Vucic, Godfrey discuss Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Trump’s Middle East peace plan (Tanjug/RTS/RTV)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey on Wednesday discussed the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and US President Donald Trump‘s Middle East peace plan. Godfrey handed to Vucic Trump’s personal message on occasion of 15 February – Serbia’s Statehood Day. The US Ambassador noted he was proud of Serbia because of its decision to renew railway links with Pristina and facilitate trade and investments. Vucic expressed gratitude for Trump’s and the US administration’s engagement and, in particular, the engagement by US special presidential envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue Richard Grenell, as well as for their understanding of the needs of the people in the region in terms of improvement of living standards and better economic and infrastructure ties. As a country interested in a stable Middle East, Serbia welcomes the efforts and energy invested by Trump in achieving progress in finding a solution to the long-lasting dispute, Vucic also said. “Frozen conflicts are no foundation for much-needed peace and stability and we hope the two sides will in the future find a way of reaching an agreement leading to a more peaceful and more stable Middle East and better life for all people in that region,” a statement from the presidential press office quoted Vucic as saying.
Dacic thanks Angola for principled support of Serbia’s territorial integrity (Tanjug)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in talks with Angola’s parliament speaker Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos that the bilateral relations between the two countries have been improved. During Dacic’s meeting with Dos Santos, it was noted that the two traditionally friendly countries have identified numerous areas for future cooperation. Dacic expressed his appreciation for Angola’s principled support for the preservation of Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, as well as for the support it provides to Serbia within international organizations. Da Piedade dos Santos underlined that Angola will not change its stance on Kosovo and Metohija and condemned any form of violation of international law.
Djuric: Kurti doesn’t want agreement, but capitulation (Tanjug)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has stated that the prime minister of the provisional Pristina institutions Albin Kurti wants only Serbia’s capitulation, which will never happen, as he put it. Djuric told Tanjug that Albin Kurti in his own words proved that he doesn’t want any kind of agreement with Serbia, that he doesn’t want real talks, but the only thing he wants is Serbia’s humiliating capitulation. He says that Serbian citizens should know that Serbia’s and Serbs’ humiliating capitulation is beyond any doubt the wish of certain foreign mentors who support him.
Vulin: Kurti doesn’t want negotiations (TV Pink/FoNet)
Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin has told TV Pink that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti is doing everything so there would be no negotiations with Serbia, along with the assessment “what kind of reconciliation when murderers are sitting in the Pristina government.
Asked about the army of Kosovo, Vulin reminded that according to Resolution 1244 the only armed forces on the ground is KFOR, no army of Kosovo. He says that he requested from Serbia’s representatives with the NATO mission, General Predrag Bandic, an official meeting to elaborate their stand on this.
Stano: EU Special Envoy for Belgrade-Pristina dialogue just one of the ideas on the table (Beta)
The spokesman for the EU High Representative Peter Stano said in Brussels that the appointment of a special envoy for the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo is just one of the ideas that were considered at the meetings between High Representative Josep Borrell and his interlocutors in Pristina and Belgrade. Stano recalled that during last week’s visit to Belgrade and Pristina, as well as in a press release on the occasion of the forming of the new Kosovo government, Borrell had stressed the importance of a swift renewal of the dialogue and constructive engagement aimed at normalizing the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo, since the current status quo was unsustainable. Also mentioned at the meetings was the idea of appointing an official who would be specifically in charge of those issues and of the EU agenda in the Western Balkans, but that was one of the ideas on the table which the partners talked about. This was Stano’s reply to a reporter’s question about whether that special envoy would be from a country that was against the territory swap idea or if they would be from a country open to such ideas.
NATO: B&H required to complete registration of military property after it has entered MAP (N1)
According to the statement that NATO issued for N1, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) is required to complete the process of registration of military property after it has entered the Membership Action Plan (MAP). There are 20 military locations on the territory of Republika Srpska (RS) that have been requested for registration onto the B&H Ministry of Defense (MoD). The B&H MoD issued a statement, which reads that “solving the matter of registration of prospective military property will continue” and confirmed that this matter has been defined in the Program of Reforms as one of the tasks. Addressing media on 4 December 2017, Serb member of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik – who was the RS President at the time he made this statement – had said that there will be no registration of military property. “The RS is absolutely not ready to register the military property. There is a declaration on military neutrality. The RS halts all activities related to MAP and engagement in that regard,” Dodik noted. However, only two years later, Dodik signed the Program of Reforms of B&H according to which registration of prospective military neutrality should continue. Former Serb member of the B&H Presidency and PDP Honorary President Mladen Ivanic told N1 over the phone that Dodik cannot dispute registration of military property otherwise he would act contrary to his signature on the Program of Reforms. Dragan Vukovic, Advisor for Security Policy to Serb member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik, stated that there was no registering of prospective military property on the RS territory, because the RS laws do not allow this. He stressed that this will not change in the future and nothing will be done in this regard.
B&H HoR: MPs discuss NATO related issues although this item was not included in agenda (BHT1)
The B&H House of Representatives (HoR) held a session in Sarajevo on Tuesday. Among other things, MPs also engaged in the discussion concerning the request of MP Dragan Mektic (SDS) to include the discussion on the Annual National Program (ANP) of B&H, which according to Mektic was renamed into the Program of Reforms of B&H, in the agenda of B&H HoR. Although this request did not get necessary support, this did not prevent opposition MPs from RS to talk about whether the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for B&H was activated and why B&H CoM does not discuss this issue. Leader of SDS and MP in B&H HoR Mirko Sarovic stressed that it was published at NATO official webpage that B&H is in the MAP, i.e. that the MAP for B&H was activated. He added that this was made on the ground of the Program of Reform of B&H. B&H CoM Chairman Zoran Tegeltija underlined that the ANP does not exist as a document in the B&H CoM and it cannot be discussed. Asked to comment on the MAP, SDS said that the RS has never suffered this big blow since liberation of the RS until today. SNSD responded by saying that B&H did not achieve full cooperation with NATO, while SDA stated that when it comes to NATO, they won. Head of the SNSD Caucus in the B&H HoR Snjezana Novakovic-Bursac said that the opposition is acting in a grotesque manner given their previous disregard of decisions made by the RS parliament. Novakovic Bursac said that if it were true what the opposition says, they should welcome it since it is in accordance with their true political behavior. She added that the claims of the opposition are not true and their reactions are hysteric.
