Vucic and Djukanovic discussed in Israel the position of Serbian people in Montenegro: positions and standpoints very remote and it is not possible to reach a common position (Tanjug/B92)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic talked with his Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic on the position of Serbs and recently adopted Religious Freedom Act. The two presidents also spoke about establishing better coordination in future appearances before the European institutions. Vucic said that their positions and standpoints are very remote and that it is not possible to reach a common position on these issues. He added that the conversation was long, rather difficult and complex. “At the same time, we spoke as civilized and responsible people, aware that Serbia and Montenegro should never be antagonized to each other and that it is necessary to continue talks as soon as possible, which would lead to further lowering of tensions and finding a solution,” Vucic said. He added that EU integration process was also one of the topics for discussion. “We also talked about the European path of Serbia and Montenegro and agreed on improving coordination in future appearances before the European institutions, as well as continued talks on greater freedom and speed of flow of goods, people, capital and services in our region,” Vucic pointed out. Vucic spoke with Djukanovic in the course of a dinner party, hosted by the Israeli President, attended by several dozens of heads of state and prime ministers, ahead of tomorrow’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.
Vucic: Taxes must be lifted in order to have economic development (Tanjug)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday said the US officials’ energy and enthusiasm aimed at accelerating a resumption of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue were significant, but noted it would not be so easy to accomplish and that Pristina’s taxes on goods from central Serbia must first be lifted. In a statement from Jerusalem, when asked if the US president’s special envoy Richard Grenell could accelerate the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Vucic said it was not easy to do. Vucic said he appreciated Grenell’s enormous energy and recalled he had had good discussions in Davos also with US national security adviser Robert O’Brien. “Their enthusiasm is huge, good and significant. Any improvement in the situation is important, especially since Grenell insists on the economy. But you must not have 100 percent taxes if you want to have economic development. It is pointless to talk about air or rail traffic and everything else if you cannot transport goods,” he explained.
Djuric: Agreement on renewing Belgrade-Pristina flights is only a commercial arrangement with a political message (RTV)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric told Radio and Television of Vojvodina (RTV) on Wednesday evening this weeks’ signing of a letter of intent to open Belgrade-Pristina airline is an economic arrangement, while political dialogue is something completely different. “Political dialogue is mediated by the EU, and this is quite different thing: a commercial arrangement that has political elements in the sense that after 21 years Belgrade and Pristina will be connected by airline when all the elements are worked out,” according to Djuric. “I see in this our desire to open up the artificial barriers that are being imposed,” he continued. “Anything that leads us to unblock dialogue is in the interest of our people in Kosovo.” However, he didn’t miss to remind that “today is the 2646th day since Pristina obliged itself, in accordance with the Brussels agreement, to implement the agreement on the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) and more than one year since the introduction of taxes, but the mediation from Brussels has not contributed for these problems to be resolved”. Asked where is the EU here, i.e. its representatives, Djuric responded that they had been dealing with the elections for the European parliament and added: “The EU was the guarantor for the ZSO. I am waiting eagerly for them to assume responsibility”. He reiterated that the agreement on the renewal of the Belgrade-Pristina airline is only a commercial arrangement with a political message and that for it to come to life we need to coordinate technical details with KFOR and UNMIK, and Pristina must abolish the taxes before the planes take off. “The Pristina media is calling the letter of intent in Berlin the return of Serbia’s sovereignty, but this doesn’t imply the abolishment of taxes. Further formal steps in the realization of the letter of intent on the airline will depend on the content and other documents and protocols, as well as whether these documents satisfy the categories defined with the Serbian Constitution. We don’t want them to give us a cuckoo egg,” said Djuric.
