Vucic to Grenell: I do not accept a sign of equality between withdrawal of recognitions and Pristina’s taxes (RTS)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has told a joint press conference with US Special Envoy Richard Grenell that there are no easy talks in the Belgrade-Pristina talks, but that he is grateful that Grenell understood what are the needs of Serbia. Grenell stated that Pristina’s taxes need to be abolished but also called for stopping the campaign for withdrawal of recognition of Kosovo.
Vucic said they had discussed the so-called campaign for the withdrawal of recognition of Kosovo and that he had told the US Envoy that Belgrade had offered Pristina an agreement where there would be a pause in the requests for admission into international organizations and for recognitions, as well as in the campaign for withdrawal of recognitions, but noted that Pristina didn’t accept this at the time. He underlined that he doesn’t accept the sing of equality between the withdrawal of recognitions and Pristina’s taxes.
Dacic: Preventing further recognitions of independence and withdrawal of existing – foreign policy priority number one (Tanjug/RTV/RTS/Beta/Politika)
At the session held on 23 January, the members of the Serbian parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee considered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Activity Report in the period 20 October 2019 – 20 January 2020. The Report was presented by Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic who said that the Ministry continues to work toward achieving Serbia’s foreign policy goals – preservation and protection of its territorial integrity and sovereignty; integration into the European Union; advancement of cooperation with the countries in the region and the most influential countries and other partners in the international community. Minister Dacic listed the most important activities concerning bilateral and multilateral cooperation, European integration process and cooperation with the EU as regards the Common Security and Defense Policy.
Dacic said that preventing further recognitions of the independence of so-called Kosovo and withdrawal of the existing, as well as preventing Kosovo from joining international organizations, are of the highest national interest and the Serbian leadership’s foreign policy priority number one. Following a discussion the Committee members accepted the Foreign Ministry’s Activity Report.
Djuric: Flying on Belgrade-Pristina route with IDs (Politika)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has told Politika that the letter of intent on reintroducing the Belgrade-Pristina airline is not a political document and that it unblocks the dialogue. “Serbia sent an official letter to UNMIK and KFOR on the intent to renew after two decades the air traffic between two of its cities – Belgrade and Pristina. We informed them on the intention to renew the airline, in accordance with Resolution 1244, the Military-Technical Agreement, the Serbian Constitution and the valid international regulations, which will be good for people of all nationalities,” said Djuric. He says that the new-old airline will come to life under the condition that taxes are first abolished. In order to planes to start flying, the Serbian Directorate needs to sign contracts with KFOR and UNMIK, paying attention that it respects Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. He underlines that this flight will proceed according to the Agreement on Freedom of movement and the Agreement on IBM reached in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. ‘This means that passengers can travel on this route with IDs, just as they travel now with cars to Kosovo, which is shown at the integrated crossings. Everything will be the same as when travelling by road,” concludes Djuric.