Kovacevic: It was Ivanic who adopted only condition for MAP (Glas Srpske)
SNSD spokesman Radovan Kovacevic stated that PDP Honorary President Mladen Ivanic is the last person who should speak about NATO or the MAP since after adoption of the Resolution on Military Neutrality in the RS parliament, Ivanic stated before the NATO Secretary General that the MAP is a part of the consensus in B&H and something that there is no any dispute about. Kovacevic reminded that in 2010, NATO granted B&H a conditional invitation to the MAP and crucial conditions were registration of military property and adoption of the ANP for membership in NATO and the Defense Review. “The RS had the possibility to block two out of three conditions – registration of military property and adoption of the ANP and they were blocked. Unfortunately, the RS did not have the possibility to block one condition because Ivanic was a member of the Presidency. This is the only condition for the activation of the MAP that B&H met because Ivanic adopted Defense Review in the Presidency”.
Dodik against visit of Montenegro President Djukanovic to B&H; Reactions (N1)
The B&H Presidency convened on Monday and discussed the announced plan of Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic to visit B&H in March. The visit was not approved, due to the fact that Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik rejected the idea and stated that it should be postponed for another time. This is the first time the B&H Presidency rejected a visit from a foreign official. “It was planned for the President of Montenegro to come to B&H for a few days in March. I did not agree with this, given the recent events in Montenegro and I believe we need to wait with this,” said Dodik. The Embassy of Montenegro to B&H expressed disappointment over the decision of the B&H Presidency and reminded that B&H and Montenegro have friendly relations for more than 10 years. Ambassador of Montenegro to B&H Obrad Miso Stanisic said that the move of Dodik throws a shadow over the good examples and good things in the relations between the two countries. “When it comes to internal affairs of Montenegro, I believe that no one from the outside needs to be worried about this,” said Stanisic. He added that Montenegro is a NATO member and the next EU member country and is ready to solve all internal issues on its own. Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic said that the B&H Presidency sent an official invitation to all presidents of the countries in the region for official visits. He reminded that Dodik voted for this as well. ˝He voted against his own decision and showed his lack of seriousness˝ said Komsic. ˝B&H and Montenegro have excellent bilateral relations which are improving continuously and which are an example of good neighborhood relations in the region˝ reminded Komsic. Speaking for Montenegrin state television, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said that Dodik’s act speaks more about the problem that B&H is in and this only increases his concern that he has for B&H- what can be done for B&H to become more functional and to be able to reach such decisions without paralysis. “There are many decisions for a show, many decisions to make a show for the people, but they forget that these shows cost,” said Djukanovic. He reminded that he said in an interview that he would wonder if Slobodan Milosevic “reached a decision about massacre in Srebrenica”, but he would ask everyone if this was a necessary decision. To reporter’s question ‘Massacre or genocide? Djukanovic said: “Genocide, I only used an inappropriate substitute. This is legal qualification”. He concluded that he has not one, but two invitations to visit Sarajevo.
Salkic: Dodik can only dream about post of Federation of B&H Vice President (Oslobodjenje)
Story about the appointment of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Vice President from the rank of Serb people became very present in the public and despite the fact that there is no progress in negotiations between SDA and HDZ B&H concerning the formation of Federation of B&H government, SNSD is constantly speaking about their right to appoint the Federation of B&H Vice President. In his recent interview to O Kanal, SNSD leader Milorad Dodik raised this issue and said that if SDA wants them to return Senad Bratic to the post of the RS parliament deputy speaker they will have to give SNSD the post of the Federation of B&H Vice President. RS Vice President and member of SDA Presidency Ramiz Salkic said that the two posts, which Dodik wants to bring to the same level, cannot be compared. He explained that constitutional competences of the RS and Federation of B&H Vice Presidents are nothing alike. Salkic noted that Bratic was directly elected a representative in RSNA and it was only logical that someone, who has support of Bosniaks, is in the RS parliament leadership. He stressed that the Deputy Speaker in RSNA and the Federation of B&H Vice President cannot be compared, as the RSNA Deputy Speaker can perhaps lead the session, while the Federation of B&H Vice President can have serious impact in this entity. “Milorad Dodik can only dream about this post. These are not the same levels. If Dodik is speaking about Bratic, then he can draw the parallel line with the deputy speaker of the Federation of B&H parliament,” said Salkic, adding that even the RS Vice President does not have any competencies. He added that story about “exchange of ministries” in entity governments between SDA and SNSD is speculation and in this regard, he did not want to comment which of the ministries in the RS government would be interesting to SDA. Salkic noted that they are interested in opening of the talks and harmonization of competencies for the Federation of B&H and the RS Vice Presidents and the Federation of B&H House of Peoples and the RS Council of Peoples.