Cadez: Reintroduction of Belgrade-Pristina flights major step (Tanjug)
An agreement on re-establishing direct flights between Belgrade and Pristina is a major step towards higher trade volumes and free movement of people, in particular, businesspeople, says Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (PKS) President Marko Cadez. The business community is grateful to decision-makers and political leaders in Belgrade and Pristina and, in particular, to US President Donald Trump‘s special envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Richard Grenell, who led the process that resulted in the flights being reintroduced after 21 years, Cadez said in Brussels Tuesday. In a joint statement, the PKS and the Kosovo chamber of commerce welcomed the deal, urging authorities to reach without delay an agreement on the necessary technical details. “We hope this will also open dialogue on some other outstanding issues – for instance, the issue of taxes – that are today obstructing a normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations and are crucial for our region,” the statement quoted Cadez as saying.
Leitl: Belgrade-Pristina flights very good signal (Tanjug)
Eurochambres President Christoph Leitl believes a deal on reintroducing direct Belgrade-Pristina flights is a very good signal and that the Western Balkans, which he says has a common history and shares a common present, must cooperate more for the sake of a common future. “It is very important that the common area of the Western Balkans be a mirror of the EU single market because that is the best way for the economies of the region to prepare for entering the EU and to work together within business organizations such as Eurochambres,” Leitl said in Brussels late Tuesday. “The Western Balkans is already a part of the European family and will formally become a part of that family if it prepares well for that and if it is ready for that,” a Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia statement quoted Leitl as saying.
SBB B&H, SDP oppose SNSD’s request to have Federation of B&H Vice President, HDZ B&H and SNSD claim request is justified (Nezavisne)
Following the request of SNSD to get the position of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Vice President, Secretary General of SDA Halid Genjac on Wednesday briefly told the daily that this is not a realistic option. Delegate in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina House of Peoples (HoP) Zvonko Maric from SBB Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) said that the request of SNSD is maximalist. Maric added that this request can be used in daily political purposes. Zdenka Dzambas (HDZ B&H) said that the request of SNSD leader Milorad Dodik should be treated vertically and explained that “if SDA and HDZ B&H request to have ministers in the RS Government, then it is logical for Dodik to present this request”. Serb delegate in the Federation of B&H HoP Igor Stojanovic (SDP) said that, mathematically speaking, it is possible for SNSD to get the positions of one of deputy speakers of the Federation of B&H HoP and Federation of B&H Vice President, but only if SDA, HDZ B&H, SBB B&H and DF support this. Stojanovic added that SDP, Our Party and People and Justice (NiP) will certainly not support this. Delegate in the Federation of B&H HoP Goran Broceta (SNSD) said that SNSD’s request is fully justified because this party has been present in the Federation of B&H authorities for 20 years and it is familiar with needs of Serb returnees. Commenting on the statement of DF leader Zeljko Komsic that having a member of SNSD as the Federation of B&H Vice President is out of question, Broceta reminded that DF does not have a single delegate in the Serb Caucus of the Federation of B&H HoP.
Avaz carries stances of OSCE, EUD and OHR concerning the renewal of talks on changes of Election Law (Dnevni avaz)
EU Delegation to B&H, OSCE Mission to B&H and OHR gave statements for the daily, commenting the renewal of the talks on amending the Election Law of B&H, which were recently launched by SDA and HDZ B&H. Daily stressed that the international community is united in the stance about the direction that election reform process has to follow. Head of the OSCE Mission to B&H Kathleen Kavalec underlined necessity of holding the elections in Mostar this year. “The level of trust of citizens in elections is low and urgent improvements are necessary in order to strengthen integrity and security of the election process. We appeal to all political stakeholders to be responsible and demonstrate willingness for solving of these problems, acting in the best interest of citizens. Every reform has to respect the decisions of domestic and international courts and implement recommendations issued by OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Group of States against Corruption (GRECO),” said Kavalec. Spokesperson of the EUD Jamila Milovic- Halilovic reminded that the key priority from the European Commission’s Opinion is implementation of elections in line with European standards: “In a way that relevant recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR and of the Venice Commission will be implemented. We believe that local political stakeholders need to approach the changes of the election process in B&H in spirit of the dialogue and compromise. Whatever the proposal is, it has to uphold the principles of the rule of law, as well as getting the country closer to European standards, improving democratic processes of future elections”. The OHR’s statement reads that political parties are responsible to implement the ruling of the Constitutional Court of B&H from 2010, which is on hold for some time now. “This is why talks between the parties have to continue, an additional effort has to be made to accelerate the talks in order to solve the issue of Mostar. This issue needs to be solved in a way that is in line with judicial rulings, which is legal and which will not divide the City. It must not remain the black spot in democratic Europe. European values have to be presented and implemented. This is the best way to secure credibility,” reads OHR’s statement.
