Brnabic: EC is now giving optimistic signals for enlargement (RTS/Tanjug)
Asked by journalists in Rome whether she is worried by the fatigue in EU enlargement, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic says she had a very good meeting with the EU Enlargement and Neighborhood Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi confirmed this new energy. “He confirmed that we can expect with the new methodology that this can head only in the direction of much faster dynamics and clearer conditions that are being set before countries wishing to become EU member states. And much greater predictability and clearer signals for countries like Serbia,” said Brnabic. “We discussed at the meetings funds that could follow the new methodology, which is the merit of President Macron,” said Brnabic. She pointed out that these funds will also be set aside for infrastructural projects, and economic cooperation with the EU. Brnabic says that she expects Serbia to see in this new methodology that reforms will be followed by much higher appropriations from the EU for countries that are on the EU membership path.
Brnabic, Conte meet on sidelines of CEI summit (Tanjug)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic on Thursday met with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on the sidelines of a Central European Initiative (CEI) summit in Rome. During the longer-than-planned meeting, they also discussed the possibility of holding a fourth joint session of their governments next year to discuss specific projects for cooperation between Italy and Serbia. They talked about bilateral relations, strengthening of economic and political cooperation, as well as about Serbia’s European integration and joint efforts to tackle the challenges facing Europe. “At the meeting, we talked about the really good economic and political ties, as well as about the impressions from his official visit in March this year, which is also a year of a great anniversary – 140 years of Serbia-Italy diplomatic relations, and ten years of a strategic partnership,” Brnabic told reporters.
Kozarev: Serbia will not recognize Kosovo under threats (Tanjug/RTV)
Former head of the Pristina negotiating team in the dialogue with Belgrade Edita Tahiri said that there will be a war if Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo. No matter how much it wants peace, Serbia will never recognize so-called Kosovo under threats, which was create as a result of seizure, unlawfulness and violence, said deputy head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Dusan Kozarev in reaction to her statement. “This same Albanian political leadership in Pristina has taken hostage the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija who are today the most endangered and most disadvantaged people in Europe,” said Kozarev. He says Serbia is a country turned towards the future and development and that it wishes to leave behind sufferings and killings from the war past, but that Albanian political leaders are in this past not only imprisoned, but also want it to repeat. “Serbia will do everything to preserve peace so our suffering region can heal wounds and make up for everything that has been missed in the years of the conflict and instability, but our effort will be in vain if others also don’t show at least minimum of reason, good will and restraint.
Vulin: No independent Kosovo and that’s it (Tanjug/RTV)
Reacting to Edita Tahiri’s statement, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin has reiterated that there is no independent Kosovo. “Tahiri doesn’t have children of her own, that is why she is so easily throwing them into war. Even when she was holding an official post she wasn’t quite herself, but now, when nobody asks her anything, she is totally mad. Crazy old woman. And for all those who are using a crazy old woman to say things that they don’t want to say loudly, but would like to happen, let me repeat, there is no independent Kosovo and that’s it,” said Vulin in a written statement.
Chitaku’s lawsuit against Dacic blocked with the intervention of Russia and China (Novosti)
The lawsuit filed by Pristina’s representative in the US Vlora Chitaku against Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has not reached the agenda of the UN Security Council, because the ambassadors of Russia and China had opposed this. Last month, Chitaku filed a lawsuit against Dacic because he publicly showed her birth certificate from 1990 in order to prove that the Albanians were issue documents in both Serbian and English languages. Novosti reports that Great Britain supported the lawsuit, but it was blocked by Russia and China.