EU is committed to deepening its partnership with Western Balkans, and is offering credible accession perspective for region (Nezavisne novine)
European Commission has published the 2020 Work Program, which reads – among other things – that the EU is committed to deepening its partnership with the Western Balkans, a region with which it shares so much. Although the document speaks about ‘partnership’, which was mentioned for the first time several months ago as some sort of alternative for Western Balkan countries’ membership in the Union, the 2020 Work Program clearly states that the EU is offering “a credible accession perspective for the region”, adding – according to daily – that “the region has enormous strategic importance for the EU and European neighborhood”. Furthermore, the document underlined that credible accession perspective will be reaffirmed at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May 2020. “The (European) Commission will continue to push for the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. In parallel, it will seek to keep up the momentum by putting forward ways to enhance the accession process, including on the enlargement methodology and on a reinforced investment framework,” the document reads. The first annex of the 2020 Work Program includes the roadmap for implementation of 48 new initiatives in the field of the rule of law, and one of those initiatives refers to the EU enlargement. The document reads that new perspective for the Western Balkans will be presented during the first quarter of 2020, while materials for the upcoming Summit in Zagreb will be presented during the second quarter of 2020.
Inter-Religious Council of B&H organizes joint prayer for all victims of war in B&H (O kanal)
The Inter-Religious Council (MKV) of B&H organized in Sarajevo on Tuesday a joint prayer of four traditional religions to commemorate all the victims of the past war in B&H. After the prayer, the Inter-Religious Council of B&H signed a new agreement with the US Organization for International Development (USAID) in B&H. According to the agreement, the USAID committed to support the activities of the Inter-Religious Council in monitoring and responding to incitement, hate speech and attacks on religious sites in B&H. President of the Jewish Community in B&H Jakob Finci and Deputy Director General of USAID Bonnie Glick signed the agreement. Addressing a press conference, Glick said: “The world is watching B&H, its model of tolerance, proactive cooperation among religious leaders in order to reduce tensions and condemn discrimination and hate. Today, the world needs an example that the Inter-Religious Council is giving. This is a brilliant, a beautiful but unfortunately, a rare flower in the global garden”. Finci said that this may be a small step for the USAID but this is a big contribution to their work and support to their efforts in building permanent peace. Head of Islamic Community in B&H Husein Kavazovic said that he is glad that after difficult past, people in B&H jointly remember and honor victims. “It is important to honor every victim in B&H, as people and as religious officials. It is also important to condemn every criminal, regardless of their name,” emphasized Kavazovic. Archbishop of Vrhbosna Cardinal Vinko Puljic underlined that it is necessary to create the situation where differences will be respected and where equality will exist.
UN Secretary-General coming to 25th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide (N1)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a press conference on Tuesday that he will attend this year’s anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. “I’m going. It’s very important to go to symbolically show a very strong commitment to the need for Srebrenica never to be repeated and the conditions that led to Srebrenica never to be repeated. We see with a lot of concern the evolution in B&H. We believe that it is absolutely essential to move into a true reconciliation and fighting hate speech is one of our priorities,” Guterres said answering the question from Erol Avdovic, a B&H journalist who asked if he would attend the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and how he comments on the overall situation in Bosnia. “We also are in contact with the B&H authorities, with neighboring countries and from our perspective, B&H is a country that needs a lot of support from the international community in order to be able to overcome the fact that its dysfunctional political system is helping to fuel divisions,” Guterres added. He concluded that the UN will continue to cooperate with the countries from the region “in order to help them overcome the divisions and move closer to the EU.”
Picula: Summit in May will be ‘right opportunity’ for EU and Western Balkans (Hina)
Croatian MEP Tonino Picula believes that the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May is the right opportunity for the EU to emerge from the credibility crisis it fell into by blocking North Macedonia and Albania, his office said in a statement on Tuesday. The process of enlargement to the Western Balkans can provide our common European project with a new impetus by launching the necessary reforms within the European Union itself after the Brexit experience, Picula said in Brussels. Picula is also the coordinator of the Socialist and Democrat Group (S&D) on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, EP rapporteur for Montenegro and EP rapporteur for recommendations on the Western Balkans. “By failing to open formal negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania, which have fulfilled the formal criteria, the European Union has become embroiled in another crisis, a crisis of credibility with the Western Balkan countries, and it is up to us now to overcome this crisis as soon as possible,” Picula said, adding that the Zagreb summit in May is the right opportunity for that. Picula, together with S&D Group Vice-president Kati Piri who is in charge of foreign affairs, outlined last night the Group’s position on EU enlargement and its views on the methodology and the future of the enlargement negotiation process. The S&D principles for EU enlargement include full membership as the ultimate goal, equal rules for all candidate countries, a merit-based approach, the fight against climate change, as well as participation in the conference on the future of Europe. In addition, candidate countries should focus on the rule of law, stability and security, cooperate in the fight against cybernetic threats and the spread of misinformation, strengthen democratic political institutions and work on social and economic cohesion, environmental protection and youth perspectives, the statement said.
Djukanovic: Serbian Orthodox Church hasn’t been creating Montenegro but has been trying to erase it (RTCG)
Montenegro’s president, Milo Djukanovic, believes there will be a dialogue between prime minister, Dusko Markovic, and Metropolitan Amfilohije about the Law on Freedom of Religion. He says that Serbian Orthodox Church wasn’t creating Montenegro but was doing everything to make it disappear. President reminds the public of all the insults Metropolitan uttered, stating that Amfilohije can’t speak from the throne of Saint Peter Cetinjski. He reiterates that Montenegro is a sovereign, stable and safe country. In the interview for RTCG, president said that “whoever thinks, will force the country to capitulate, is so wrong”. Djukanovic said that Serbian Orthodox Church was trying to put itself before the country and to convey the message that Montenegro is a theocratic country. “And that’s the dilemma for every citizen who decided to live in this country and have family here – will their children live in the middle-age theocratic Serbian country or a civic country, of multi ethnic democracy, with adopted European values, country where citizens and all religious communities will have equal position,” said Djukanovic.