Kristo: Changes of Election Law have to solve issue of legal representation of peoples (Oslobodjenje)
Deputy speaker of the B&H House of Representatives and Deputy President of HDZ B&H Borjana Kristo, asked to comment the issue of forming of the Federation of B&H authorities, said that the negotiations are ongoing with all relevant parties in the Federation of B&H and they are discussing all relevant issues, including the changes to the Election Law, for which she says that are the priority for everyone in B&H. “When it comes to stances of the political representatives of Croat people, we are actually not asking anyone to give us something. We advocate solutions that will secure full equality and legitimate representation for Croat people, as two other constituent peoples in B&H have. Therefore, this issue should not be taken as conditioning, but as necessity in B&H,” said Kristo. Asked about the stances of SDA and DF, who deem that proposals of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) aim to introduce ethno-territorial division of the country through constituencies, which is something they do not want to accept, Kristo underlined that the Constitution defines B&H as a country of three constituent peoples and others who live in it and the HNS rightfully search and offer solutions which are in line with constitutional structure of B&H. She underlines that their proposals are not discriminatory towards anyone, noting that Dayton defined B&H as the country of three constituent peoples and B&H can only be that. Kristo underlined that today there is a situation where representatives of one people elect representatives of the other people and as a result, there is a situation where individuals change ethnic affiliation as its suits them, from one elections to another. “Croat people in B&H has to be equal to other two peoples, that is the interest of B&H, its stability, security and future. This is why Croats, gathered around the HNS, are fighting for legal and systematic solutions, which will allow Croat people to elect their representatives who will answer to them,” said Kristo. Asked about technical improvements of the election process, Kristo said that there should be no problems to agree on them after the changes, implementing the decisions of B&H CC on legitimate representation are agreed and implemented, as well as the decision which speaks about implementing of elections in the City of Mostar. asked about implementation of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings in ‘Sejdic- Finci’ case, Kristo said that HDZ B&H is dedicated to implementation of rulings of both local and international courts, stressing that currently an entire people is discriminated in B&H. “We will solve this issue by respecting the election will of constituent peoples and individuals. Through the talks that we lead about changes of the Election Law, we have a chance to change election rules and remove discrimination against a constituent people and against individuals,” said Kristo. Speaking about Program of Reforms of B&H and whether she expects announced obstructions in its implementation from Republika Srpska, Kristo said that she expects that work on reforms will start now, after the B&H Council of Ministers has been appointed. Asked about the City of Mostar, Kristo said that she believes that the efforts to change the Election Law will give results both in cases of the City of Mostar and legitimate representation in the House of Peoples and B&H Presidency. She underlined that it is unacceptable that Mostar citizens are deprived of the right to elect and be elected, arguing that they are advocating a solution that will enable holding of elections this year, but also the solution that will not turn Mostar into “case city” and which will be identical as in other cities in B&H. “We have to keep in mind the fact that this is an election year, that elections are in October and that the issue of changes of Election Law need to be made by May and that this needs to be done by B&H parliament,” said Kristo. She briefly commented relations between B&H and Croatia, stressing that relations are good and friendly and there is no need to change the policy of Croatia towards B&H.