Drecun: White House wants some progress made between Belgrade and Pristina (RTS)
The Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun has told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that judging by the reaction of the US President to the initial agreement on establishing the airline between Belgrade and Pristina, it is obvious that the administration in the White House wishes for some progress made in Belgrade-Pristina relations. “They have been long insisting on talks resuming, to reach, if possible, some final solution for Kosovo and Metohija, but realizing there are obstacles here, it seems to me they are now taking some other path – they wish to achieve any kind of progress on the economic plane, on cooperation between companies in Serbia proper and in Kosovo and Metohija, and to present this as progress in order to gain in time until a possible final agreement,” he says. According to him, when the US states there are no deadlines for reaching a possible agreement, they have in mind some kind of political agreement that would be reached is talks resume, but Grenell warns that Trump wants progress such as the agreement on the airline. “It can be reached on the economic plane, because otherwise, if there is no progress, then it would be pointless for Trump to pledge his authority since this could turn into a negative campaign against him in the US, and he doesn’t need that during the upcoming presidential campaign,” he says. “This is a critical phase in the possible resumption of talks between Belgrade and Pristina since the new so-called government in Pristina needs to be formed, which needs to define right away the stand towards talks with Belgrade, towards taxes. I think that Grenell conveyed yesterday to Albanian politicians that there needs to be the abolishment of taxes in the top of the agenda of the new government’s activities, since it is clear to everyone that there is no resumption of talks until taxes are abolished because Pristina created a problem via those taxes,” said Drecun. He opines that one small cube is missing in the small mosaic. “They need to abolish the taxes, this is inevitable, but on the other side Washington expects Belgrade not to further actively work on the withdrawal of recognitions of self-declared statehood of Kosovo, but they are forgetting that Belgrade expects Pristina to stop with any kind of activities together with their sponsors, and this is Washington, on the further work of recognitions by new states,” said Drecun. According to him, Pristina needs to stop with these activities, the US and other western countries must stop with these activities in order to expect Belgrade to stop with the activities on reducing the number of states that recognize the self-declared Kosovo. He says Belgrade had already achieved the desired result, there is not a simple majority that is necessary to Pristina for any kind of further activities in the UN on the possible strengthening of the international position.
Godfrey: Grenell’s visit proves Trumps’ great interest for the region (FoNet)
US ambassador to Serbia Antony Godfrey said the US wanted the Western Balkans countries to leave in peace and that the announced visit by the US President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue, Richard Grenell, to both capitals proved Trump’s great interest for the region. The Ambassador added he was happy seeing Serbia was progressing. “I hope we’ll go forward because the lack of the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue doesn’t help. All we can do is to support the meaning of the dialogue,” Godfrey added. He also told local parliament deputies in Leskovac that he hoped everyone would participate in the upcoming general elections in the country, the FoNet reported on Thursday. “We hope you will all take part in the forthcoming elections. Also, that everyone will have access to all information and ideas of all the candidates and that people will have the opportunity to express their will and opinion about the candidates,” Godfrey told local deputies. While he was leaving the town hall, the Mayor Goran Cvetanovic introduced the deputy club of ‘Together for Leskovac,’ sharp critics of local authorities, to the ambassador, saying: “Your excellency, this is the opposition.”
SC Assembly adopts decision on temporary financing, vote of no-confidence in SC government to take place on 29 January (FTV)
Two sessions of the Sarajevo Canton (SC) Assembly were held on Thursday. Among other things, representatives adopted the decision on temporary financing of the SC by 31 March in order to prevent financial blockade of this canton and mass protests. President of the Trade Union of Secondary and Higher Education in SC Faruk Beslic said that their pressure resulted in adoption of the abovementioned decision. Minister of Finance of SC Amel Kovacevic said that adoption of the decision on temporary financing will be beneficial only for budget beneficiaries and projects launched earlier. Also, representatives in SC Assembly appointed SDA’s Mirza Celik a member of the SC Assembly leadership. Celik stressed that a proponent of the SC Budget for 2020 will be the new SC Government. He added that names of SDA’s candidates for new Ministers in the SC Government will be known by 29 January. Reporter noted that session of the SC Assembly when representatives will vote on the motion to cast a vote of no confidence in the SC government will be held on 29 January. SDP’s representative Igor Stojanovic said that the ruling majority in SC Assembly is rather unstable, because they have support of only 18 representatives, which is minimum to have majority and to remove the current SC government. Stojanovic stressed that regardless of the fact that they have support of 18 representatives, the new majority decided to block all projects the current authorities launched. SC Prime Minister Edin Forto said that they will soon present certain data showing that the current SC government has high support of citizens.