The law has identified three lines of attack, Djukanovic states. “Serbian Orthodox Church opposes registration and disobeys to be state subject, part of Montenegro’s legal system. Its center in Belgrade has accepted that in Serbia, but in Montenegro, it keeps refusing to register because they claim to have created Montenegro, to be older than Montenegro,” says Djukanovic.
He claims it is not familiar to him. “Serbian Orthodox Church is trying to make a precedent in Montenegro. The church actually did its best to erase this country from the map”, says Montenegro’s president. Djukanovic says that the Church would like to take over the power and finally erase the country. Commenting on the statement made recently by the rector of the Cetinje theology, Gojko Perovic, Djukanovic said that there was no collective responsibility, but only individual. “Everybody must know how to use its sword and when to take it back. State authorities protect stability and safety of citizens. Anybody who tries to jeopardize that security shall assume responsibility. We are all subject to legal responsibility,” said Djukanovic. “I’ve read recently that Rector Gojko Perovic said that the church wasn’t skillful enough to manage such processes, something that could look like the attempt to socialize what religious processions might become. There’s no division of responsibility,” Djukanovic says loud and clear. Asked why police units were deployed in the north of the country last week, Djukanovic says – we acknowledge there are those who are trying to misuse gatherings. “State authorities guarantee stability and safety of our citizens, freedom and exercise of rights. There are certain people who are dreaming about the scenario of what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 90s. Those groups are linked to the power centers outside Montenegro. There are nationalistic centers who undermine the multi-ethnicity of the Western Balkans,” says Djukanovic. He says that Great Serbia, or Great Albania are not possible. It’s all just a big tragedy. “It was early to hope that the ideology of the great state nationalism in the Balkan region was buried in the defeats of ‘90s. Actually, it was buried, but the ideologists never die. There’s no doubt that those centers are linked to some centers of power outside Montenegro,” Djukanovic said. Montenegro denied that skepticism of the ‘90s. “Unfortunately, some want us to think that it is necessary to create Great Serbia, great Albania or Great Croatia,” said Djukanovic. Great tragedy is only possible. Djukanovic evokes many experiences from the past warning that great Serbia, Albania or Croatia can only bring great tragedy. “At this moment, Law on Freedom of Religion is the right moment for nationalists to act. Ideologists are aware that Kosovo is lost and that they need a substitute. The only right substitute is Montenegro” Djukanovic said. It doesn’t differ much from the ‘90s, when Karadzic wanted Slobodan Milosevic to settle the address the issue of Serbs in Bosnia. “Today, Andrija Mandic asks Vucic to provide rights for Serbs in Montenegro. But Montenegro’s authorities can protect and value rights of every citizen. Period,” said Djukanovic.
Speaking about the tricolors, the President says that we are obviously faced with smear propaganda aimed at serving infantile atrocities to Montenegro. “Why do you mind tricolor if it’s the flag of King Nikola? The same ones who desecrated temples and squares ask that. That’s not the way to talk. Montenegro won’t allow anybody to play tricks on it,” says Djukanovic. Amfilohije isn’t eligible to address people from the throne of Saint Peter. “Saint Peter led Montenegro in difficult battles for freedom. In my opinion, he was the ruler who left the deepest mark, he called on peace, not conflict, and treated Montenegrin independence with respect. And then we have Amfilohije, who treats Montenegro with disrespect, who says that Montenegrin nation is just a communist invention, an evil,” says Djukanovic. He adds that Mr Amfilohije is who he is. “He’s a Metropolitan of the Metroplitannate, appointed by the Serbian Patriarch, who has power to dismiss him if he does something that is in contravention of Serbian interests,” Djukanovic said. Djukanovic says there’s no dilemma that all the current events have assumed political features. He reminded that pro-Serbian opposition members visited Irinej and were happy to get his blessing for “putting the parliament into flames”. It comes as no surprise for the president that Metropolitan called for the Government to go down if the law isn’t withdrawn. “However, I am sure that renewed Montenegro will last forever and that will be a good example to everybody in the Balkan region,” says Djukanovic. Asked if 45 percent of Montenegrins will allow the Church to undermine their identity and the state, Djukanovic says he won’t call on the Montenegrins to take to the streets. “I don’t think that’s necessary. We renewed the institutions by citizens’ will,” said Djukanovic. Talking about DPS members who attend religious processions, Djukanovic says it’s nothing new and that everybody has right to express their religious beliefs. “DPS does not impose restrictions on the people’s rights. We respect religious rights and take care of each other. But do not abuse what is your deed,” the President says.
Montenegro’s right to renew autocephaly is, without doubt, grounded. Serbian Orthodox Church is the instrument in the hands of ideologists of the great Serbian nationalism in Montenegro.
“We are aware of the danger. Actions of the church are a mine,” Djukanovic said. Serbs in Montenegro have their Serbian church. We have to create that possibility for Montenegrins.