Covic meets Pope Francis (Vecernji list)
Speaker of the B&H House of Peoples Dragan Covic met with Pope Francis and Secretary of State of the Holy See Pietro Parolin in Vatican on Wednesday. According to the daily, they talked about the current situation in B&H, relations in B&H, position of the Croat people and implementation of the agreement between B&H and the Holy See. In a statement for Vecernji list, Covic said he had the opportunity to inform Pope Francis about the situation in B&H and the position of Croats. “He asked me to preserve the position of Croats in B&H. He understands our problems well and wants that equality of the Croat people with other two constituent peoples is preserved, which we confirmed during a subsequent meeting with Secretary of State of the Holy See cardinal Pietro Parolin,” said Covic. According to Covic, cardinal Parolin was very interested in the situation in B&H, including changes to the electoral legislation. “He is amazed that we have not been able to resolve the issue of the Law on Elections for a long time. I informed him that today we have two Bosniak members in the Presidency of B&H elected by Bosniak votes and that it is an unacceptable situation for B&H,” said Covic.
Dzaferovic: With submission of Program of Reforms of B&H to Brussels, B&H made commitment to implement reforms and there is no going back (N1)
In an interview for N1, Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic said that with submission of the Program of Reforms of B&H to Brussels, B&H has made commitment to implement reforms, adding that there is no going back. Dzaferovic confirmed that during the negotiations on the abovementioned document, one knew that NATO would accept it. “NATO accepted that document. You have information from two days ago that this was accepted at the political level. We knew that it would be accepted because, among others, we worked together with NATO,” Dzaferovic underlined. Dzaferovic noted that B&H officially accepted what it will do when it comes to its relations with NATO. “The institution of B&H accepted that, none of us individually,” Dzaferovic said.
Podzic says B&H’s membership to NATO is “done deal” (BNTV)
B&H Minister of Defense Sifet Podzic stated on Wednesday that B&H’s membership to NATO is “done deal” but people in B&H were not informed about this, reminding of the December 1996 Resolution 1088 of the UN Security Council. According to Podzic, the Resolution mentions that the military part of the Dayton Peace Accords will be implemented by NATO. He stressed that B&H has activated the NATO Membership Action Plan and those who do not believe can check this on the NATO website.
Podzic: Ministry of Defense will establish mechanisms for implementation of Program of Reforms of B&H (Glas Srpske)
B&H Minister of Defense Sifet Podzic held a meeting on Wednesday with US Ambassador to B&H Eric Nelson. During the meeting, according to daily, Podzic said that the Ministry of Defense will establish mechanisms for implementation of the Program of Reforms of B&H, and that it “will contribute to this document being implemented as soon and as good as possible”. Results of the B&H Armed Forces (AF) members’ participation in peacekeeping operations throughout the world have been presented during the meeting in Sarajevo. Podzic and Nelson underlined the importance of the adoption of the budget, which will enable modernization and improvement of capacities and capabilities of the B&H AF. In that context, according to daily, Podzic and Nelson underlined the importance of implementation of the Defense Review and the Plan of Modernization of the Armed Forces of B&H. Furthermore, Podzic and Nelson talked about bilateral cooperation in the field of defense, and Podzic underlined the importance of the support the United States is providing to B&H and the country’s Armed Forces through various programs and various forms of cooperation.
EU believes all EU citizens should be exempt from US visa regime (Hina)
The EU is absolutely unanimous in the stance that citizens of all member states have to be exempted from the visa regime for entry into the United States, Croatia’s Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said in Brussels on Tuesday. Bozinovic presented a report to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on a Joint EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting that took place on 11 December 2019.
The EU was represented at the meeting by Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson of the then EU chair Finland, while Minister of the Interior Bozinovic and Minister of Justice Drazen Bosnjakovic attended the meeting on behalf of the then incoming Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU. EU-USA ministerial meetings in the fields of justice and home affairs are held twice a year and focus on transatlantic cooperation and common security threats. After a debate at the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Bozinovic addressed the press and said that the EU was unanimous in its stance that citizens of all member states should be treated equally with regard to the US Visa Waiver Program. US citizens are permitted to travel to all EU member states without a visa while Croatian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Cypriot citizens are still required to apply for a visa to enter the US. “It was evident at the meeting in Washington and during the committee’s debate today that the EU is unanimous with regard to visa free travel for citizens of all member states,” Bozinovic said. He said that the committee meeting was dominated by the issue of transatlantic cooperation regarding high technology, particularly with regard to cross-border access to electronic evidence and warrant-proof encryption at an international level. “It is necessary to find a balance between protection of fundamental civil rights and enabling police and judicial authorities to exchange data as quickly as possible because without that, we cannot fight crime effectively,” Bozinovic said. Asked to comment on criticism expressed by some members of the European Parliament last week concerning the conduct of Croatia’s police toward migrants, Bozinovic reiterated that Croatia would not allow illegal entries into its territory. “Our position is clear. We will not allow illegal entry into Croatian territory and that has nothing to do with the right to international protection. We are open when it comes to anyone who is in need, however, Europe and the world have to find a response to the question of how to treat migrants who are seeking a better life and refugees,” said Bozinovic. Bozinovic added that reports indicate that a growing number of people are using the right to seek asylum so they can physically enter the EU and then seek a place for a better life there. “I can understand that when it comes to individuals, however, the state has to protect its interests, which includes protecting the national border,” concluded Bozinovic.
