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Belgrade Media Report 08 January

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LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: TurkStream hugely significant for Serbia (RTS)
• Vucic: Pristina would like to implement Podgorica scenario, such preparations are underway (Tanjug/B92)
• First request submitted for assessment of constitutionality of the Law on Freedom of Religion (Tanjug)
• Dacic: We expect new withdrawals of Kosovo recognitions (Tanjug/RTS/RTV/Politika)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• B&H Presidency members congratulate Milanovic on being elected Croatian President (N1)
• Dodik discusses unity of Serb people and relations of RS and Serbia with Patriarch Irinej in Belgrade (RTRS)
• Croat Caucus in SC Assembly initiates mechanism for protection of vital national interest (O kanal)
Croatia
• Plenkovic meets Macron in Paris, presents priorities of Croatian presidency of Council of EU (HRT1)
• Milanovic speaks to the press (Hina)
• Jandrokovic: HDZ to meet and discuss electoral defeat (Hina)
Montenegro
• New Law on Freedom of Religion becomes applicable from today (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia
• With a Spanish government in place, Macedonia expects to have its NATO accession fully ratified (Republika)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• TurkStream to strengthen Turkey’s energy hub position (yenisafak.com)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: TurkStream hugely significant for Serbia (RTS)

 

The TurkStream gas pipeline is hugely significant for Serbia’s future, for attracting investments and for further economic and industrial progress of the country, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in Istanbul Wednesday. Vucic, who is in Istanbul for the inauguration of a section of the pipeline, said TurkStream would make it possible for Serbia to buy gas at decent, lower prices. “The construction of a 403 km stretch of the pipeline through Serbia, and then also of a secondary gas pipeline to get the gas to Vladicin Han, Ljubovija, Bajina Basta and other places, is hugely significant for attracting investments and for progress of industrial production,” Vucic told reporters. It is enormously important for secure and efficient gas supplies, he said. He added that he would speak not only with host President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but also with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. “The four of us will talk, so we will be able to hear and see how they look at what is happening in the Middle East because it is also an energy issue, an issue of oil and its price as well as gas whose price is linked to the price of oil… You see that oil prices have already increased in view of what is happening,” said Vucic, adding that the four leaders will also discuss bilateral relations today, face to face.

He added that there will be discussions today about when the Bulgarian and Serbian sections of TurkStream will connect.

 

Vucic: Pristina would like to implement Podgorica scenario, such preparations are underway (Tanjug/B92)

 

President Vucic says he would not rule out the possibility of Pristina resorting to the adoption of similar law as Montenegro has enacted on freedom of religion. However, he pointed out that our people are united and tough in the intention of saving what’s theirs. Vucic said that such preparations are also underway, which can be seen in their textbooks. He also says that the campaign on Kosovo’s heritage, which is supposed to be different, to include Islamic and Orthodox monuments, that the Gashi family built Decani, has been ongoing for many years.

“I would not rule out this possibility,” Vucic said, but stressed that our people, when united are strong as a tough nut, in wanting to preserve their own. “When you endanger people’s right to preserve their name and surname, to nurture their religion and church, their heritage, then that spirit and energy waken in every Serb and we know how and manage to win”, Vucic said.

Vucic said no one from the European Union had called him to persuade him not to go to Montenegro on Christmas Day. “But if it were, my answer would be that Serbia makes its decisions responsibly and sovereignly”, Vucic said at a press conference at Villa Mir.

Vucic also said that he had talked to US Secretary of National Security (Robert) O’Brien two days ago about the situation in the region, but also that they had a good conversation, but that they hadn’t discussed Montenegro. Asked why he did not react earlier on the controversial law on freedom of religion, Vucic said that he spoke with Djukanovic as soon as the law came into procedure and that he had done everything to protect the interests of the Serbian people, respecting the independence and integrity of the state of Montenegro. “When the law was signed I expressed Serbia’s sharpest stand and it was so clear that everyone understood I would not give up”, he said.