Zivkovic calls Serbian opposition to stand in elections (N1)
Nova Stranka leader Zoran Zivkovic on Thursday called Serbian opposition parties to surprise President Aleksandar Vucic with a New Year’s message saying: We were joking, we will stand in the coming parliamentary elections. He said a boycott won’t solve the problem, adding that the people advocating it lost to Vucic at elections. “The election conditions are a catastrophe, they could be better but if we create a serious front with the public we can do what we did in 1996: win five municipalities in Belgrade, five towns in Serbia, 60 MPs, 20 in the Vojvodina Assembly… and force Vucic to call presidential elections in 2021, find our own candidate and beat him,” he said. Zivkovic, a former Serbian prime minister, told N1 that his party would decide to take part in elections or not when they are called, adding that a decision can’t be taken six months before the elections. He said that a small victory had been won when the authorities decided to move the elections to late April or early May. “The more time, the better it is for us in the opposition. We can prepare more easily and can spend that time to see if the authorities are doing what they promised under pressure from the European Union. The longer these authorities are in power, the more stupid things they do,” he said. He said that the electorate in Serbia has been divided into liberal and conservative for 30 years. “It doesn’t matter what lies Vucic tells on (the pro-regime TV stations) Pink and Happy. The important thing is to motivate our voters… To have at least enough room in the 45 to 60 days of campaign to present what we offer to the public. TV duels once a day on every station are enough… on the (state TV stations) RTS and RTV, local TV stations and N1,” he said.
B&H citizens suspected of taking part in fights on side of ISIL deported to Sarajevo on Thursday (BHT1)
Military plane with around 27 Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) citizens on board – suspected of taking part in fights on the side of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – landed at the International Airport Sarajevo at 18,00hrs on Thursday. Around 18 women and children were also among the B&H citizens who were deported to B&H. At the time of the news broadcast, B&H citizens were a subject to airport controls. BHT1 learns that the SIPA and the judicial police may take over some of them against whom indictments due to terrorism were already filed. All of the B&H citizens who landed at the airport – except for women and children – will be transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H bearing in mind that the Court of BIH already ordered detention. As for women and children, they will be temporarily accommodated in the asylum center, where employees of social welfare centers will be working with them.
The B&H Presidency adopted a conclusion on 29 November to accept the aforementioned persons from Syrian battlefields, saying that the B&H Ministry of Security strongly reacted on Thursday claiming that they are not ready yet. The reporter concluded by saying that Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers said that now, it is up to B&H to undertake a serious and a big task of de-radicalization and resocialization of these persons. Spokesperson for B&H Prosecutor’s Office Boris Grubesic said that they will resume with criminal processing of abovementioned people in line with law. Grubesic stated that several persons suspected of participating in foreign battlefields were deported to B&H and have been detained. He added that suspects are under investigation due to criminal offenses of organization of terrorist group, illegal formation or joining foreign paramilitary and para-police formations and terrorism. Grubesic also stated that B&H Prosecutor’s Office and other competent institutions and agencies have conducted activities in line with international obligations of B&H.
Covic: HDZ B&H and SDA are ahead of the agreement on Federation of B&H government, but ministers will not be appointed until certain reorganization (N1)
B&H House of People (HoP) Speaker Dragan Covic hosted a traditional reception on the occasion of the upcoming Christmas, in Sarajevo on Thursday. Several hundred guests attended the reception, including representatives of the political, religious, diplomatic, social and cultural circles in B&H. Addressing the reception, Covic congratulated the upcoming holidays wishing everyone peace, love and prosperity. He also mentioned the issue of the Election Law of B&H and legitimate political representation of the Croat People in B&H in his address. He also addressed reporters on the sidelines of the event and reminded that he has been negotiating with SDA the amendments to the Election Law for some time, but that there are no concrete solutions for now. Covic stated that HDZ B&H and SDA as coalition partners are ahead of the agreement on the Federation of B&H Government, but that ministers in the Federation of B&H government will not be appointed until certain reorganization of ministries is completed. Covic did not say specifically when these processes might be completed, but he mentioned the period of the next three months as a time framework for finalization of this issue. Commenting on the upcoming presidential elections in Croatia, Covic said that HDZ B&H called on all Croats in B&H to vote for HDZ’s candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. Attendees included, among others, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, member of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik, US Ambassador to B&H Eric Nelson, Russian Ambassador to B&H Petr Ivantsov, SBB B&H President Fahrudin Radoncic, Speaker of the B&H House of Representatives Denis Zvizdic and Federation of B&H Prime Minister Fadil Novalic. Reportedly, more than 50 members of the diplomatic corps attended the reception as well. Addressing the reception, Covic said, among other issues, that B&H and its constituent peoples need more unity and understanding, feeling of closeness and unity.