Plenkovic: Talks in Davos very useful (Hina)
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday that the talks he held at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos were very useful for the strengthening of bilateral relations as well as for the positioning of Croatia on the global scene in the context of its current EU presidency. “Yesterday and today we held a number of meetings… the talks in Davos were very useful, in terms of bilateral relations, our role regarding various topics and dossiers that are important for them in the context of Croatia’s EU presidency and generally for our positioning in forums like this one,” Plenkovic told Croatian reporters in Davos. The Croatian PM on Tuesday attended two panels and held talks with a number of political officials and business people, and on Wednesday he met with French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno La Maire. Before that meeting, he took part in the informal meeting “An ascendant Europe” on the topic of Europe’s future, “the strengthening of its position and its role as one of the main stakeholders in global trade.” Plenkovic said that it was noted that the EU had to show leadership in global governance and do things that were in the interest of its companies and citizens, while taking into account social responsibility. An overarching topic of the 50th World Economic Forum is social responsibility. The forum must take into account challenges such as climate change and topics that Croatia imposed in the European Council, such as the issue of demography and emigration of people from rural areas to urban ones and from less developed to more developed member states, said Plenkovic. These topics were adopted in discussions held this year, which was not the case last year, said Plenkovic.
Grabar Kitarovic emphasizes the importance of The Three Seas Initiative (HRT)
Along with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was also in Davos on Wednesday. In her address to the “Growing Europe: The Economic Vitality of Central and Eastern Europe” panel, President Grabar Kitarovic presented the Three Seas Initiative, which she launched together with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The president noted that the European Union is still a community of major developmental differences between north and south, and east and west, which is the result of decades of unfortunate political circumstances for Central and Eastern European countries. President Grabar Kitarovic said that during this period, those countries were hindered or slowed in their development and disconnected from modern European economic and political trends. She concluded that this is most visible in the absence of infrastructure networks in energy, transport and telecommunications, all of which underpin Europe’s growth and development. Speaking to Croatian reporters after the panel, the president said that the Three Seas Initiative not only has a perspective moving forward but is seen as one of the most important initiatives in the European Union and in Europe general. She added that the initiative must empower this part of the European Union and must provide the same living standard as enjoyed by other countries in Europe. The outgoing president was asked to comment on what appears to be questionable support for the initiative from her successor Zoran Milanovic, responding that she highly recommends that Milanovic back The Three Seas Initiative. She added however, that regardless of his decision, she believes that it is highly unlikely that Croatia will withdraw from the initiative, as it has developed beyond the presidential level, to include the prime minister, numerous ministries and the business sector itself.