 

“Milo Djukanovic has an open invitation to come to Serbia”

Vucic said he did not know how the situation in Montenegro would end because of the entry into force of the Law on Freedom of Religion. He stressed that he hoped for peace and said that he was ready to speak with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic when he was ready for it.

“He has an open invitation to come to Serbia,” Vucic said. He announced that Serbia will try to establish good relations with Montenegro, but also that it will undoubtedly point to the anguish and problems facing our people. Vucic was at a press conference at Villa Mir responding to the statement that the situation in Montenegro is not calming down, and that the Freedom of Religion Act enters into force on Wednesday. Asked what he advised the political leaders of the Serbs, did he hear from his Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic, and what kind of development he expected, he indicated that the Montenegrin authorities interpret the situation and the law as a purely internal issue. “I have not heard from Djukanovic, and I am always ready to talk about anything. Whenever he wants to talk to me, I am ready. As far as I know, he is not currently in the region. He has an open invitation to visit Serbia. They interpret it as exclusively internal issue. I saw fierce attacks on me and Serbia’s policy, which was well-intentioned. The assaults come from Djukanovic’s DPS and all their media”, he explained. He said he had heard from Milorad Pupovac this morning, wanting to hear what he thought about the elections in Croatia. “I told him what I thought of everything, and how I thought Serbian-Croatian relations would unfold. I did not advise him. I would say that they all advise me what kind of anguish they are having, and it is my duty to see how Serbia can help”, he underlined. Vucic emphasized that the point made by some, who said that it didn’t matter if you would declare yourself a Serb or some other nationality, has a goal to reduce the number of Serbs in the 2021 census. “I’ve seen so many of these tricks. I’m a political veteran. Nobody won with such a difference as me. In the first round, when fewer and fewer voters turn out, I got more in the presidential election than Zoran Milanovic and Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic together in this election”, he pointed out.

 

“I wish Croatia all the best”

Vucic said that he wishes everyone in Croatia all the best, that relations between Serbia and Croatia should be good, he announced congratulation on election victory to Zoran Milanovic and said that he was not fascinated by the insults on his account in the election campaign there, and that, as he says, he is not afraid of it. “I want peace and stability. Respect for our people and today’s message that I conveyed to Serbian children from Croatia is how important the unity of our people is to use the same language and Cyrillic alphabet, respecting all other letters”, Vucic said. He added that he personally did not have any problem with the accusations being passed onto him, and pointed out that the message of unity of the Serbian people shows how tough we are, as we managed to find a way out of our own cataclysm in which we found ourselves in 2012 and 2013. Asked by reporters how he commented that Zoran Milanovic used to say that Serbia is “miserable country” when he was Prime Minister, Vucic said that today is Christmas Day and tomorrow is Christmas and that he said it is not appropriate for him to say bad things. “As a decent man, it is understood that I will send letter of congratulations to Milanovic when the official results are announced”, Vucic said. “It would not be okay for me to react in a different way, I reacted to all these insults by silence and even greater work”, the President said. Asked what Croatia’s attitude to Serbia will be like after Milanovic’s victory and what he expects, Vucic said he expects nothing. He has watched every election debate, but he does not want to interfere with their internal relations. “Will they stop Serbia on the European path?”, Serbia is not changing its politics because of daily political events, and we are staying on the EU path”, the President said. Let Croatia do its job, he said, adding that “whether or not they block us, Serbia’s growth will be increasing, growing and twice as high”. “We wish them all the best and we need to have good relations with Croatia. I don’t want to say whether I am optimistic or not with this regard”, President Vucic concluded. He points out that he is not scared for Serbia’s future.

