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Belgrade Media Report 07 February 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 7 February 2020

LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: Mr. Kurti, things are not so simple (RTS)
• Vucic: Serbia is allowed to choose (Tanjug/B92)
• Varhelyi: Deal with Pristina key for Serbia’s EU path (Tanjug)
• Gojkovic discusses new methodology with EU Enlargement Commissioner (Tanjug)
• Free media needed, but take part in Serbia’s election, Europeans say (N1)
• DS to decide on Comic’s exclusion from the party (N1)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik and Mandic meet in Banja Luka, Dodik reiterates support to Serbs in Montenegro, Mandic thanks to Dodik for voting against Djukanovic’s visit to B&H (RTRS)
• Colak, RS political parties do not think DF’s proposal of changes to Law on Elections of B&H is acceptable (EuroBlic)
• Picula: EU must establish clear criteria and invariable indicators of progress (Dnevni list)
• Tegeltija comments on new methodology of EU accession negotiations (FTV)
• Opinions on new EU enlargement methodology divided in B&H (N1)
• Inzko meets Reynders to discuss state of affairs in B&H judiciary (Hayat)
• Cvijanovic discusses security challenges with Wilson (ATV)
Croatia
• Plenkovic again invites Pope Francis to visit Croatia (Hina)
Montenegro
• DF rejects Prime Minister’s call for dialogue (Dan)
• Dialogue and consensus necessary (RTCG)
• Kemp: All parties to get involved in the dialogue (RTCG)
• US Embassy: All parties should engage in a constructive dialogue (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia
• It’s official: Coalition between Alliance and Alternative for April elections (Republika)
Albania
• Von der Leyen: Optimistic for EU new enlargement plan (Radio Tirana)
• Varhelyi: EU should fulfill its commitment to the candidate countries (Radio Tirana)
• Rama meets with Secretary Pompeo (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Serbian Authorities’ Intervention Ends Migrant Camping at Hungarian Border (Hungary Today)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: Mr. Kurti, things are not so simple (RTS)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that the abolishment of taxes that inflicted enormous damage both to the Serbs and Albanians, is a good announcement,” says Vucic. He says that it would be good for us to sit down and discuss the future of Serbs and Albanians, talks will have to take place and it is always better to talk. It is better that people says a bad word about me and to spit on all of us, but for us to talk and to preserve peace. Commenting the previous statements made by Albin Kurti, like the one on reciprocity, he says that things are not so simple, like when you are sitting in the opposition and you can speak without responsibility. This is something that is expected, Kurti is improving his international political position. He says that it is not Belgrade’s choice with whom it will sit at the table, but of those who chose these representatives, i.e. of the Albanians. Vucic says it is insane to speak about a lawsuit for genocide and increase of arms by hundred percent, but that this doesn’t scare Serbia. “You do your job, it is good that you are thinking about abolishing taxes, it would be good for us to talk in the future,” notes Vucic. Speaking about Kurti’s announcement of economic and political reciprocity, Vucic says the new Kosovo prime minister must offer something to his people. However, he says that he cannot introduce this principle since Belgrade doesn’t consider Kosovo a state. “This would be bad for them, they are analyzing only agreements that suit them, such as the recognition of diplomas. Nevertheless, license plates are creating a problem, the stories about energy, yet we have been facing this for years and we are managing to endure pressures, but have in mind that launching this issue would imply the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities,” said Vucic. Vucic says he will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the next month. “I expect to meet with Merkel in Berlin within one month,” he said, adding he doesn’t exclude the possibility of meeting with Kurti as well. “I don’t exclude the possibility of a meeting with Albin Kurti. He notes that he can neither confirm nor deny the information that the outgoing Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak could be the EU special envoy in the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, noting that he wouldn’t also exclude this possibility, but underlines that this person will certainly be under Berlin’s strong influence. “I think I said it all with this,” said Vucic.