“I don’t think role of the church is to divide people but to bring them together. Unfortunately, the church in Montenegro keeps dividing people,” Djukanovic said. He pointed out that “this isn’t time for the repression of any sort”. “We’re trying to animate participants reasonably. Why dioceses in Montenegro wouldn’t be part of that solution? One of the speculations is that we are trying to seize the property. But our idea is to create a unique orthodox church which would bring Serbs and Montenegrins together,” points out Djukanovic. Commenting on Serbia-Montenegro relations, president says he is surprised with the intensity of the “vampirement” of the ‘90s. “Media in Serbia and in other region countries suffer from the lack of professionalism and commercialization. We are concerned that such activities were encouraged by the high state addresses. Montenegro is mature and developed enough to protect itself from such attacks. I never wanted to play the role of Serbia’s enemy for a very simple reason – Montenegro will be fine if Serbia is stable,” Djukanovic pointed out. The fundamental message is that nothing will endanger Montenegro. I don’t care about Dodik. “His refusal to come to B&H speaks of the serious problem Bosnia has. It’s a show for the public. But shows that have repercussions and people might pay it through the nose. I got two invitations to come to Sarajevo, one signed by Dodik, and other signed by Zeljko Komsic. Obviously, Dodik oppose my visit but I don’t mind. Montenegro doesn’t mind,” pointed out the President. Regarding relations with Vucic, Djukanovic says it is deprived of mystery. “Issues with discuss can’t be treated from the agenda of personal relations. Our relations are civilized,” says Montenegro’s President. He categorically denies having an impact on the election outcome in Serbia. Actors of the great Serbian nationalism take part in what is currently going on in Montenegro. However, Montenegro said STOP to the inflow of foreign national interests. Commenting on the speculation that he and Vucic have joint capital in Waterfront Belgrade. “Nonsense. Story aimed at compromising me. Not even worth to comment on that,” says Djukanovic. What has been detected at Montenegro’s greatest weakness? Media scene, Djukanovic says. “Vijesti concern has proven to join the campaign aimed against Montenegro,” says Djukanovic. He mentions another weakness as well. “Insufficient dedication and synchronization of different parts of power. Independence is not infinite. If you accepted to be part of legislative or judicial power, then you are obliged to recognize that and act in accordance with your competences,” explained the President.
Montenegro didn’t ask NATO for help. That’s Vucic’s free interpretation. “That’s not true. Montenegro is obliged to exchange information. This information was relevant and we exchanged it with the Alliance, but there was no call.” Djukanovic explained.
Different views on other matters must not hinder our EU aspirations (CDM)
The government of Montenegro will initiate the broadest political and social dialogue on key topics for successful completion of Montenegro’s EU integration, it was decided at yesterday’s session chaired by the Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic. Different views on other matters must not hinder our European path. The Government pointed out to the fact that Montenegro is to face the most challenging, final phase of accession negotiations. “Being the leader in EU negotiation process, Montenegro has a particular responsibility to continue meeting the requirements arising from the European agenda,” they said. The EC will very soon introduce a new negotiation modality, which, although primarily targeted at those countries that have not started this process yet, provides an additional opportunity. “Montenegro has the strength and capacity to unite in reaching the European goal in an election year, at a crucial time for further dynamics of our integration,” it was said in the govt’s statement. As they added, the first and most important step in this sense is strengthening mutual trust through the continuation of a political and social dialogue on the election requirements, which are directly connected with our European agenda.
Zaev now says elections will go ahead as planned, but leaves room to change his mind again (Republika)
Following his latest election postponing trial balloon, Zoran Zaev insisted that the elections will be held on 12 April, but he still left enough room to change his mind. Zaev’s latest excuse for postponing the elections is the failure of his SDSM party to come to terms with VMRO-DPMNE about the new PPO law on state prosecutors. On Monday Zaev said that the elections will be canceled if the parliament doesn’t adopt the law before it dissolves on 12 February. After sparking outrage on the right, but also mockery that he can’t conceal his worry from the outcome of the coming elections, Zaev today insisted that there is no need to postpone the elections after 12 April. But his latest position was still qualified by the PPO law. We are reviewing the amendments, including those from the independent group. We are in a position that the government is seriously considering what is acceptable to us and what is unacceptable – we can’t go past the EU red lines, Zaev said before adding that the SDSM members of parliament will not allow the parliament to be dissolved, and with that would block the elections, unless the law is adopted. Zaev relied on the judiciary in his power grab as well to maintain his party in power, using prosecutors to ensnare the opposition into hundreds of criminal cases, but if the proposals are accepted, Zaev himself could face some scrutiny for prosecutors for the many corruption cases linked to his government.
No progress in talks aimed at creating a coalition of opposition Albanian parties (Republika)
The BESA party said that it supports forming a broad pre-election coalition of opposition Albanian parties, but that it doesn’t understand the positions of its chief would-be ally, the Alliance of Albanians. AA gave 48 hours to BESA to accept its proposal for a coalition that would be mainly aimed against Ali Ahmeti’s DUI party. “We declared our support for a coalition on 8 January. But to this day we don’t know why there hasn’t been a three way meeting with AA and Alternative to discuss this. The Alliance of Albanians can talk to us directly, but they choose to issue public ultimatums,” said BESA spokesman Arianit Hoxha. Hoxha offered two ways of distributing the seats in Parliament this coalition hopes to win – by agreement between the three parties, or using pollsters who would rank all would-be candidates.
Pendarovski in Poland: I expect Spain to ratify Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol next month (Republika)
President Stevo Pendarovski expects the ratification of the country’s NATO Accession Protocol in the Spanish Parliament to be completed next month. Pendarovski, who is paying an official visit to Poland, noted that “if going according to plan when it comes to political developments, the process should be completed around March 10. There will be only a few technical details left to be completed by the parliament in Skopje.” Spain is the last NATO member state to ratify Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol, after which Skopje will officially become the 30th full-fledged member of the Alliance.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
A more credible, dynamic, predictable and political EU accession process – Commission lays out its proposals (European Commission, press release, 5 February 2020)
Today, the European Commission put forward a proposal to drive forward the EU accession process, by making it more credible, with a stronger political steer, more dynamic and predictable. Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, commented: “The European Union enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top priority for the Commission. We are working on three tracks: Firstly, today we propose concrete steps on how to enhance the accession process. While we are strengthening and improving the process, the goal remains accession and full EU membership. Secondly, and in parallel, the Commission stands firmly by its recommendations to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and will soon provide an update on the progress made by these two countries. Thirdly, in preparation of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May, the Commission will come forward with an economic and investment development plan for the region.”
Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans
A more credible process: The accession process needs to build on trust, mutual confidence and clear commitments by the European Union and the Western Balkans. Credibility should be reinforced through an even stronger focus on fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration as well as the economy of the candidate countries. When partner countries meet the objective criteria, the Member States shall agree to move forward to the next stage of the process, respecting the merits-based approach.
A stronger political steer: The political nature of the accession process requires a stronger political steer and engagement at the highest levels. The Commission proposes to increase the opportunities for high level political and policy dialogue, through regular EU-Western Balkans summits and intensified ministerial contacts. Moreover, Member States should be involved more systematically in monitoring and reviewing the process. All bodies under Stabilisation and Association Agreement will focus much more on the key political issues and reforms, while Inter-Governmental Conferences will provide stronger political steering for the negotiations.
A more dynamic process: To inject further dynamism into the negotiating process, the Commission proposes to group the negotiating chapters in six thematic clusters: fundamentals; internal market; competitiveness and inclusive growth; green agenda and sustainable connectivity; resources, agriculture and cohesion; external relations. Negotiations on each cluster will be open as a whole – after fulfilling the opening benchmarks – rather than on an individual chapter basis. Negotiations on the fundamentals will be open first and closed last and the progress on these will determine the overall pace of negotiations. The timeframe between opening a cluster and closing the individual chapters should be limited, preferably within a year fully dependant on the progress of the reforms.
A more predictable process: The Commission will provide greater clarity on what the EU expects of enlargement countries at the different stages of the process. It will make clearer what the positive consequences progress on reforms can bring, and what will the negative consequences will be when there is no progress. To encourage demanding reforms, the Commission will better define the conditions set for candidates to progress and will provide clear and tangible incentives of direct interest to citizens. Incentives could include accelerated integration and “phasing-in” to individual EU policies, the EU market and EU programmes – while ensuring a level playing field – as well as increased funding and investments. The more candidates advance in their reforms, the more they will advance in the process. Equally, the Commission proposes more decisive measures proportionally sanctioning any serious or prolonged stagnation or backsliding in reform implementation and meeting the requirements of accession process. Negotiations could be put on hold in certain areas, or in the most serious cases, suspended overall, and already closed chapters could be re-opened; benefits of closer integration, like access to EU programmes, could be paused or withdrawn, and the scope and intensity of EU funding could be adjusted downward.
The Commission hopes the Member States will endorse the proposal, in parallel with the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, ahead of the European Union-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb on 6-7 May. For the summit the Commission will consider how to bring forward investment, socio- economic integration and the rule of law for the Western Balkans region.
Brussels puts French accent on EU enlargement (Politico, by Hans Von der Burchard, Jacopo Barigazzi and Andrew Gray, 5 February 2020)
Commission plan aims to overcome Macron’s block on membership talks for Albania and North Macedonia.
Brussels has a new plan for the Balkans: a few more carrots and bigger sticks.
Those are the key ingredients in a European Commission proposal to reform how the EU deals with countries seeking membership. The plan, presented on Wednesday, aims to overcome divisions within the EU, with its two most powerful members, France and Germany, on opposite sides of the argument. French President Emmanuel Macron has sharply criticized the EU enlargement process and blocked the opening of membership talks for Albania and North Macedonia at a summit last year. He branded the current system “bizarre” and declared the EU should be able to reverse the process if candidate countries backslide on key issues such as the rule of law. The Commission and EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have pushed for a swift start to negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, arguing that the two Balkan countries have undertaken important reforms and that other powers such as Russia, China, Turkey and Gulf states will gain influence in the EU’s neighborhood if the bloc does not act. The Commission’s new plan is sub-titled “a credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans” — a reflection of the fact that all the countries in the midst of membership talks and those that hope to begin them in the months or years ahead are all from that region. Turkey’s bid for EU membership stalled as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule became increasingly authoritarian. Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said much of the proposal was about changing the balance among elements of the accession process rather than reinventing the whole system. “We had to pick up the pieces and try to create something new,” he told POLITICO. “We never said we would come up with something completely new.” The plan reflects many of France’s demands. It would allow EU members to put negotiations “on hold” or decide they should be “suspended overall” if a candidate country is deemed to have stagnated or slid back on key issues, according to the text. The new method would also give EU governments more say in judging candidates’ progress toward meeting EU standards — a task now largely in the hands of the European Commission, which has been accused by member states of being too upbeat in its assessments. “It has to be a politically driven process, it cannot be just administrative,” Várhelyi said. However, he also said the aim is to have a “process that has to be more predictable.” On the plus side for candidate countries, the Commission says they could benefit from “increased funding and investments” from the EU and greater integration into the bloc before becoming members if they are judged to have met certain benchmarks. “If they are ready, we are also ready to move faster,” Várhelyi said.
Summit in sight
It is unclear whether all EU countries could agree on all the details and adopt the new plan ahead of a regular leaders’ summit next month, at which Merkel has said the EU should give Albania and North Macedonia the green light for talks. Six Western Balkan countries harbor hopes of EU membership. Serbia and Montenegro have been in accession talks for years, with no imminent prospect of joining the EU. Albania and North Macedonia are still hoping for the green light soon. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are classed as “potential candidates” by the Commission.
Commission officials are hoping the new plan strikes a balance between demands for change from France and other enlargement skeptics such as the Netherlands and Denmark on the one hand, and countries such as Germany and other Central and Eastern European nations on the other, who want a strong commitment to membership prospects for Western Balkan nations.