 

First request submitted for assessment of constitutionality of the Law on Freedom of Religion (Tanjug)

 

Belgrade lawyers Milenko and Momir Radic submitted today to the Montenegrin Constitutional Court the initiative for assessment of the compliance of the Law on Freedom of Religion with this state’s Constitution and international agreements. Milenko Radic warns that, since the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) does not have legal entity status as of today, it will not even have the right (active legitimacy) to pursue any legal proceedings in order to prove and protect property rights. That is why, he believes, the best solution is for the SPC to insist on concluding a contract with the government of Montenegro and thus try to retain part of its monasteries and churches through the agreement. All open issues can be agreed in this way, because this contract would be above the law, Radic told Tanjug. He pointed out that all other religious communities, which were registered until yesterday under the Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities, which expired today, as well as religious communities with which the Government of Montenegro signed a treaty – Jewish, Islamic and Roman Catholic, continue to work without any hindrance and are given a transitional period of nine months to apply for re-registration. The Law on Freedom of Religion or Confession and the Legal Status of Religious Communities entered into force in Montenegro today. According to this law, after 800 years of existence, the SPC religious community in Montenegro as of today, experts say, has no longer any legal entity status, and its property is treated as property without owner. Thus, the nationalization of the objects and land owned by the SPC will start from today without compensation – by listing and registering the state of Montenegro as the new owner of these real estate, and the registration decisions should be submitted to the SPC as an interested party.

 

Dacic: We expect new withdrawals of Kosovo recognitions (Tanjug/RTS/RTV/Politika)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic stated on Tuesday that in 2020 Serbia will continue its struggle to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty, to seek a compromise solution to the Kosovo-Metohija issue, and to achieve withdrawals of the recognition of independence of the southern Serbian province. In a statement to Tanjug, Dacic expressed his expectation that more states will withdraw recognition of the so-called Kosovo independence, and announced the continuation of the diplomatic fight against the province’s accession into membership in international institutions and organizations. It is important that the withdrawal by various countries of the recognition of the Kosovo independence has changed Serbia’s position. When we started this process, Kosovo was recognized by 113 countries. Today, there are 93 countries that recognize Kosovo and to achieve a majority in the United Nations it is necessary to have 97 votes, he explained. Dacic also announced the continuation of European integration, as much as possible, in present conditions when the European Union itself is still looking for the modalities of the European integration. In addition, Serbia will work to establish better relations with the most important countries of the world, not only with the Russian Federation and China, but also with the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, with a policy of maintaining good relations with our traditional friends around the world, Dacic said. Speaking about regional cooperation, he underlined that it is important for everyone in the region to share the conviction that we are stronger together and that we can achieve much more if we seek common interests. We will surely not agree on everything, but the common interest is to look to the future, he underlined. Referring to the situation in Montenegro, Dacic said that a special priority is help to the Serbs living there and to the Serbian Orthodox Church.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

B&H Presidency members congratulate Milanovic on being elected Croatian President (N1)

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) officials congratulated newly-elected Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, who was SDP Croatia’s presidential candidate, on his election victory. The B&H Presidency congratulated Milanovic on the election victory and the Presidency members were unanimous in expressing their support to Milanovic and assessing that the situation with bilateral relations between B&H and Croatia were not at a satisfactory level. According to the B&H Presidency, Milanovic now has the chance to improve those bilateral relations. Chairman and Croat member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic announced that the B&H Presidency will give its full support to Milanovic when it comes to improving bilateral relations of the two countries. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik expressed hope that Milanovic will be the President of all Croatian citizens, alluding to the fact that a huge number of Serbs with Croatian citizenship voted for Milanovic. Dodik expressed hope that Milanovic will justify the trust of his voters – among whom large number of Serbs – and that he will work on the improvement of position and status of Serbs in Croatia. “I expect that we will improve our relations and intensify the cooperation and dialogue on many open issues in mutual interest and for the benefit of all citizens, soon after officially assuming the duty of the President of Croatia”, Dodik stated. Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic said he hopes for a much better cooperation between B&H and Croatia, compared to the one in the previous years. “I congratulate Mr. Milanovic on being elected on the function of the Croatian President. I want B&H and Croatia to have good relations. The need for good relations of these two countries is beyond all open issues that we have. I want us to commit to solving those open issues, based on the principles of mutual respect and reciprocity,” Dzaferovic underlined.