DF drafted its own proposal of Election Law of B&H; We have not presented it to our partners just yet (FTV)
Chairman of the B&H Presidency and DF leader Zeljko Komsic said that the DF made the decision, alongside its partners, SDA and SBB B&H, to oust the current Sarajevo Canton (SC) government and appoint a new one. The two other parties were not criticized over this move, but DF, and Komsic in particular, was called a traitor, as his party was part of the civic bloc in this canton prior to the mentioned decision. Asked what B&H will gain with DF’s move in the SC, Komsic said that “SC government is the safety fuse in the Election Law of B&H negotiations”. He said that SDA, SBB B&H and DF wanted to prevent the civic bloc parties from “getting ideas” and potentially supporting the Election Law proposal of HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic. He concluded that current SC authorities care only about distribution of posts and allocation of budgetary funds, while DF and his partners care about the future of the entire country. Komsic said that a brighter future can only be achieved if B&H officials start working together on implementation of necessary reforms and changes, like amendments of the Election Law of B&H, adoption of reforms needed on the paths towards the NATO and the EU, etc.
Commenting what the Annual National Program (ANP) is and whether the Program of Reforms of B&H is actually the same thing, Komsic said: “This document is the Program of Reforms and the NATO accepted it as the ANP”. He said the document will be sent to Brussels after which the Membership Action Plan (MAP) will be activated. The Presidency Chairman explained that NATO officials told B&H authorities that it does not matter how the document is titled, that the only thing that matters is the content. Komsic says that the ANP will be sent every year to Brussels until B&H becomes a NATO member state. “The ANP is not a report, it is a proposal of activities that you must implement in line with what the NATO demands of you,” he pointed.
Further commenting on the need to amend the current Election Law of B&H, Komsic said that he believes Covic will insist on his proposal more before easing up and accepting another solution. Covic has no support for his proposal, Komsic assessed, and the only support he could potentially count on was in the SC. By ousting the current SC government, he loses that support, Komsic noted. He reminded that DF and SDP B&H drafted their own Law on Constituencies and sent it to the parliamentary procedure. The draft proposal was afterwards supported by SDA and SBB B&H. He confirms that DF drafted its own proposal as well, which this party plans to submit to parliamentary procedure as soon as the new B&H Council of Ministers (B&H CoM) is formed. “It is completely in line with what the European Commission (EC) asks in its Opinion when it comes to eliminating of discrimination, protection of fundamental human rights, the need to harmonize the Constitution of B&H and the entire system with the EU’s demands,” Komsic said. He added that this proposal was finished just recently and was not yet presented to DF’s partners. The presidential elections in Croatia will be held on Sunday, 22 December. Komsic said that he did not follow the recent debate nor the statements of the candidates, but he said that Croatia’s behavior towards B&H remains the same. He did not wish to say which candidate he supports, but assessed his relations with current Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as “quite difficult”. “B&H and Croatia must work together, that much I know. As soon as they realize that, things will become much simpler,” he said. Komsic also spoke about B&H’s path towards the EU and said that all political subjects in the country support this path, but assessed that that path is more difficult than the one that will eventually lead B&H into the NATO. “It is our fault since we are not ready to resolve some deeply rooted issues,” he said. Komsic gave the example of the state Election Law and the Constitution of B&H which both have to be amended in line with the standards that exist within the EU. “We are quite far from the EU at this moment; not just because of our moves, but also in connection to the situation within the EU,” the Chairman underlined. Komsic said the EU’s stance towards B&H did not change much, but the Union became more focused on its internal issues. He hopes things will change by March 2020, but said B&H must work on its own stability and development prior to becoming part of the EU and the NATO.