 

Vucic: Serbia is allowed to choose (Tanjug/B92)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that Serbia, as the country which has come a long way within the EU accession negotiation process, can choose its path. The EU Commission presented its proposal for renewing the accession negotiation process, but, if adopted, it would only be applicable to the countries who are yet to open accession negotiations, with the countries already negotiating being able to choose if they want to join in. “It is going to be their choice, and I already see arguments in favor,” Várhelyi said. According to Vucic, Serbia can choose whether to continue using the already negotiated framework or the new methodology, and that his personal sympathies are on the side of the new methodology. “My personal sympathy, as president, is to take on new methodologies, and I am grateful to the EU Member States who have wished this,” said Vucic, after meeting with Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi. “When you have a good pass time, the right pass time that means a lot to the people involved in the reforms, I am sure that we will do our best to do our job as quickly as possible. I want to reaffirm our commitment to Serbia’s European path, our determination to be part of the EU, but also part of the debate on how to best show people the EU benefits, so that they could be able to touch what the EU is, and not just have a vague idea about I,t, he pointed out. In support of the new methodology, Vucic stated that, although he went to Brussels almost every time to open the chapter, he would not be able to list the ones we had opened and closed, and that this was now more transparent within the new methodology, which envisages six clusters. He said that when the clusters are closed, which is not an easy work, because the new methodology is tight and restrictive, it gains access to EU funds. “If you take competition and growth as a cluster, we have opened the largest number of chapters. Only three still pending, with six already open. We stand here perfectly. This is a great motivation for all of us to do this,” Vucic explained. He pointed out that there was a transition period for the free movement of the workforce, which is very important for us, since full freedom to obtain work permits would be dangerous for us at the moment. He reiterated that once certain things are completed, under the new methodology, you can commit to the next cluster, and people would already feel the benefits. He said that we cannot have all the parameters now, and that we will continue to study the new methodology and make the final decisions in the coming period. He told reporters that Várhelyi presented him with the first part of a new methodology, which has been discussed lately in Serbia and also in Brussels. “I would like to express my satisfaction with the hard work of the European Commission, and with Commissioner’s personal engagement, as well as with what we can now see within the new methodology,” Vucic said. He pointed out that Serbia was keen to work on fundamental chapters, including Chapters 23 and 24, pertaining to the rule of law. He also said that he had discussed with the European Commissioner the “Mini Schengen” Balkan initiative concerning the free movement of goods, people, capital and services in the region. “I came up with the idea that Serbia would like to become part of the Schengen Agreement with some EU member states, because we think it would be of great importance for our country to have open borders to Europe, and we think that Serbia can guarantee an important impact on maintaining security and safety”, he stressed. Vucic emphasized that these are ideas that need to be discussed in the EU, to see what they want and what we can offer. He added his country was very grateful for the principles based on which the European Commission led its policy toward the Balkans. “We believe that the Euro-integration process will continue, and that is of a strategic significance for us,” he said. Speaking about Várhelyi, Vucic pointed out that this is our “neighbor”, who is closest to us because he is from Szeged, and that he is an exceptional person who fully understands the needs of the whole region, especially us from Serbia. Vucic said that we can almost say that we have our own commissioner, which does not mean that anyone will turn a blind eye on us, because it is a process run by all member states. He said he has learned a lot about the EU procedures from Várhelyi, whom he describes as an energetic, dynamic man, very diligent and dedicated. “I want to express my personal satisfaction that Várhelyi was placed in charge of the neighborhood policy and enlargement within EU Commission,” Vucic concluded.

 

Varhelyi: Deal with Pristina key for Serbia’s EU path (Tanjug)

 

EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Várhelyi on Thursday confirmed in Belgrade that, irrespective of its achievements concerning European integration, Serbia cannot move forward towards EU membership without an agreement with Pristina. “For the entire region, the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo is a key issue. We are all looking at both countries so that they can come to a long-term peaceful solution, but it cannot come without them,” he said.

Várhelyi was responding to a comment by a reporter who said there was an impression that, whatever they were, Serbia’s achievements in European integration were irrelevant until some kind of a deal was made with Kosovo. “I think you have answered your question,” he told the reporter. He said that, as a first step towards renewed dialogue, Pristina needed to abolish its taxes.

 

Gojkovic discusses new methodology with EU Enlargement Commissioner (Tanjug)

 