Markovic: Resistance to the Law has become conflict with Montenegro (CDM)
Disappointing. That’s how Montenegro’s Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic, described what has been happening in Montenegro over the last few months, following the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion. By the end of this week, Markovic will officially address Metropolitan Afmilohije and discuss with him „fears and misconception regarding the Law”. The whole situation is disappointing. It’s turned into a direct conflict with Montenegro and its institutions, its sovereign right to decide upon internal affairs. It was a terrible aggression,” said PM. The aggression was supported by Serbia, he points out. “That wasn’t an attempt to desecrate the Montenegrin flag. It was actually desecration of the flag” said Markovic. Prime Minister said that Montenegro-Serbia relations were the worst ever since Montenegro renewed its independence. “Serbia has to understand that Montenegro is an independent state. We want to discuss differences at state level,” said Markovic. He reiterated that he spoke with Amfilohije several times. “Work on this law started five years ago. Just remember public consultations organized all across Montenegro,” said Markovic. Metropolitanate rejects such claims, which is seen by Markovic as its attempt repeal the law. “Campaign aimed against the law, pressures from Serbia, montage politicians and highest officials, contributing to the campaign and making the whole situation vaguer,” says Markovic. He is not afraid of the curses coming from the Metropolitanate. “The clergy cursed those who passed the law and their families. When I hear somebody cursing in the 21st century, I am astonished, as if I was listening to the middle century rhetoric,” says Markovic. He said he was familiar with the information that some churches were registered to belong to Amfilohije and other priests. “The state will establish responsibility for numerous cases related to unlawful registration of property” points out Markovic. He reiterates that church property won’t be usurped anyhow, and stresses it’s not true that the law allows believers of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church to use monasteries and churches where clergy of the Metropolitanate serves. Markovic said he would invite Amfilohije to discuss the issue again.
“For me, dialogue is a must and it is a fundamental principle, when there are differences and lack of understanding. I suggest we discuss those fears and doubts related to the law,” said PM.
Metropolitanate’s procession cancelled after the protest walk (RTCG)
A group of citizens organized a protest walk in Cetinje due to the prayer and lity (procession) of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), announced for 23 January in the capital. It was announced earlier from the Metropolinate of Montenegro and Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church that the announced event was canceled for security reasons. Predrag Vusurovic spoke on behalf of groups of citizens, saying that Cetinje was honorable clean heart of Montenegro and that it was their peaceful protest against the announced rally. He announced that there will be similar gatherings in the future if needed and said that they will respond to all similar initiatives in this way, calmly and reliably. Vusurovic said that Cetinje did not know any other way nor would act in any other way. It was announced earlier from the Metropolinate of Montenegro and Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church that the announced event had been cancelled for security reasons. Rector of the Sveti Petar Cetinjski Seminary in Cetinje Gojko Perovic told TVCG that the clergy will organize a prayer service in Cetinje monastery and that he asked the faithful not to attend the procession because of, as it was said, achieving greater understanding and love among the citizens of Cetinje.
National TV stations boycott government and ministers (Republika)
Five national TV stations affiliated with the MMA (Macedonian Media Association) have begun boycotting the activities of ministers and the government. Yesterday they put down the cameras and did not record the press conference of the Minister of Transport and Communications, Goran Sugareski. At the same time, national broadcasters have not aired press conferences of ministers for two days. TV stations have taken this radical step because of unfulfilled pledges of help through the ministry of culture, but also because of the bad attitude of the government and the “Minister of Propaganda” Robert Popovski toward journalists.
The Economist Democracy Index harsh towards Zaev, Spasovski’s government: Macedonia has a “hybrid regime” (Republika)
In the year when two Western European countries – France and Portugal – moved from the “flawed democracy” to the “full democracy” category, and one—Malta—moved in the other direction, Macedonia, as a country located in Eastern Europe, is ranked 77th in the world as a “hybrid democracy”. According to the Democracy Index released by The Economist today, Macedonia is only one place better ranked than 2018. In 2019 eastern Europe’s average score in the Democracy Index remained unchanged at 5.42 compared with 2018. This remains markedly below the region’s score of 5.76 in 2006, when the index was begun. Improvements in the scores for a few countries, notably Armenia and Ukraine, were offset by falling scores for others, notably Belarus and the Kyrgyz Republic. In total eight countries’ scores rose in 2019, nine fell, and 11 stagnated. This mixed picture suggests that eastern Europe’s democratic malaise persists amid a weak political culture, difficulties in safeguarding the rule of law, endemic corruption, a rejection by some countries of “liberal” democratic values, and a preference for “strongmen” who bypass political institutions, all of which creates a weak foundation for democracy. No country moved category in 2019, meaning that there are still no “full democracies” in eastern Europe. There are, however, 12 countries that are classed as “flawed democracies”, including all of the 11 EU member states plus Serbia; and nine that are classed as “hybrid regimes” (the remaining western Balkan states plus Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and the Kyrgyz Republic). The rest are “authoritarian regimes”.
Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent. Western Europe’s average score in the Democracy Index was stable in 2019 compared with 2018, at 8.35, after falling slightly in each of the three previous years. Countries in western Europe occupy seven of the top-ten places in the global democracy rankings, including the top three spots, and the region boasts the largest number of “full democracies” of anywhere in the world, with a total of 15. There are now five countries in the region that are classed as “flawed democracies”, down from six in 2018. Other countries to improve their scores in 2019 were Finland, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, but Belgium, Italy and Turkey registered a fall in their scores. Turkey is the only “hybrid regime” in the region. Elections, influence of foreign power, and capability of the civil service are crucial. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators, grouped into five categories:
- electoral process and pluralism;
- civil liberties;
- the functioning of government;
- political participation;
- political culture.
Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall Index is the simple average of the five category indexes. The category indexes are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0 to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries do not score a 1 in the following critical areas for democracy: 1. Whether national elections are free and fair. 2. The security of voters. 3. The influence of foreign powers on government. 4. The capability of the civil service to implement policies. If the scores for the first three questions are 0 (or 0.5), one point (0.5 point) is deducted from the index in the relevant category (either the electoral process and pluralism or the functioning of government). If the score for 4 is 0, one point is deducted from the functioning of government category index.
The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regime:
- Full democracies: scores greater than 8
- Flawed democracies: scores greater than 6, and less than or equal to 8
- Hybrid regimes: scores greater than 4, and less than or equal to 6
- Authoritarian regimes: scores less than or equal to 4
Borchardt: If lawbreakers do not change their behavior, reforms become futile (Radio Tirana)
The Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, Bernd Borchardt, has a clear message following the position and opposition agreement on Electoral Reform. After listing the conclusions of the established Political Council, the ambassador says that there is corruption in our country with the elections, and this comes not from the system but from the individuals who make the system.
“If you want to stop corruption, you must stop being corrupted.” Existing legislation can produce appropriate elections and credible results. The ODIHR has emphasized this in several reports. This has not happened because of corruption and its authors know that the system cannot punish them or simply cannot punish them enough. You can keep trying to change the system, but it would be better to change the behavior. This is the prerequisite for the progress of everything. Because if lawbreakers do not change their behavior, reforms become futile,” said Borchardt. That was his appeal to the Albanian political class.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
U.S. Envoy Urges Kosovo, Serbia To Focus On Jobs, Economic Development (RFE/RL, 23 January 2020)
PRISTINA — The U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo has urged leaders in both countries to overcome their differences and to focus on economic development to “start moving forward on jobs.” “We want to make progress in this region, in Kosovo, in Serbia on the economic front,” Richard Grenell, who also serves as President Donald Trump’s U.S. ambassador to Germany, said on January 22 during a visit to Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, ahead of talks with President Hashim Thaci. “Young people need jobs — this is the mantra of the Trump administration,” he told reporters. “The people of Kosovo deserve to have new jobs and a bright future.” “We are going to push both governments and the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia and say ‘look at the people, start moving forward with jobs.’ “The business community in the U.S., the business community in Europe, would like to come in to this region in a bigger way, but you cannot do that if there’s a conflict from the political establishment,” he cautioned. Asked if he had preferences on a future government coalition in Kosovo, Grenell said “No, I don’t.” “I am not going to get involved in the political debates,” he said. “I think that’s kind of looking backwards. I want to start looking at the problems we had and move us forward — both Kosovo and Serbia — toward a greater sense of working together for the people.”
Serbia expects little from enlargement reform but hopes for more quality, speed (EurActiv, by Julia Simić, 22 January 2020)
EU countries should soon reach a consensus on new enlargement methodology. Details remain unknown and it is not clear if the reform will also apply to Montenegro and Serbia, which are further along the accession path than the Western Balkans’ other EU hopefuls.