McAllister: B&H political leaders must start taking responsibility and ensure their country is moving forward (Dnevni avaz)
Chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee David McAllister gave an exclusive statement for the daily and warned that B&H politicians must understand it is time to face their duties towards the citizens and show some responsibility. “There is no time to lose anymore, as B&H continues to lag behind the countries with the lowest GDP per capita in Europe,” said McAllister and noted that he welcomes any and all constructive steps that lead to unblocking of the institutions of B&H. “Confirmation of Zoran Tegeltija as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and formation of the authority at the level of B&H are welcome steps. Adoption of the budget, implementation of the program of socio-economic reforms and dealing with the migration crisis are just a few out of many urgent tasks the new authorities need to deal with. The European future of B&H is in the hands of its citizens and youth.” Asked to comment the decision of the EU not to approve negotiation process for Albania and North Macedonia, McAllister said he was deeply disappointed with the decision, as it represents a tactical mistake in his opinion, and it also influences credibility of the EU. Also, he said that such move will allow other powers that do not share the values of the EU to get more involved in the Western Balkan region. “Enlargement remains key priority for the new European Parliament and the Commission in the next five years. The European Parliament agrees it is necessary to improve the process, but not to replace the final goal of full membership of the Western Balkan countries in the EU when they are meeting the membership criteria” concluded McAllister.
Dodik: RS has the right to celebrate 9 January (EuroBlic)
Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that Republika Srpska (RS) has the right to celebrate 9 January as the day when it was created. He underlined that no one can prevent the RS from doing so, adding that 9 January does not insult anyone. Dodik announced that 9 January will be marked with a series of events in Banja Luka, as well as in other cities and municipalities throughout the RS. Serb Member of the Presidency of B&H assessed as ‘unnatural’ the fact that foreign judges are members of the Constitutional Court of B&H, adding that they have made some political decisions against the RS. Dodik concluded that the Constitutional Court will no longer be making decisions against the RS.
Prime Minister in Rome for Central European Initiative summit (HRT)
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic is in Rome where he is participating in a summit marking the 30th anniversary of the Central European Initiative. The Prime Minister said on Thursday, during the second day of his official two-day visit to Italy, that one of the main focuses of Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union during the first six months of 2020 was EU expansion. “The prevailing message of the Central European Initiative is that we must not create new divisions in Europe,” said Plenkovic. The Prime Minister called for increased cooperation between the nations of Southeast Europe and the EU. And in the context of Croatia’s presidency of the council of the European Union, he said Croatia would “not only concentrate on Brexit, the EU’s long-term budget, the Conference on the Future of Europe, the Green deal, and the digital agenda, but also on EU expansion.” Plenkovic said he and his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte would continue working closely together within the European Council on accelerating the European Union enlargement process, despite opposition from France, Denmark and the Netherlands to opening membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia earlier this year.
Várhelyi to Markovic: I want Montenegro to be fully ready for the EU by the end of my term of office (CDM)
Montenegro is leader in the European integration process. Joint goal is to speed that process up and to attach strategic importance to the Western Balkan (WB) integration, agreed Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte and European Commissioner for Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi during the CEI Summit which is taking place in Rome. Conte said that Italy would continue to support Montenegro’s European path. Várhelyi said that he wanted Montenegro to be fully ready for the EU by the end of his term of office. Markovic thanked Conte on the support he pledged for the European integration process and for the NATO accession. “Italy has always been by our side”, said PM. He added that Italy’s help in the judicial reform in Montenegro was priceless. After the meeting, PM said that Italian Prime Minister was loud and clear regarding enlargement policy. “Montenegro achieved the best results and has chance to intensify the enlargement process and step up the dynamics. Enlargement policy will be one of the key policies of the new European Commission,” said Markovic.
Markovic and Conte agreed that bilateral relations between Montenegro and Italy were excellent. Economic cooperation is stable and was further strengthened by the undersea power cable which has become operational just recently. They stated that cooperation could be improved in the domain of culture and defense. Markovic invited Conte to visit Montenegro and contribute to further improvement of Montenegro-Italy relations. Conte and Várhelyi pointed out that they appreciated our regional policy, characterized by high-quality neighborly relations.