Serbian parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic met with the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Várhelyi to discuss the new EU methodology, the parliament’s work and the inter-party dialogue at the Serbian parliament facilitated by the European Parliament. Gojkovic said that the Serbian parliament has made visible progress in terms of functioning and procedures since the last year’s progress report of the European Commission and hopes that the next Report would be much more positive as regards the parliament’s work as the parliament had fully eliminated all the previous one objected to. Gojkovic added that, as agreed in the inter-party dialogue, the Serbian parliament had elected a Supervisory Board, thee REM members and tomorrow at midnight ends the deadline to propose two new REM members which will fulfil the last of the obligations agreed upon in the inter-party dialogue. Gojkovic informed Várhelyi that today, the Serbian Assembly began a debate on the reduction of the election threshold from 5 to 3% which will significantly improve the representativeness of the parliament and add new momentum to pluralism. Gojkovic said that opposition MP Gordana Comic’s proposal was adopted for the Serbian parliament to discuss her motion for a higher representation of women on the electoral lists so that they make up no less than 40 percent of candidates. Gojkovic praised the recent summit of Western Balkans’ parliament speakers and the European Parliament in Brussels and the adoption of the Joint Declaration, saying it was her impression that the EU has not given up on enlargement.  Várhelyi said it is imperative that all the achievements and tasks defined by the inter-party dialogue be realized and thanked the members of the European Parliament who helped in the process, stating that building any measure of trust between the two sides is important. The meeting was also attended by MEPs Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik.

 

Free media needed, but take part in Serbia’s election, Europeans say (N1)

 

The EU delegation on a visit to Belgrade called on all political parties to take part in the forthcoming general elections, but added that free media were needed, N1 reported.  “We call upon all political parties to participate in the elections, not to boycott them. We think it’s important for Serbia, for the Serb people. From this place I’m sending that message – democracy functions if we all take part in it,” Olivér Várhelyi told a joint news conference with MEP Tanja Fajon and the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik. They all agreed that free public sphere and free media were a pre-condition, but when asked if the conditions for fair and free elections existed in Serbia, Várhelyi replied – “we’re getting there.” He added that “if the whole parliament agrees on a lower election threshold, than it’s ok,” although “it is not good to change rules ahead of the elections.” However, Várhelyi fell short of mentioning that it could not be “the whole parliament” since the leading opposition group Alliance for Serbia (SzS) had been boycotting the parliament’s work for months. “We can say the conditions were met, but it has to be explained to the people. I understand that the Parliament is working on its tasks and will continue next week. So, we’re getting there,” Várhelyi said. Bilcik said their visit aimed to hear from the political players, civil society and generally what had been achieved after the three rounds of inter-parties talks last year. He added that they heard from all sides that the level of confidence in the institutions was deficient, as well as in what was going on in the public sphere.

Bilcik said he was ready to work on improving the situation together with Fajon and that any opportunity to make the elections successful should be used until the election day. “The pre-condition is for the free public sphere and free media to exist,” he said. Fajon, who is also the Chair of EP Delegation for Serbia, said they were satisfied in December when witnessed to some changes, but that “today, the main message they had was “media freedom, media freedom, media freedom.” “It seems to be the most important condition for those who are in the boycott. Our common message is that there is still time for improving the conditions for all, and I still want the door to the dialogue open, that the opposition which is in boycott get back to the table and maybe take part in the elections,” Fajon said.  Speaking about media, Fajon said they heard the situation was getting worse every year, that there were almost no independent media, that it’s even worse at the local level. “And that doesn’t come from media only, the international community also knows and that’s worrying and we have to be honest and do much more.”

 

DS to decide on Comic’s exclusion from the party (N1)

 

The Democratic Party (DS) is set to expel its long-time official Gordana Comic for violating a party leadership decision to boycott parliament after she attended a session of the country’s top legislative body to put forward two bills which would raise the number of women candidates in elections. N1 learned that the DS Ethics committee met on Thursday evening, hours after Comic sat in parliament, and decided to recommend her exclusion from the party. The final decision is up to the party executive committee and presidency. Speaking of her decision to propose the bills, Comic said that the dilemma was whether she was advocating her party’s policy of promoting women’s rights and the presence of women in decision making posts in politics or the party decision to boycott parliament. “I decided how I decided and I would do the same again,” she said. DS leader Zoran Lutovac said that her actions were a flagrant violation of party decisions. “This was not just a failure to respect DS decisions but also DS members and everyone else who took the decision on the boycott. This was an independent act and cannot be considered to have been taken on behalf of the DS,” he said speaking on the N1 360 Degrees talk show. According to him, Comic was elected to parliament as a DS candidate and is obliged to implement DS policies. “On the other hand, the constitution says that MPs own their mandates and the Constitution is above a party statute. She could have done this in her own name but no on behalf of the DS,” Lutovac said. The DS leader added that there is speculation about dissatisfied party officials standing in the coming parliamentary elections “on their own or with other MPs”. “Gordana Comic’s actions show that this might be true,” he said.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik and Mandic meet in Banja Luka, Dodik reiterates support to Serbs in Montenegro, Mandic thanks to Dodik for voting against Djukanovic’s visit to B&H (RTRS)