B&H HoP fails to adopt changes to B&H Criminal Code regarding the denial of war crimes (ATV)
A session of the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) held in Sarajevo on Thursday lasted for nearly six hours. Delegates discussed 39 items on the agenda, but they failed to adopt four initiatives proposed by SDP B&H MP Denis Becirovic. ATV reported that changes to the B&H Criminal Code – on prison sentence for denial of the verdicts of international and domestic courts for war crimes or crimes against humanity – discussed during the session sparked the biggest reactions among the delegates. The changes were not adopted as Serb delegates and four delegates from the Croat ranks did not support the changes. ATV noted that events from the past war get a new dimension after opening archives and this happens in many countries and this is the reason why the Serb Caucus cannot accept any changes of the Criminal Code that would abolish the right to prove the truth. The changes to the B&H Criminal Code presented on Thursday implied up to five years of prison for denial of verdicts of international and domestic courts for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Serb delegates mentioned decisions and conclusions of the Council of Europe. Delegate in the Serb Caucus in the B&H HoP Dusanka Majkic (SNSD) stated: “You cannot prohibit anyone to defend himself and this is what the Council of Europe had in mind”. Majkic also said: “I know that it would be good for many if the law is adopted and to stop what comes after opening of archives in many countries, which gives totally different perspective on events in B&H. Now, we see that some indications say that not everything is the way it is. I would say that even judges of The Hague Tribunal had separate opinions without thinking in that way. We should let everyone do its job and we here in the HoP are in charge to take care of the vital interest of the people that we represent”. ATV noted that the fact that the process of establishing the truth is still underway and that Republika Srpska (RS) formed two international commissions with world experts to establish killings of Serbs in Sarajevo and for killings of all peoples in and around Srebrenica, is what bothers Bosniak delegates. Leader of SDA and Deputy Speaker of the B&H HoP Bakir Izetbegovic would prohibit and made criminally liable all those who – as he said – deny the genocide. He stated: “To deny and to relativize criminals and to glorify criminals, awarding the criminals is absolutely an anti-civilizational practice”.
Proponent of the changes to the B&H Criminal Code Zlatko Miletic announced that in this case, he will call for competences of the High Representative (HR), while SNSD responded by saying that the times of imposed decisions of the HR passed. Miletic announced he will request the OHR to impose the law. He announced he will send the request next week.
Radoncic: It is necessary to find way to impose sanctions for denial of genocide and hatred speech (FTV)
B&H Minister of Security and leader of SBB B&H Fahrudin Radoncic, asked to comment the fact that at it is session held on Thursday, the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) failed to adopt amendments to the Criminal Code of B&H stipulating imposing of sanctions against those denying genocide and war crimes, said that this is old problem of B&H society and judiciary. He stressed that it is necessary to find a way to impose sanctions for denial of genocide and hatred speech. Asked whether this is an example of future relations in B&H HoP, i.e. confirmation that HDZ B&H and SNSD are capable to prevent adoption of anything, the leader of SBB B&H stressed that Bosniaks in the B&H HoP can also prevent adoption of any proposal. He emphasized that avoiding of similar situations requires compromise. Asked about HDZ B&H’s insisting to change electoral legislation before formation of the Federation of B&H authorities, the leader of SBB B&H said that it is necessary to solve the Croat issue in the Federation of B&H, adding that he will appeal to HDZ B&H to form the Federation of B&H Government so that these issues can be solved in upcoming period.