 

Dodik discusses unity of Serb people and relations of RS and Serbia with Patriarch Irinej in Belgrade (RTRS)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik met with Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Irinej in Belgrade on Monday. Namely, Dodik and Patriarch Irinej attended the traditional burning of the yule log in front of the Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade. On this occasion, Dodik and the Patriarch discussed the unity of Serb people and the relations between Republika Srpska (RS) and Serbia. Addressing media after meeting with the Patriarch, Dodik stated that he came to Belgrade on the Orthodox Christmas Eve, as the Orthodox believers’ most joyous holiday, to convey the greetings that the people of the RS sent to the Patriarch. Dodik said: “We have learnt through history that the Serb national identity would certainly not be preserved without the SPC. We know and we have learnt the lesson that there is no freedom for Serb people without the Serbian Orthodox Church.” Dodik confirmed that the Patriarch emphasized that Serbs in the RS have remained a part of united Serb people and, bearing in mind the Serb identity, the church, the language, the letter, the Patron Saint’s Day, and the religion – all that essentially forms the Serb identity – “there can be no borders that could destroy or undermine that identity”. The Serb member of the Presidency welcomed the fact that the Patriarch will attend the marking of the RS Day in Banja Luka on 9 January. “That is very important for Serb people”. Patriarch Irinej also addressed media and said he is pleased to be able to greet Dodik as “the most important figure of the RS”, and he referred to citizens of the RS and Serbia as “citizens of the same home”. The Patriarch noted: “I am happy that the RS has managed to survive, despite numerous challenges and troubles. Wisdom will prevail and those who lead the RS will resist all challenges. I hope it will remain that way in the future.” According to the Patriarch, the RS and Serbia should not have borders between them. “We are one people. We have the same language”, he stressed, adding that “the RS is inseparable from the Serb center, hoping that Serbia is the center of Serbs, not just for this region but also for Serbs living around the world”. Patriarch Irinej said that he is glad that the RS has survived all these years since its formation although it was faced with various challenges, noting that the RS has survived owing to great contribution of the RS leadership led by Dodik. Patriarch Irinej added that the RS will live as long as it has Dodik, expressing hope that someone respectable as Dodik will replace him one day. Dodik stated that the Serb people have learned that there is no preservation of the Serb national identity without the Serbian Orthodox Church and that there is no freedom for the Serb people without their own state. He concluded that “all attempts to divide them, to talk about some Bosnian and other kinds of Serbs, and to make some artificial nations out of Serbs” have not yielded results.

 

Croat Caucus in SC Assembly initiates mechanism for protection of vital national interest (O kanal)

 

Political outwitting in the Sarajevo Canton (SC) Assembly continued on Tuesday. The Collegium of the SC Assembly discussed on Tuesday a decision on appointment of SDA’s Mirza Celik as a new speaker of the SC Assembly which the Collegium assessed as disputable. The Collegium adopted a decision according to which the Vital National Interest (VNI) of Croats is jeopardized, while some announced that a criminal report will be filed against SDA’ Smiljana Viteskic. Speaker of the SC Assembly Danijela Kristic (NiP) said that Celik violently tried to enter the Office of the speaker of the SC Assembly on Tuesday morning, which he denied. Addressing media, Kristic said that she is sorry and that she does not want to live in this Sarajevo, where the VNI of Croats is jeopardized. Celik scheduled a session of the SC Assembly for Wednesday. Addressing media, Celik said that he is the Speaker of the SC Assembly and that he enjoys the support of 18 MPs. Celik stated: “They (former parliamentary majority) can hold their sessions and we (the new parliamentary majority) will hold our sessions”. Deputy speaker of the SC Assembly Elmedin Konakovic (NiP) spoke about the missing seal of the SC Assembly. According to Konakovic, the seal is still in the Assembly’s building.  Konakovic on Tuesday accused new speaker Celik of attempting to enter the office of Speaker of the SC Assembly by force. Konakovic stressed that he is obliged to protect procedures. The SC Assembly should convene Wednesday, 8 January. However, Celik announced that in case the seal is not returned, eighteen MPs will not attend Wednesday’s session of the SC Assembly.