“The Commission has built a solid bridge for France. We are counting on Paris to walk over this bridge, join the EU consensus and pave the way for the start of accession talks,” one EU diplomat said. The new plan features another key element pushed by Paris — an emphasis on respect for the rule of law. It envisages “a roadmap for the rule of law” for would-be members and makes clear no other chapter of the negotiations will be closed until benchmarks in this area have been met. Várhelyi argued this new emphasis is not only due to French worries. “We also consider it to be a priority,” he said. “It is also the European Parliament that considers it a priority and many other member states and also national parliaments like the Bundestag or the Dutch parliament.” France’s EU minister Amélie de Montchalin signaled backing on Monday for the new approach but it’s unclear whether it will accept the plan as it stands or seek changes.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Várhelyi said. “I was very glad to read the very positive message from Paris … but I still consider that work needs to be done and I don’t take for granted that Paris is supporting it.” France faces local elections next month and Macron’s government has long been wary of far-right opponents using enlargement against him. Critics of enlargement argue that it will lead to more migration and the EU would be asking for trouble by taking in more members from a region that was the scene of a series of wars in the 1990s and is plagued by organized crime and corruption.
Brajovic: We see these political and media pressures as an attempt to threaten our national identity (Balkan Insider, 4 February 2020)
Montenegro was living in a kind of legal vacuum regarding the regulation of religious rights and freedoms. Knowing that this is a very sensitive issue, the law was prepared carefully and for a long time. During the five-year law drafting period, all religious communities in Montenegro had the opportunity to express their views on the Draft Law, and all religious communities, except the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), expressed understanding and support for the proposed law, Montenegro parliament speaker, Ivan Brajovic, told in an interview with Balkan Insider.
Here is the full interview from Balkan Insider.
Balkan Insider: Montenegrin Parliament recently passed the religious freedom law, which has sparked protests across the region by ethnic Serbs. Could you explain the law and the reason behind the protests? What message do you have for the protesters?
President of Parliament Brajovic: Montenegro was living in a kind of legal vacuum regarding the regulation of religious rights and freedoms. Knowing that this is a very sensitive issue, the law was prepared carefully and for a long time. During the five-year law drafting period, all religious communities in Montenegro had the opportunity to express their views on the Draft Law, and all religious communities, except the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), expressed understanding and support for the proposed law. The law was developed in close cooperation with the Venice Commission – an advisory expert body of the Council of Europe dealing with constitutional issues and assisting EU members and candidates in aligning their legal system and institutional structure with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The most important recommendations of the Venice Commission have been incorporated into the Law. On the other hand, the opposition from the Serbian Orthodox Church to the passing of the Law was not a surprise, given their current status, ambitions and support from their home country. The key problem is that the goals of the state of Montenegro and the SPC are different. The aim of the state was to regulate this area legally, to implement the basic constitutional principles on freedom of religion and equality of all communities before the law, as well as to confirm the secular character of the Montenegrin society and state. The goal of the SPC is to protect the current state of affairs, and to continue political engagement which includes a visible and persistent negation of the Montenegrin identity. In addition, their effort to prevent legal regulation of this area is part of their desire to sustain the state of affairs with complete absence of control over anything related to the activities, property and finances of the SPC in Montenegro. I have to inform your readers that the SPC uses almost all Orthodox religious objects in Montenegro, regardless of the wishes and needs of the believers of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which owned the most valuable churches and monasteries until 1918 when Montenegro, by the will of great powers and domestic traitors, had lost not only its statehood but also the autocephaly of its church. Without going deeper into the turbulent Balkan past, legal and spiritual status and environment, since the restoration of the statehood of Montenegro in 2006, the need and obligation to regulate all issues in accordance with the Constitution and new social circumstances have emerged. These obligations included the legal regulation of a religious issue and the protection of cultural monuments found to belong to state property. We are proud of the adoption of this very liberal law, whereby we have made another step in completing the state and civic identity of Montenegro. When it comes to protests, one of the rights guaranteed to the citizens by the state – is the right to peaceful protests. Some citizens are expressing dissatisfaction with the Law by taking part in the protests, organized by a very politically active SPC in Montenegro and with political parties that openly cooperate with them. During the parliamentary debate on this Law, all means, including violence, were used to prevent its adoption. The Law was supported not only by the ruling majority, but also by the votes of some opposition MPs. I believe that, as the time passes, with clear arguments and not with noise and manipulation, it will be clear to most protestors what majority of Montenegrin citizens already know: the law was adopted in good faith and does not jeopardize anyone’s right to exercise their religion as they have done so far. The state does not strip anybody of his or her property by means of this law, as it has been insinuated very skillfully and sometimes even primitively. Accordingly, I have no message other than to maintain the peace and dignity, that Montenegro is a state of all citizens and that, as before, we will be determined to protect the Constitution, laws and civil peace and freedoms of all citizens. Otherwise, both in the fight for the restoration of its statehood, as well as during these 14 years after that, Montenegro has been facing constant pressures and challenges regarding the implementation and protection of its national interests. We also see these strong political and media pressures as an attempt to threaten our national identity and even the stability of the state, but this time also the state will successfully resist them. In this fight for Montenegro, our NATO membership is of great importance.
Balkan Insider: With protests continuing and desires from the Serbian government, Serbian Orthodox Church, and ethnic Serbs, what are some possible compromises regarding the religious freedom law?
President of Parliament Brajovic: The Law was adopted and became part of the legal system of the state. In the period that follows, we will discuss its implementation, but not other requests. The clear message of the state is that the Law will not be withdrawn and there can be no compromise in that sense. The Serbian Orthodox Church represents its own and the interests of its believers, while the state of Montenegro represents the interests of all citizens. Some Montenegrin and SPC officials know each other well, they met several times during the drafting of this law, and I believe that Church representatives will accept the invitation of the government to discuss the contested issues in good faith in order to overcome the problem in the mutual interest.