Sattler says power of his office derives from desire of B&H to become EU member (Nezavisne)
Head of EU Delegation to B&H and EU Special Representative (EUSR) Johann Sattler said that the international community will carry out a stronger monitoring of judicial cases because this was one of remarks presented by citizens. Sattler added that “we heard them and included those topics in agenda” and explained that a number of meetings will take place and a platform managed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be launched next month already. “This would be a place for exchange of opinions and what citizens want, which is to have nobody above laws, to have no corruption in the judicial system and to solve cases within reasonable deadline,” Sattler said. Asked to state what is it that the EU can and cannot do in B&H, Sattler said that “the EU can do everything and nothing. We are not a colonial force. We are not the Office of the High Representative (OHR), we do not have the Bonn powers nor do we need those. The process starts by having a country express its desire to become a member. And if one wants to be a part of this club, then one must accept rules, i.e. legislative acquis of the EU which is comprised of tens of thousands of regulations. The authority I have here in B&H is actually based on desire this country expressed – to become the member. How fast you will make progress, this is up to your leaders”. Sattler was also asked to explain his role as the EUSR, to which he replied by saying that “we are by nature a diplomatic mission”, but also have two additional instruments and one of those is the instrument of the special representative. Sattler went on to say that this does not mean that he has more power because of this, but he has “more attention and focus from our headquarters” because he reports directly to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Speaking about the fact some of political parties and NGOs in B&H expressed their dissatisfaction, Sattler said that a human factor plays a role in this case because people tend to look for someone to blame if something is not moving as fast as they wanted. “And it is always easier to blame someone who is far away. Yet this is the work that needs to be done by domestic politicians,” Sattler said and added that this happens in other countries as well because politicians in general want to take credits for success but look for culprits somewhere else in case of a failure. The journalist commented by saying that the EU is often inconsistent because it sometimes changes its rules, to which Sattler said that “this criticism is fair” and added that “I am here to fix things together”. “As far as our office is concerned, we are not perfect and we are learning from the accession process. We insist stronger on the rule of law. I am doing everything in my power for us to be as consistent as possible. One of things is that there are many international players, forums and bodies and they are all trying to achieve some of their goals”, Sattler explained. Sattler added that the strongest power of his office “i.e. the ‘carrot’” derives from the accession process but he noted that the constant situation of tensions must be overcome because it is difficult to make progress when tensions are present. Sattler went on to say that he hopes circumstances are changing because there is a new convocation of the Council of Ministers (CoM) of B&H, a similar structure of parties at all levels which is a good starting point “so I feel optimistic that we will achieve more than in past years, and definitely more than the last year”. Asked whether the report presented by rule of law expert Reinhard Priebe is still relevant, Sattler replied by saying that it definitely is because the rule of law is one of top priorities he is dealing with. “A reform of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) of B&H is an important element that needs to be monitored. There is also the process of appointment of holders of judicial functions,” Sattler said and added that this should happen in the course of this year which will be difficult but not impossible. Sattler confirmed that one of options is to separate judicial from prosecutorial part in B&H HJPC and there is also the possibility of introduction of a parliamentary supervision through parliamentary bodies. Asked to state who will be in charge of monitoring property sheets of holders of judicial functions, Sattler said that it was planned to establish a unit within B&H HJPC with an international supervision of European judges and prosecutors. Sattler added that, in order for reforms to be carried out, both the international community and citizens must exert pressure. Asked whether he sometimes get an impression that politicians really want to carry out reforms or they are making sure not to go too far with those in order not to jeopardize their own positions, Sattler said: “First of all, there is no ‘they’. I do not accept the idea that they are all alike. We have good examples among young generations. I think it is very important to have as many new faces as possible, not to let everything in hands of political elite which is running the country now”. Sattler went on to say that the best way to fight corruption is to develop quality institutions. Sattler assessed that it is not too late for adoption of changes to the Law on Elections of B&H before the upcoming local elections and said that it is even possible to realize certain matters related to local elections. “The EU has several projects. One of those is the pilot project which tests electronic voting. There are also matters of registration of voters, matter of counting, etc. We will hold a meeting with all political parties next month to discuss improvement of certain matters in a fast way. Those, of course, will be short-term solutions that will bring short-term benefits, but the general idea is to carry out a comprehensive reform before 2022 elections”. Sattler concluded that he thinks it would be healthy and useful to hold general and local elections simultaneously.