Responding to accusations that he tried to enter the office of SC Assembly speaker by force, Celik said that he is a legalist and that he respects all regulations and laws of B&H, noting that he acted in accordance with the Constitution and laws that enable him to enter the premises intended for the SC Assembly Speaker. Celik explained that he sent a letter to Deputy Speaker of the SC Assembly Danijela Kristic Monday and informed all relevant individuals that he will enter the office of the SC Assembly speaker. “Mrs. Kristic refused to take that letter,” Celik said. Official note which Celik received as a response states that Kristic, Vibor Handzic, Konakovic and Elvedin Okeric did not allow speaker and deputy speaker of the SC Assembly to enter the premises. “This is not a country where you gather eighteen people on the street and enter an institution how you like it or at the pace and speed you like. I recall once more that all procedures are underway. I am convinced that at today’s (Tuesday’s) session of the Collegium, we will supplement the agenda of the 16 January session with the appointment of Mirza Celik to the leadership. He is a legitimate representative of Bosniaks and he should replace me,” Konakovic underlined.

 

Plenkovic meets Macron in Paris, presents priorities of Croatian presidency of Council of EU (HRT1)

 

Croatian Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Plenkovic met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday. On this occasion, Plenkovic presented priorities of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Reporter noted that this was the first out of many work-consultative meetings that Plenkovic will hold with EU officials in the next six months. The officials discussed issues related to the Brexit, the new EU budget and the EU enlargement. According to reporter, Macron showed that he is ready to withdraw reserves towards the EU enlargement in case of adoption of French remarks on a new methodology of the enlargement in February. Thus, the Republic of the North of Macedonia may open accession negotiations in March before the EU-Western Balkans Summit set to be held in Zagreb in May. Reporter assessed that thus, the summit in Zagreb would not be the summit that will unblock the negotiations but the summit that will set the framework for future relations with all countries of the South-East Europe in the next 10, 15 years which also represents Plenkovic’s ambition. Speaking about this issue, Plenkovic stated: “We believe that the European perspective for the Croatian neighborhood has no alternative. It is in our interest that these countries are stable, that the countries implement economic and social reforms, secure political stability and security of this part of Europe and within their mutual relations”. Macron announced deepening of bilateral relations between Croatia and France and his visit to Zagreb in May. Plenkovic is also supposed to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the upcoming days. Following the meeting, French President Macron expressed optimism regarding the summit between EU member states and Southeast European countries. “The second bigger topic that is very important for you is the enlargement process and I want the summit in Zagreb in May to be successful,” said Macron. Plenkovic responded saying that Croatia believes there is no alternative to the European perspective for the region around Croatia. “It is in our interest for those countries to be stable, for them to implement economic and social reforms, for them to ensure political stability and security in that part of Europe but also in mutual relations. And that is why we are glad we will mutually find a solution, whether it is a modification of the enlargement methodology, or concrete progress that, for example, North Macedonia or Albania can make in the coming period,” said Plenkovic.

 

Milanovic speaks to the press (Hina)

 

President-elect Zoran Milanovic said on Tuesday in his first public address after Sunday’s election that he had spoken with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and incumbent President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as well as other officials from Croatia, Europe and the rest of the world, who congratulated him on his election as Croatia’s president. “Both Plenkovic and Kitarovic phoned me. I spent the day responding to messages of congratulation, talking to people from Croatia, Europe and the rest of the world,” Milanovic told reporters outside his home.