Balkan Insider: What is parliament doing to address the issue of “fake news” in Montenegro and the region?
President of Parliament Brajovic: The state of Montenegro, including its institutions and officials are not immune to this problem of the modern age and the global media scene. For now, we are fighting against this phenomenon with openness and truth, as well as by responding timely to fake news. We have also gone a step further, and in 2017, we organised a regional conference on the subject of parliaments in the digital age and truth at a time of post-truth. Also, the Parliament of Montenegro was proclaimed the most open parliament for many years now, and we are very proud of this title. We believe that this approach is also useful in combating fake news.
Balkan Insider: U.S. President Donald Trump just hosted China Vice Premiere Liu He for a “Phase One” trade deal. At the same time, the US Department of Defense labels China “a strategic competitor using predatory economics”. Can you discuss Montenegro’s involvement in the 17+1 initiative and the status of the Bar-Boljare highway?
President of Parliament Brajovic: Montenegro’s foreign policy is well known and unquestionable. First of all, we are proud to be recognized in our politically sensitive region as a state that fosters good relations with all its neighbors. It is also quite clear that Montenegro has tied its future to the European Union and the countries of the developed Western democracies, with the United States of America as a kind of democratic axis and a reliable friend of our country. But also, our country is making significant efforts in dialogue and partnership with all Eurasian countries. We are signatories of the Belt and Road Initiative, which links Asia, Europe and Africa through the construction of a trade and infrastructure network, while the 16 + 1 Mechanism which is now 17 + 1, as a Chinese initiative to improve cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries, is not opposite to the official politics of Montenegro, including the European Union. That policy of Montenegro, with clear aims, directed towards stability and cooperation, strengthened by NATO membership and implementation of structural reforms, has made Montenegro reliable and attractive region for investments coming from different regions of the world. As for high-way, while wishing to create necessary preconditions for targeted economic growth, Montenegro is constructing, in cooperation with its Chinese partners, the most important infrastructural project – a high-way that will connect Adriatic coast with the Central and Western Europe. The implementation of this project is a good example of cooperation between small and big economies, with clearly defined roles and tasks. Every detail of this project in which the Chinese company CRBC was the most favourable bidder, from its planning to its final implementation, was completely transparent and has undergone all procedures, including the longest debate in the Parliament of Montenegro. The priority section of this highway is planned to be completed by the end of this year, and each subsequent phase will be a step further in the balanced development of the north and south of Montenegro and additional opening of our country for tourists and investors.
Balkan Insider: Montenegro has been fortunate enough to have positive economic growth – increases in FDI, new direct flights, exponential growth of international visitors. What is Podgorica doing to keep this momentum going and to increase more visitors and investment from the North America?
President of Parliament Brajovic: Over the past 14 years, Montenegro has been tasked with establishing all the attributes of statehood, while preserving its integrity, strengthening democratic processes and, above all, ensuring economic stability and optimal growth. We succeed in all of this, though there are many challenges ahead. I must say that our country’s NATO membership, in addition to acknowledging our foreign policy and ensuring long-term security, has sent a clear positive message to investors and tourists that we are a safe, stable and desirable destination. Economic indicators and the number of tourists speak in favor of this. The investment climate is increasingly favorable due to a series of measures by state authorities. There are numerous potentials for investing in good business in the mountainous north and Mediterranean south of Montenegro, which are increasingly recognized by prominent companies in the field of energy, infrastructure, and above all in the field of tourism. In tourism, Montenegro is the country with currently the most significant investment projects in the Mediterranean. When it comes to visitors, we not only see an increase in the number of tourists, but also an increasing number of countries from which they come. Tourists from the USA are of course very valuable to us, their desire to visit a distant small country further obliges. The respected Bloomberg also ranked Montenegro in the top 24 destinations for this year, selected by well-known editors and global correspondents, and this recommendation should be trusted.
Balkan Insider: Montenegro is a leading candidate in the region to join the European Union (EU)? The country has nearly all chapters open and three chapters provisionally closed. What are the goals of Montenegro’s EU accession in 2020 and when do you foresee it joining the EU?
President of Parliament Brajovic: On Montenegro’s path to EU membership, formally speaking, we have one negotiating chapter left to be opened, and the remaining ones to be closed. For Montenegro it is vital to be committed to further democratization of society through the promotion of Western European values, the application of their legislation and best practices. In Montenegro, the Euro-enthusiasm of the vast majority of citizens has long been very strong and constant. However, there was a danger that this enthusiasm would be shaken by disturbing messages from individual EU Member States that enlargement must be stopped until the Union consolidates and addresses its internal issues. Fortunately, enlargement policy has been brought back into the focus of EU policies and institutions, which is in line with Montenegro’s clear position that consolidation and enlargement policies are complementary and mutually beneficial processes. Montenegro is recognized as a regional frontrunner, given the progress we have made, and the internal and external policies we are pursuing. Regardless of what the future negotiation model for new candidates may look like, we expect that Montenegro will continue the further process with the rules already established, in order to enter the final phase of its integration. One of the criteria we insist on is the regatta principle, that is, membership in accordance with the progress achieved, in which sense – Montenegro is clearly ahead of other candidates. We consider it a stimulating model for all candidates. We will continue to be committed to improving the legislative framework in all areas, strengthening the institutions of the system and democracy, while respecting and promoting the rule of law and European values in the country and in the region. It is completely ungrateful and unnecessary to bid on the date of Montenegro’s accession to the EU. We want to enter as readily as possible, and to bring in our values an added quality to the most important political and economic project of Europe, such as the European Union.