Montenegro to bring debate back into parliament (RTCG)
The European Union regrets the missed opportunity for Montenegro to re-establish political dialogue in the parliament, the Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Peter Stano said, and added that boycotts were not a solution, especially for a country negotiating accession to the EU. “This represents a missed opportunity for Montenegro to re-establish political dialogue in the parliament, to review in a comprehensive and inclusive manner the electoral framework, to enhance trust in the conduct of next year’s parliamentary elections and to reach cross-party agreement on a number of deliverables which are important for Montenegro’s EU reform agenda, in particular with regard to the negotiation Chapters 23 and 24 related to the Rule of Law,” Stano said. As he said, the EU reiterated that political debate should take place in the parliament and that parliamentary boycotts were not a solution, especially for a country negotiating accession to the EU. Stano reminded that the EU has consistently encouraged all political actors in Montenegro to take their responsibility and bring the political debate back to the parliament. The EU notes that the government submitted the draft Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities to the parliament. “Regulating religious communities is a national competence, but this should be done in an inclusive way, bringing together all relevant stakeholders, and in line with relevant international and European human rights standards, in particular with all recommendations of the Venice Commission’s opinion of 24 June 2019,” the statement says.
SDSM will try to push its changes to the Electoral Code next week (Republika)
The ruling SDSM party is asking its coalition partner DUI, and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party to withdraw their amendments on the Electoral Code, which SDSM is trying to push through parliament without agreement with the other parties. DUI blocked the law when it submitted nearly 6.000 amendments, which will certainly bog down the debate deep after the scheduled election date in April 2020. VMRO-DPMNE also submitted several hundred amendments to the SDSM proposal to abolish the six electoral districts in favor of a single district. Proportionate voting in a single district will likely favor the smaller, protest parties, and parties representing ethnic minorities at the detriment of the larger parties and the Albanian parties, and SDSM is likely planning to run a number of allied protest parties independently, take a hit on its own list but harm its rivals too, and then reel the smaller parties back in its coalition.
SDSM MP Aleksandar Kiracovski said that a new committee session will be held mid next week when he will ask DUI and VMRO to withdraw their amendments and unblock the law. The move by DUI caused tensions in their ruling coalition with SDSM. VMRO insists that it is unacceptable that changes to the Electoral Code are made without agreement of all major parties, especially with just months before the elections. The opposition party said that, if the model is being changed, it wants to see a first past the post system like those used in the US, UK and Canada. DUI, on the other hand, said that it will accept a single district but only if ethnic Albanians are guaranteed 30 seats in parliament. Meanwhile, parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi dismissed the idea of pushing the Election Code changes through an expedited procedure. Xhaferi’s DUI party bogged down the changes proposed unilaterally by its coalition partner SDSM, which aim to abolish the six electoral districts in favor of a single district. Despite the fact that there is no precedent for changing the electoral rules so close before the elections, and without agreement from all major parties, SDSM said it will make another push to get its way next week. DUI submitted thousands of amendments to the proposed changes, which block the process, after declaring that the change will reduce the number of ethnic Albanian members of Parliament. Following the SDSM request, Xhaferi explained the technical requirements for what the ruling party wants, and said that there is no option to expedite the procedure. He said that a number of SDSM officials in the Parliament are pushing him to allow the changes to be put to a vote, but said that he cannot allow it.
Outgoing Prime Minister Zaev to meet Western Balkan leaders in Tirana (Republika)
Outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev will take part in a meeting of Western Balkan leaders Friday-Saturday in Tirana, as part of the “Small Schengen” initiative, which will be hosted by Albanian counterpart Edi Rama. The initiative, aimed at intensifying regional cooperation and improving the lives of citizens, is a continuation of the outgoing Prime Minister Zaev and Rama’s meetings in Novi Sad and Ohrid with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. On the second day of the meeting, a joint press release from the Western Balkan leaders is envisaged.
At the trilateral meeting last month in Ohrid, a Declaration was adopted that stipulates border crossing only with an ID card, truck lanes and mutual recognition of diplomas, accompanied by an Action Plan of ten measures to implement it. Albanian Prime Minister Rama announced then in Ohrid that the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell is also expected to attend the next meeting.