He also commented on PM Plenkovic’s statement that the cohabitation between them would be hard, saying that he did not know what that meant. “I said that we would be the best of friends, as much as that is possible in politics. I don’t know what hard cohabitation means; we should look it up in the Constitution to see what it means.” He went on to say that he would support Grabar-Kitarovic if she decides to continue her diplomatic career. “Yes, I will. She is not responsible for any criminal offences and she was president,” he said. Milanovic said that he had spoken on the phone on Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that he had not spoken with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. “It doesn’t matter, everything I said was correct fact-wise, this concerns relations between states and we will do our job to the extent a president can,” he explained. Commenting on the small number of votes he won in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said: “If I were to take that personally, I would never go there. Regardless of the votes and the money, I will do my job dauntlessly.”

 

Jandrokovic: HDZ to meet and discuss electoral defeat (Hina)

 

Parliament speaker and HDZ secretary-general Gordan Jandrokovic confirmed on Tuesday that the party leadership would meet on Tuesday afternoon to analyze reasons for the defeat in the January 5 presidential runoff, noting that “unlike the meeting of parliamentary Presidency, that meeting will not be calm.” “We will analyze what was crucial for the defeat but we will first discuss it at the session of the HDZ Presidency and then in public,” Jandrokovic told reporters after a brief session of the parliament’s presidency. Asked if there would be intraparty sanctions over wrong moves during Grabar-Kitarovic‘s campaign, he said that that would definitely be discussed but that it would not be fair of him to announce what would happen before the session. “I expect to hear different opinions, we heard them during the campaign as well and when the election result was announced, and I expect us to discuss everything relevant for the HDZ in a democratic atmosphere,” said Jandrokovic. He explained the meaning of his statement that the HDZ had pursued a wrong policy in the second round of the elections by going too much to the right. “What I meant was that the campaign was such that it also motivated the voters of our political rival,” said Jandrokovic. He said that he was not afraid that political ambitions within the HDZ could result in surprises already during a vote on confidence in Science and Education Minister Blazenka Divjak. “I think that the parliament will complete its term,” he said, adding that the HDZ was prepared for any possible scenario “if a coalition partner or any individual should have their own ideas or plans.” “We are prepared for elections but it seems that there is an understanding among all political protagonists that Croatia should complete its chairmanship of the EU, after which parliamentary elections will be held anyway. But I’m not ruling out any scenario,” said Jandrokovic. He would not answer explicitly if parliamentary elections taking place before elections in the HDZ was more convenient for the HDZ. “The HDZ has a statute, we have to comply with it and political decisions will be made by the competent party bodies,” he said. Jandrokovic believes that there will be no problems in cooperation with the newly-elected president of the republic, Zoran Milanovic, regardless of the strong words that could be heard during the campaign. “The campaign is one thing, we have the obligation to cooperate in line with the Constitution and laws. In that sense, personal relations are irrelevant, we have to perform the duties we were elected to perform in a responsible way and I don’t think there will be any problems in that regard.” Jandrokovic also confirmed that he had been informed about the withdrawal of Croatian soldiers from Iraq, saying that he supported the decision but that it was within the remit of other state institutions.

 

New Law on Freedom of Religion becomes applicable from today (CDM)

 

The Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Legal Status of Religious Communities, that triggered dissatisfaction of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the pro-Serbian opposition parties in Montenegro, enters into force from today (8 January). This means that the current religious law passed in 1977 finally won’t be applicable anymore.

Here are some of the things the new law guarantees:

It guarantees the full freedom of religion for all believers and equal position of the religious communities in Montenegro, as well as the full freedom of belief for all those citizens not declaring themselves as believers. The law also defines the property rights of the state over all religious buildings that represent the cultural heritage of Montenegro, and which have been built through centuries or gained through public revenues of the State. It prescribes that all religious objects and sites that authorities say were owned by the independent kingdom of Montenegro before it became part of the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, later renamed Yugoslavia, will be recognized as state property. Religious communities will have to provide clear evidence of ownership in order to retain their properties. The new law also allows registering of every religious community comprising of at least three adult believers, who even don’t have to possess the Montenegrin citizenship if they have their permanent residence approved in line with the relevant law. The law explicitly provides the possibility of financing activities of religious communities from the state budget and the local self-government budget.