Cvijanovic meets Sattler to discuss political and economic situation in B&H (RTRS)
RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic met Head of the EU Delegation to B&H Johann Sattler in Banja Luka on Thursday. They discussed the current political and economic situation in the RS and B&H, as well as the determined priorities that B&H needs to fulfill in order to progress on its EU path. It was agreed that it is necessary to improve communication among several levels of authorities and the harmonized work of all competent institutions in terms of the EU integration, strengthening of Rule of Law and improving of the socio-economic situation and lifestyle of all citizens. Cvijanovic highlighted that the RS is dedicated to the EU path in accordance with the mechanism of coordination in B&H.
Borenovic with Sattler: PDP dedicated to European path (Dnevni list)
PDP President Branislav Borenovic met with Head of the EU Delegation to B&H Ambassador Johann Sattler. Borenovic stressed PDP’s dedication to the European path. “There I am foremost thinking about building of efficient institutions based on the European values,” said Borenovic. The PDP leader told Sattler PDP’s is of opinion that economic reforms are not and cannot be issues such as increase of the VAT, new employments in the public sector and increase of budget of joint institutions, as announced by new Chairman of the Council of Ministers of B&H. Borenovic stressed that the rule of law in B&H is compromised, that the election process is collapsing and that the new coalition, with the announced appointments, is trying to put institutions under control of the political leaders. The PDP President added that the situation in judiciary is the biggest problem in the country, welcoming the EU’s intention to deal with the abovementioned problems.
Trade liberalization between Montenegro and Turkey will bring foreign investors to Montenegro (CDM)
In the 153rd session presided over by Vice-president for economic policy and financial system, Milutin Simovic, Montenegro’s Government adopted the proposal for the law on the Confirmation of the Protocol and the Agreement on Free Trade between Montenegro and Turkey. “It was highlighted that application of this regulation would enable placement of agricultural products that so far hadn’t been exported due to high customs taxes. On the other hand, liberalization of Montenegrin market for specific Turkish products will have an impact on lower prices of those products on the Montenegrin market” said representatives of the government. The government also adopted Proposal for the Law on the Amendments to the Law on Bankruptcy. Amendments were necessary for the creation of preconditions for the improvement of cost-effectiveness, rationality and efficiency of the bankruptcy proceedings. In that context, amendments refer to the definition of specific norms for their efficient application, elimination of weaknesses and reduction of deadlines. Introduction of professional examination for insolvency practitioners is another news. Government also adopted Decree on the conditions, manner and dynamics of the implementation of measures of agrarian policy for 2020.
Dispute between government and main TV stations (Republika)
Five leading TV stations in Macedonia are continuing their boycott of Government press conferences, but the details about their spat are still not clear. MMA, the Macedonian Media Association, which is composed of the Sitel, Kanal 5, Alfa, Alsat and Telma televisions, began its boycott earlier this week, when cameramen lowered their cameras during a press conference by Transportation Minister Goran Sugareski. The Lider news site asked MMA and the government about their dispute but both sides remain coy, but unofficially it is understood that MMA is pushing a long-standing demand of the big TV stations. They want to be paid from cable providers for their programs and are proposing a law in this direction, but it is being stalled by the government. AVMU director Zoran Trajcevski, who is the main media regulator, would not describe the situation as a boycott and called on both sides to clear up their misunderstanding. Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani asked the outlets to cooperate with the government in the run up to the elections.
EU postpones the publication of its enlargement methodology (Republika)
The European Commission will postpone the publication of its new enlargement methodology by at least a week. The new set of rules for bringing in new member states, which France insists on, was supposed to be published on 29 January, but spokeswoman Ana Pisonero said it will be published a week late at the earliest. Pisonero said that the Commission will stand by its recommendation that Macedonia and Albania are allowed to open their accession talks. France vetoed this decision in October, demanding more reforms and changes in the accession process but also changes in the way the EU is ran.