Poster of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic as persona non- grata in Tirana (N1)
The Levizja Vetevendosje (Self-Determination or LVV), an NGO in Albania put up a poster of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic with the words Persona Non- Grata on it in the center of Tirana. The NGO (which carries the same name as Albin Kurti’s Vetevendosje in Kosovo) put up the poster in front of the Rogner hotel where the heads of state and government of three Western Balkan countries are due to meet to discuss the so-called Mini-Schengen initiative.
The poster included the sentence – a war criminal portraying himself as a benefactor is coming here. Kossev portal said that reports of Vucic’s pending visit to Albania have been the focus of the media in Pristina with politicians expressing anger over the visit.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Marinelli: Serbia is becoming increasingly important partner to NATO (European Western Balkans, by Nikola Cuckić, 19 December 2019)
Serbia is becoming an increasingly important partner to NATO, said, Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli, Chief of NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, in an interview for our portal. We had the opportunity to speak about the cooperation between NATO and Serbia, key events that have shaped it in 2019, as well as new Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), which was adopted last month.
European Western Balkans: In your last year’s interview for the European Western Balkans, you stated that Serbia-NATO relations are deepening and that the partnership is stronger in all areas. Do you notice a trend of growing cooperation in 2019 as well?
Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli: This is my fourth year in Belgrade and I am pleased to say that relations between Serbia and NATO are better than they seem to the average person, with Serbia becoming an even more important partner to NATO. Our partnership is strong and we continue to work together in areas where both Serbia and NATO see the benefits. I am glad that we can cooperate and exchange experiences through the Partnership for Peace programme, with Serbia being among more active countries, focused on training and capacity-building opportunities. We wish to build up a unique relationship and Serbia is free to choose its own priorities for cooperation with NATO. Currently, in line with its own needs and ambition, and of course its foreign policy, Serbia can choose from over 1,600 different activities to do together with NATO. Serbia and NATO have developed a strong practical partnership over the years. This partnership is based on an understanding that we are neighbours, and working together with our neighbours on security issues, makes all our citizens safer.
EWB: In your opinion, what are the key points in 2019 that marked Serbia – NATO cooperation, either in a positive or negative way?
CM: I will remember the year 2019 for a number of joint activities, beneficial for both NATO and Serbia. Belgrade also welcomed a number of high-ranking NATO officials, proving its commitment to our partnership. Just several weeks ago in Bujanovac, NATO experts were thrilled with the knowledge and capabilities presented by the general-purpose engineering company of the Serbian Armed Forces, which has shown that it is fully prepared to participate in international peacekeeping missions in line with NATO standards. This is yet another clear sign that the Serbian Armed Forces are continuing to strengthen their training programs in cooperation with us. Moreover, thanks to the NATO Support and Procurement Agency and its Trust Fund, new capacities have been added to the Technical Overhaul Facility in Kragujevac, making both its workers and surroundings significantly safer. Serbia is still free to choose from over 1,600 different activities to do together with NATO, and during this year it has opted for a number of trainings of its capable and devoted officers. During the course of this year, several NATO high level officials, including NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Tod D. Wolters, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the Allied Joint Force Command Naples Commander, Admiral James Foggo, Ambassador Tacan Ildem, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy – as well as a number of other NATO officials and experts – visited Serbia to engage in dialogue and discussion with President Vucic and other representatives of the Serbian leadership on a range of topics, such as NATO-Serbia partnership and regional security.
EWB: The new Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) for the period 2019–2021 was adopted by the Serbian Government at the beginning of November 2019. Which elements of the previous IPAP 2017–2019 do you consider to have been fulfilled the most and which the least?
CM: I must say we are satisfied with the effects of the previous IPAP. Now, with the new IPAP, we underline the importance of this document, since it provides us with a very good guidance as to how to take this partnership and cooperation forward so that it can benefit and meet the expectations of both Serbia and NATO. At the same time, we are very gratified to see that public diplomacy is one focus area of IPAP. We are always faced with the challenges posed by disinformation. Not a single country is immune from that, but I am confident that we can continue our efforts to explain to the Serbian public the principles and the facts that underpin NATO-Serbia partnership. We already have a long-standing cooperation developed these past years with many Serbian interlocutors, including journalists, academics, opinion formers, military officers and members of parliament, just to name a few. We can thus build upon this solid foundation.