 

Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik met with one of leaders of Democratic Front (DF) in Montenegro Andrija Mandic in Banja Luka on Thursday. The main topic of this meeting were current developments in Montenegro. Once again, Dodik expressed support to Serb people and Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro, underlining that adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion was unnecessary step of Montenegro authorities. He stressed that the abovementioned disputable law represents unacceptable usurpation of rights of SPC, adding that the same was concluded by representatives of other religious communities in Montenegro. Dodik emphasized that Republika Srpska (RS) and Serb people will resume to support requests of SPC and faithful ones in Montenegro. “We have to be united against any usurpation of rights of Serb people and SPC, not only in Montenegro but anywhere. The most important thing is that all of these problems are solved peacefully and through the dialogue,” said Dodik. Mandic thanked to member of B&H Presidency Dodik for failing to support President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic’s visit to B&H in the Presidency of B&H. Mandic added that in this way, Djukanovic was prevented to use this opportunity to resume with his campaign against Serb people and SPC. In a statement for RTRS, Mandic said that Dodik only presented a stance of Serb people in the RS. Also, religious service organized as sign of support to Serbs in Montenegro was held on Thursday in Bratunac. Numerous citizens of Montenegro attended religious services and processions against the Law on Freedom of Religion held throughout this country.

 

Colak, RS political parties do not think DF’s proposal of changes to Law on Elections of B&H is acceptable (EuroBlic)

 

Zeljko Komsic’s DF delivered its proposal of changes to the Law on Elections of B&H along with amendments to the Constitution of B&H to the parliamentary procedure and this proposal was almost immediately welcomed by SDA. At the same time, HDZ B&H’s Barisa Colak said that the proposal is opposite to rulings of the Constitutional Court of B&H on the constituent status of peoples and would result in domination of Bosniaks. Delegate in the House of Peoples of B&H Dusanka Majkic (SNSD) said that “anything coming from DF is unacceptable” and went on to say that Komsic proposes anything “to continue faking multi-ethnicity and to continue paying back his debt to Bosniaks for his election as the member of the Presidency of B&H”. Chair of the Serb Caucus in the parliament of B&H Nenad Stevandic said that DF’s proposal is unacceptable and he added: “Those are dreams about unitary B&H and an attempt to realize all those resources that are against stay of Croats or Republika Srpska (RS) sovereignty through back door”. Spokesperson for PDP Anja Petrovic said that PDP is still not familiar enough with DF’s proposal but, judging from media reports, it is obvious that a part of it is related to political relations in the Federation of B&H and, in this context, it is up to political parties from the Federation of B&H to reach an agreement. “However, what we are extremely interested in is introduction of modern technologies and this too was mentioned in DF’s proposal,” Petrovic said and added that PDP advocates essential changes to the Law on Elections of B&H that would prevent manipulations and express true will of citizens, primarily in terms of scanning of ballots. Petrovic concluded that it is necessary to be very careful when it comes to constitutional changes, because those require consensus and “any interference with constitutional status of the RS is out of question for us”. SDS leader Mirko Sarovic said that any proposal which stipulates greater changes to the Law on Elections of B&H does not stand great chance to get the majority necessary to adopt the changes. “This is the election year and the greater the changes, the slimmer the chances are for their adoption,” Sarovic said and assessed that, for the time being, only proposals on three or four key changes to the law might get the support. Sarovic explained that he is primarily referring to changes concerning returning of mandates to political parties, scanning of ballots, introduction of electronic surveillance, solving of issue of voting by mail etc.

 

Picula: EU must establish clear criteria and invariable indicators of progress (Dnevni list)

 

“The EU must establish clear criteria and invariable indicators of progress throughout the accession process,” said Member of European Parliament and EP Rapporteur for Recommendations on the Western Balkans, Tonino Picula commenting on the European Commission’s proposal of the new accession methodology. During the debate in EP’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Picula assessed that these are concrete proposals for solving of dilemmas that certain EU members have regarding the continuation of the enlargement process. “We hope the presented methodology will bring new momentum to the enlargement process and enable us to re-establish credibility in the region, which we lost by the Council’s decision not to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia,” stressed Picula. He said that social-democrats in the EP always insisted that enlargement to the Western Balkans is winning combo for both sides and investing in peace, democracy and prosperity of entire Europe. “If we want our Union to have geopolitical influence then it is clear that we first have to focus on our closest neighbors,” said Picula. He called on the EU to respond as soon as possible to the countries’ fulfillment of the conditions set out in the accession process and to respond to them accordingly.