President Meta met with Bulgarian counterpart, Radev (Radio Tirana)
During his stay in Israel, President Ilir Meta had a meeting with the President of Bulgaria, Rumen Radev. The Head of state thanked President Radev for the solidarity and assistance provided by the Bulgarian authorities after the November 26, 2019 earthquake. President Meta expressed confidence that President Radev’s visit to Tirana in the coming weeks would confirm the excellent relations between the two countries. President Meta praised Bulgaria’s continued support for our country’s Euro-Atlantic integration, underlining that “we strongly believe in Bulgaria’s supportive stance on opening Albania’s accession negotiations with the European Union at the Zagreb Summit in May this year”. President Meta and President Radev agreed that the promotion of Corridor 8 projects should be at the heart of the cooperation between our two countries.
“Anti-Defamation” package to be reviewed by Venice Commission in March (Radio Tirana)
The “Anti-Defamation” package will be reviewed in March by the Venice Commission, which has published it on its official website. It was the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly that on January 20 requested the opinion of the Venice Commission regarding Albanian Law no. 97/2013 “on Audiovisual Media Service”. The “anti-defamation” package proposed by the government and Prime Minister Edi Rama has sparked strong reactions and clashes in Albania after being opposed by opposition, analysts, journalists and civil society, as seen as “a violation of free speech and government control over the media”. President Ilir Meta returned the laws on electronic media to Parliament, arguing that they were in violation of the Constitution. But today, the Productive Activity Committee overturned the President’s decree, clearing the way for voting again in parliament.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
After EU Snub, North Macedonia and Albania Stumped by ECB Challenge (Bloomberg, by Gordana Filipovic, 24 January 2020)
The European Union’s snub of two enlargement candidates on the bloc’s southern flank triggered political tremors last year. Now, North Macedonia and Albania are facing pressure from another source in the bloc: the European Central Bank, where President Christine Lagarde signaled all options are on the table for reviving inflation after it kept its policy ultra-loose on Thursday. The tiny Balkan economies are closely linked to the single-currency area, home of their biggest trading partners, and like much of the rest of Europe, they’ve slashed interest rates in an unsuccessful struggle to stoke growth and inflation. They’re also walking a fine line on the balance between keeping investors interested without triggering flight by loosening too much. In North Macedonia, where the denar is locked in a managed float against the euro, the central bank cut its benchmark to a record low 2% this month as it tries to cool the enthusiasm of investors drawn to the currency’s higher yield over the euro and citizens’ tendency to hold cash.
That attraction has also undercut inflation, which dipped below zero last year. North Macedonia is now trying to discern how much lower toward zero its benchmark can go, central bank Governor Anita Angelovska-Bezhoska said. “North Macedonia has to keep some spread in relation to the interest rate in the EU, so it’s difficult to quantify,” she said last week at a Euromoney conference in Vienna. “We are still facing discussions how to improve the effectiveness of the zero lower bound.”
French President Emmanuel Macron blocked the start of EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia in October. The latter’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, resigned after a politically painful battle to change the country’s name and resolve a decades-old dispute with Greece. The country is now headed toward snap elections. That has stoked political uncertainty. And, combined with a new bout of loosening from the ECB, people are hoarding cash in local currencies, which makes it more difficult to make monetary policy effective, Angelovska-Bezhoska said. There’s a similar impact in Albania. Since cutting its benchmark rate to 1% in mid-2018, the central bank has little room to maneuver. It has seen the lek strengthen against the euro, even as economic growth slows. And inflation, which has undershot the central bank’s target since 2011, decelerated at the end of last year. The ECB’s extra-loose monetary policy has led to “some appreciation of the local currencies, which is to some extent influencing negatively inflation targeting,” central bank Governor Gent Sejko said at the Euromoney conference. Last month, he wrote that risks including a further economic slowdown in the euro area as well as domestic political tensions at least partially tied to the EU snub could trigger “uncertainties and potential shocks to the exchange rate,” shifting it away from the equilibrium. If dangers materialize, the Bank of Albania would have to consider more loosening. “The effect will be limited, but we still have some space for a decrease” in rates, he said.