EWB: Could the commitment of Serbia to “extend and enhance cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organization”, in addition to enhancing political dialogue and practical cooperation with NATO, as stated in the proposal of the Defence Strategy adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia, become an obstacle for future Serbia-NATO relations?
CM: NATO sees no obstacles for our mutually beneficial cooperation. We have been constantly emphasizing that NATO fully respects the Serbian stated policy of military neutrality. It is the sovereign prerogative of Serbia to choose whatever security arrangements it finds suitable for the need of its citizens. There is no conflict between having good relations with NATO and good relations with Russia or any other country or a multinational entity. Our partnerships are demand-driven. We do not impose anything on our partners and as you know, NATO works closely with numerous militarily neutral countries, such as Finland, Austria or Sweden, just to name a few.
EWB: Serbia and the Russian Federation conducted a military exercise “Slavic Shield 2019” in October 2019. During this exercise, Russia has deployed to Serbia two anti-aircraft systems – “S-400”, which was deployed abroad for the first time, and the “Pantsir S1” system. How do you see the deployment of these highly sophisticated weapons to Serbia for the purpose of the exercise, and can this affect the future relations of Serbia and NATO?
CM: NATO’s position has always been very clear – the choice of weaponry system is a national sovereign prerogative and this of course includes Serbia. I would like to stress once again, we fully respect Serbia’s and every other nation’s sovereign right to choose their own political and security arrangements. We welcome the current level of our partnership, as we find it beneficial for both sides and we look forward to opportunities for strengthening it further. As you may know, Serbia benefits from a number of different programs offered through our partnership – from scientific cooperation to training of Serbian armed forces for UN-led operations, to reforms of the national defence and security structures, to preparedness in dealing with natural emergencies.
EWB: In the interview for The Economist magazine, President of France Emmanuel Macron stated that NATO is “brain-dead”, which resonated not only in Europe but also in the Western Balkans. What message does this send to the Western Balkan countries regarding the future role of NATO and possible enlargement of NATO?
CM: NATO is committed, as it has always been, to the Western Balkans. We see the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic cooperation and integration for those who want it. This benefits their citizens, their countries and the entire Euro-Atlantic family. This has not changed. We are determined to help the countries of the region to implement real reforms, regardless of their membership aspirations. We respect their choice, whatever it is, whether it is the choice of Serbia to remain militarily neutral or the choice of North Macedonia to join the Alliance. Newest NATO members in the Western Balkans prove that our enlargement has been a clear success story, because it contributes to stability in the region and in the wider euro-atlantic area.
EWB: In Serbia, there is still a negative perception of NATO, mostly as a consequence of the 1999 bombing and NATO’s role in the wars in former Yugoslavia, but also because of pro-government media reporting. How do you see the media coverage of NATO in Serbia and do you think the Government is doing enough to change the negative perception?
CM: We realize that NATO remains controversial in Serbia. The memories of the air campaign in 1999 are still painful for many, especially for those who lost their loved ones. The campaign was never against the Serbian people. It was to protect civilians in the wider region. Each innocent life lost was a tragedy, which we deeply regret. The NATO Secretary General offered his condolences to the families and to all those who lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict.
We must never forget the past, but we can move beyond it and that is what NATO and Serbia are doing with our partnership, looking towards a better future. From my personal perspective, we have developed a productive and very professional cooperation with various journalists and many outlets in the country. NATO is a transparent organization and we highly value the right of the media and the public to know the truth and receive relevant and factual information. Therefore, NATO’s and my office doors are always open. Throughout these past years and during the current one we have had the pleasure of hosting dozens of Serbian journalists and members of parliament in our premises in Belgrade and at NATO Headquarters in Brussels; several of them have interviewed high level NATO officials, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. NATO is always ready to answer any question and we shall continue to do so in the years to come.