It also suggests that all disputes arising from the ownership over the religious property should be settled before the relevant court, as any other property case, in line with the applicable Montenegrin laws. The Property Administration has a one-year deadline, starting from 8 January 2020, to define religious buildings and land that are state property under this Law, to complete their listing and submit a request for registration of state property rights in the real estate cadaster.

 

With a Spanish government in place, Macedonia expects to have its NATO accession fully ratified (Republika)

 

Socialist Pedro Sanchez was re-elected as Prime Minister of Spain, after the narrowly divided Congress approved him by a majority of two votes. Sanchez and his coalition partner Podemos had to count on other parties abstaining from the session to achieve their slim majority. Among those parties that helped Sanchez be re-appointed by abstaining from the Congress were the Catalan nationalists. The vote was important for Macedonia as well, as it expects that Spain will ratify Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol. All other NATO member states ratified Macedonia’s accession, but Spain was unable to do so because of its political crisis. This was used by former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his SDSM party as an excuse why the elections, scheduled for 12 April, could possibly be postponed. But now that the Spanish government is in place it is expected that the ratification will happen until mid-February, when the Macedonian Parliament dissolves. Another option on the table – if Spain continues to drag out its ratification – is for this Macedonian parliament to ratify the protocol without waiting on the Spaniards.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

TurkStream to strengthen Turkey’s energy hub position (yenisafak.com, by Yunus Furuncu, 8 January 2020)

 

With Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia to depend on TurkStream, Turkey’s importance to increase in terms of energy security

The inauguration of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline project, which will begin carrying natural gas from Russia to Europe via Turkey on Jan. 8, 2020, is considered a further step in Turkish and Russian relations in terms of energy. The project, which has two lines, each of which has a carrying capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters of natural gas, is particularly important for southern European countries. It will mark the first time that Russian natural gas will reach Europe via Turkey. The TurkStream project transfers natural gas directly to Turkey, which the country takes from the West Line, and it means a new route for European countries. Thus, Turkey has strengthened its position as a country that contributes to the energy security of Europe.

 

-Turkey’s energy security increasing

Turkey’s claim of being an energy hub has been strengthened by the TurkStream project, which enables the country to directly take the natural gas coming from the West Line. TurkStream, which will be operated by a company established by BOTAS and Gazprom, is an important route for meeting the natural gas needs of Europe. The project, which increases the mutual dependency between Ankara and Moscow, positively contributes to the advancement of cooperation for future relations between the countries. Thus, TurkStream is significant for revealing that energy sources strengthen cooperation and ensure economic benefits rather than causing conflicts.

The West Line, one of the routes coming from Russia, reaches Turkey by passing through Ukraine and Bulgaria. Political and economic tensions between Russia and Ukraine sometimes lead to an interruption of natural gas transmission from the West Line to Turkey. This situation poses a great risk for the Turkish economy. Transmitting the annual 14 billion cubic meters of gas from the West Line to Turkey over the first line of TurkStream, without changing terms and conditions of the existing agreements, means reducing this risk. Thus, gas will be directly transmitted from Russia to Turkey without the need for intermediate countries, and the problem of being exposed to potential interruptions caused by third parties will be eliminated. As a result, Turkey’s energy security has increased with this project. Since the pipelines in Ukraine have reached the end of their service life, they must be repaired and replaced. Some 20,000 kilometers of a total 33,000 kilometers of transmission pipelines are more than 33 years old. A major resource is needed to further operate the pipelines which span approximately 13,000 kilometers and are 11 to 33 years old. Under these conditions, the fact that Russia acts reluctant and is willing to invest in other directions except for maintenance and repair poses another great risk to the countries that benefit from those pipelines. Even if the TurkStream project is not carried out, it is understood that the West Line will fail to perform its former function in the future. Therefore, the problem of a lack of infrastructure that would arise in the future has been eliminated with TurkStream.