Expectations about changes to European enlargement policy are not too high while Serbia, judging by statements from the Belgrade authorities, will remain on the European path either way. After North Macedonia and Albania were blocked from opening membership talks last autumn, despite having met the requirements, French President Emmanuel Macron, who was largely behind the veto in the EU Council, called for reforming the enlargement process. Serbia has opened 18 negotiating chapters and temporarily closed two, whereas Montenegro has opened nearly all the chapters but has made little progress in closing them. Serbia’s Minister of European Integration, Jadranka Joksimović, says Belgrade is deep in the negotiating process and has “a clear negotiating framework for accession talks with the EU” – it is therefore unlikely that any change of rules would affect Serbia, “whatever change to the methodology is agreed among the member states.” “Of course, we are following the debate, giving a constructive contribution by presenting the way in which we negotiate, but we also expect that any change to the methodology should move in the direction of increasing the quality and speed of the accession process, rather than vice versa,” the minister told EURACTIV Serbia. At the same time, Suzana Grubješić of the Center for Foreign Policy believes that the French proposal for reforming the enlargement policy is going in the right direction. In her words, a horizontal integration in phases, as well as access to EU structural funds prior to formal membership, might soften the negative sentiment about enlargement in many EU countries, and could also enable the candidates to participate more actively in European policies. Grubješić recalling that there was another proposal from nine member states, which, among other things, asks the Commission to group negotiating chapters by the main fields and open chapters in parallel.
Conflicting positions and messages
Aleksandra Tomanić, executive director of the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB), said there are currently so many conflicting positions on enlargement in the Council that the new approach will struggle to reconcile them all. Consequently, she said, we should not expect any revolutionary changes. “What we’ve heard at various meetings in Brussels is that we shouldn’t expect too much, that we should lower our expectations because the new methodology and the new strategy that will accompany it will have a minimal consensus,” said the EFB executive director. Duško Lopandić, an ambassador with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that “the new French and other initiatives regarding the methodology of enlargement negotiations should not slow down but rather facilitate, simplify and accelerate the EU enlargement process in the medium term”. EU experts in Serbia also pointed out some contradicting messages. “While France says the new methodology should apply to all the countries in the process, therefore to Serbia and Montenegro as well, (European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver) Varhelyi said the other day that there would be no change to the methodology for the countries already negotiating,” said Tomanić. There could be more clarity after a visit by the new EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, to Belgrade and Priština in the coming weeks, although the main topic on the agenda will certainly be the resumption of the Belgrade-Priština talks. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which Serbia, along with five EU member countries, refuses to recognise. A normalisation of relations is a key precondition for both countries to advance their EU bids. The EU-mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Priština broke down more than a year ago. Kosovo held a general election last fall and still has no government, while Serbia will have a general election most likely at the end of April, so a resumption of the talks should not be expected any time soon.
Moreover, the Serbian opposition denounces the authoritarian ways of Vučić’s regime and his pro-Russian bias. Although his force is expected to win the elections, his position is likely to be less comfortable vis-à-vis Brussels. Internal in-fighting in Serbia will most likely play in the hands of those who don’t want to envisage any new EU enlargement in the middle term. In France, Presidential elections will be held in April-May 2022. If Macron is re-elected, the chances for speeding up the enlargement dossiers of Montenegro but also Serbia would definitely be greater, especially if both countries would in the meantime appease their internal in-fighting. Minister Joksimović said an EU-Western Balkans summit, to be held in Zagreb in May, under the auspices of Croatia’s EU presidency, should see certain decisions formalised, primarily about the methodology of the talks for those countries still waiting to open them, but also about the overall future of enlargement. According to European Policy Center researcher Strahinja Subotić, the most important result of the summit could be an invitation to the Western Balkan countries to take part in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe. This would be incredibly important as it would signal that the EU is sincerely committed to integrating the Western Balkans but also allow the countries from the region to have a say in shaping Europe’s future, said the researcher.