s border-free Schengen area.

 

As the EU’s refusal to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia reverberated throughout the Western Balkans, the “mini Schengen” scheme launched in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad took on extra significance. At a follow-up meeting, held in the North Macedonia resort city of Ohrid in November, leaders outlined proposals for introducing “four freedoms” across the three countries — namely, the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital. But with the three leaders expected to meet for a third time in Albania in late December, some commentators baulk at the idea of applying the border-free principles of the EU to countries in the Balkans.

 

Does “mini Schengen” herald a new dawn of cooperation or is it merely political theatre?

While the initiative could fizzle in the cold light of reality, success is not out of the question — assuming plenty of good will, a few changes to the current plan and the support of EU partners.

 

Barriers to inclusivity

 

Though initiated by just three Balkan countries, the “mini Schengen” concept is predicated on the idea of freedom of movement across the region. Though observers including U.S. officials say inclusivity is the key to making it work, the plan as it stands offers few incentives for other states to join. Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro attended the Ohrid summit but the president of Kosovo declined to take part against a backdrop of skepticism across the political spectrum in Kosovo. Kosovo’s refusal to attend underlines a fundamental challenge. Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia are a major hindrance not only for bilateral relations but for regional cooperation as well.

 

The “derecognition” campaign that Serbia has long waged against Europe’s newest country raises doubts about Belgrade’s commitment to being a constructive regional player and undermines the premise of an all-inclusive “mini Schengen”. Without the inclusion of other countries — not least Kosovo, which borders North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania — the initiative will only offer a tripartite format for solving bilateral issues.

 

Limited economic rationale

 

Champions of the “mini Schengen” idea tout it as a way to unleash economic cooperation and new economic opportunities, but how effective can it really be? So far, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is the only leader to offer an economic rationale, but one paradoxically grounded in the competitive logic of a fixed pie, with only so much prosperity to go round.

In his pitch to the Serbian people, Vucic argued that the initiative benefits Serbia the most due to the country’s larger and more competitive market. That is in many regards true, as Serbia is the most competitive economy and the largest market of all Western Balkan countries. But the question then is: why should Albania and North Macedonia — or other Balkan countries, for that matter — sign up? Furthermore, what additional benefits are there to existing agreements between countries?

 

Some of these concerns were highlighted by Montenegro’s Minister of Economy, Dragica Sekulic, who said after the Ohrid summit that her country was not interested in joining. She argued that most countries in the region already allow a certain amount of freedom of movement thanks to bilateral agreements. She also noted that Western Balkan countries are part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), which guarantees a degree of free flow of people and goods. When exporting within the CEFTA region, the most important barriers are administrative barriers, namely customs procedures.

 

The “mini Schengen” plan would remove these administrative barriers — but that is hardly a ground-breaking aspiration. Better customs procedures and passport-free travel, to some extent already in place on a bilateral basis, are not sufficient to justify all the hype.

 

Towards the next summit

 

As the next summit looms, there are opportunities to address legitimate questions surrounding the project and to make improvements. First, to be taken seriously, the initiators need to address the question of inclusivity that lies at the heart of the initiative. Much of the responsibility for doing this rests with the Serbian leadership. Serbia and Kosovo will ultimately need to resolve their differences. In the meantime, under the auspices of the “mini Schengen”, Serbia could commit to a more constructive role by ceasing its aggressive “derecognition” campaign and toning down its hostile rhetoric. That would at least allow Kosovo to sit at the table. It would also serve as a show of good faith that could highlight the potential of the initiative to be truly transformative for the region. At the same time, for it to be sustainable and consequential, the “mini Schengen” needs to be institutionalized and move beyond the top-down, leader-centered approach seen so far.

 

While the involvement of EU partners is critical in this regard, the initiators need to show how the project can help the region move closer towards EU membership. Support from EU partners could be towards the harmonization of Western Balkan markets with the EU market. This could come not only through guidance and institutional support but also through economic packages that would help increase the competitiveness of all the markets across the board, also alleviating the risk that the region’s smaller economies will be dominated by larger ones. Finally, support from EU partners could come with strings attached and commitments in terms of foreign investment. This would guarantee that the “mini Schengen” will not be exploited by foreign players — especially Russia, China and Turkey — seeking to penetrate Western Balkans markets and meddle in Balkan affairs.

 

Four new Russia’s helicopters arrive in Serbia (Sputnik)

Four new Mi-35M attack helicopters, which Serbia purchased from Russia, arrived in Belgrade a few weeks before the deadline, Russia’s Sputnik reported on Monday. Initially, it was announced that these helicopters would arrive early next year, but the delivery happened two days before this week’s meeting between presidents of Serbia and Russia, Aleksandar Vucic and Vladimir Putin, respectively, in Sochi, Russia. Until now, the Serbian Armed Forces (VS) did not have these helicopters, and it is planned that they would be based at the Ladjevci airport near Kraljevo. In the second half of the year, the VS received a total of 12 new helicopters from Russia and Germany. In addition to four Mi-35Ms, three Mi-17V5 transport helicopters arrived from Russia, while five H-145M helicopters arrived from Airbus company, which will be stationed in Nis. Four more helicopters of this type were purchased from Airbus for police purposes, and they were also delivered to a MUP helicopter unit in Surcin.

 

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