 

-Impacts on dependency

It is understood that Turkey bought an average of 26.4 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia between 2011-2018. The lowest amount was 24 billion cubic meters in 2018. It is seen that the EU countries import an average of 40% natural gas from Russia. This rate increases to 100% in some EU countries. Turkey continues to take significant steps to decrease its dependency on Russia. Benefitting more from renewable energy sources in Turkey has led to a decrease of the gas rate coming from Russia from around 60% to around 48% in 2018. Moreover, in case of full usage of the capacity of natural gas coming from TANAP allocated for Turkey in 2020, this rate is expected to fall to around 40%. Turkey consumes an annual average of 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas and procures 99% of this amount from abroad. Not depending on one resource, it puts forward strategies prioritizing diversifying source countries with new pipelines such as TANAP as well as routes. Likewise, Turkey, which aims to reach a storage capacity for around 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2023, has the technical capacity to procure half of the natural gas it consumes as LNG (liquefied natural gas). Turkey, which follows the policy of reducing natural gas usage rates in electricity generation, increases its standing as a regional actor by participating in international energy projects. While all these developments decrease Turkey’s dependency on Russia, it increases Russia’s dependency on Turkey compared to the past with the TurkStream project. It is understood that the natural gas structure in the Balkans will change to a certain extent with the arrival of TurkStream to the region. It is stated that the West Natural Gas Pipeline will become dysfunctional due to TurkStream. As Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia will meet their increasing natural gas demand with TurkStream, Turkey’s importance will increase in terms of those countries’ energy security. Also, the BOTAS and GAZPROM partnership, which will operate the second line that will reach Europe, means that Turkey will economically benefit from TurkStream.

 

– US sanctions and possible results

It is claimed that TurkStream does not align with the strategic goals of the U.S. and the EU’s Third Energy Package legislation. On the other hand, the U.S. shows that it is against TurkStream with its CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions. The U.S. Congress increased its pressure on TurkStream and Nord Stream 2 with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 it passed in December 2019 and by supporting some sanctions. The implementation of items targeting ships involved in laying pipes on the seabed in these projects may be on the agenda in 2020. However, as Turkish firms do not carry out the sea part of the project, it is not possible to directly implement U.S. sanctions on Turkey. On the other hand, since the TurkStream project was initiated earlier than CAATSA’s enactment, it should not be involved in these sanctions. While TurkStream brings Ankara and Moscow closer, it also presents gains for Turkey concerning Syria and Libya, which are important issues of foreign policy. The progress and increase in this cooperation will provide significant flexibility to Turkey in foreign policy. On the other hand, transmission of natural gas, which the EU demands, through Turkey to the EU and the increase of the amount that is carried by time are seen as a result of this cooperation. The EU will have to import more natural gas if Norway’s reserves, which are seen as an insurance due to its closeness to the EU, expire in a short time. While the U.S.’ external natural gas dependence rate was 47% in 2000, this rate increased to 55% in 2017. It is foreseen that this rate will increase to around 70% in 2030. For this reason, Turkey stands out as one of the most reliable routes at the point for meeting the EU’s energy needs. Projects such as TurkStream and TANAP have emerged to meet Europe’s natural gas needs. Increasing the number of these projects contributes positively especially to security and economic issues at regional and global levels. New cooperation with countries close to this geography, such as Turkmenistan, which has the largest proven natural gas reserve in Central Asia, may be established. Turkey, which is one of the key countries that will play an active role in transmitting Turkmen gas to Europe, can display its playmaker role easier with the experience it gained through TANAP and TurkStream. Therefore, it can be said that Turkey’s leadership role in energy is being strengthened in terms of the realization of international projects.

(Yunus Furuncu completed his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the Vienna University of Economics and his Ph.D. at Duzce University and works as a researcher at the energy desk of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA).)

 

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