 

Tegeltija comments on new methodology of EU accession negotiations (FTV)

 

B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Chairman Zoran Tegeltija (SNSD), commenting on the new methodology of the EU accession negotiations presented in Brussels on Wednesday and its importance for B&H, said that this methodology is yet another chance for B&H and it conveys a message that the EU’s doors are not closed for B&H. He assessed that this is positive since the EU accession process is one of the highly supported issues among B&H citizens, which sets an obligation before B&H politicians to work on meeting of conditions on the EU path. Tegeltija reminded that B&H CoM is fully committed to this issue, concluding that B&H authorities could meet several important measures that would show B&H’s credibility in the EU accession process until the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May. Commenting on mutual accusations between the ruling structures and the opposition in RS regarding the Program of Reforms of B&H or the Annual National Program (ANP) for NATO, Tegeltija stated that the ANP was one of B&H’s obligations and B&H replaced the ANP with the Program of Reforms. He explained that the Program of Reforms of B&H defines all the obligations B&H CoM and RS and the Federation of B&H governments need to meet, announcing that B&H CoM will be meeting its part of obligations with full responsibility.

 

Opinions on new EU enlargement methodology divided in B&H (N1)

 

Politicians in B&H have different opinions regarding the recently presented the European Commission’s proposal of the new EU enlargement methodology. Reporter commented that the new methodology is a sign that the EU enlargement process will not be interrupted, adding that it is still not clear what will be conditions of further negotiations between B&H and the EU. MP in B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Nikola Lovrinovic (HDZ B&H) said that the proposal of the new methodology reads that there will be imposing of some sort of sanctions against countries failing to fulfill their obligations concerning the EU accession. Reporter noted that considering the fact the EU path of B&H has been blocked for more than a year, applying of the new methodology would not be positive for this country. Namely, the European Commission (EC) has issued earlier 14 recommendations B&H needs to implement in order to get the status of the EU candidate country. However, B&H failed to implement any of these measures. Reporter noted that this could be changed soon. Namely, B&H Parliament’s Joint Commission for the European Integration has appointed on Thursday members of the delegation in the Parliamentary Board for Stabilization and Association and forwarded this decision for confirmation to Collegiums of B&H HoR and B&H House of Peoples (HoP). Work of this body that would monitor all executive bodies working on the EU accession process would represent fulfilling of one of 14 abovementioned recommendations. Reporter commented that not all politicians in B&H are optimistic in regard to the latest signals the EU has been sending to the countries of the region. Member of the Commission for the European Integration Sasa Magazinovic (SDP) stated that B&H has to fulfill unreasonably complex conditions to make first step towards the EU. “Those 14 conditions we need to fulfill in order to get the status of the EU candidate country cannot be implemented. There are at least three or four conditions requiring changes of the Constitution,” explained Magazinovic. Leader of PDP and member of the abovementioned commission Branislav Borenovic stated that the ruling coalition in B&H managed to form all institutions and they do not have excuses to fail to fulfill conditions set by the EC. Lazar Prodanovic (SNSD) emphasized that it would be a good thing if B&H would manage to implement at least some of the EC’s recommendations before the EU Summit scheduled to be held in May in Zagreb.

 

Inzko meets Reynders to discuss state of affairs in B&H judiciary (Hayat)

 

During his visit to Brussels this week, High Representative Valentin Inzko met with European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders to discuss the current state of affairs in B&H judiciary, and the lack of respect for the rule of law in the domestic political arena. Hayat quoted Inzko as saying: “The rule of law must be dramatically strengthened, and the fight against corruption should become a real priority if B&H is to become a stable and prosperous democratic country built on solid foundations. These are the areas where the politicians’ sincerity should be judged when it comes to their declared commitment to the EU accession path.” Inzko further emphasized that if B&H wants to move forward and stop the drain of its population, it has to vigorously tackle the challenges related to the rule of law.

 

Cvijanovic discusses security challenges with Wilson (ATV)

 

RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic held a meeting with Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council Damon Wilson in Washington on Thursday. They discussed the current security challenges in the RS and B&H, as well as in other countries of the Western Balkans. They also discussed the military future of B&H. Cvijanovic also held a meeting with Commander of the Maryland National Guard Timothy Gowen at the Pentagon on Wednesday. During the meeting with Wilson, the RS President underlined that she is convinced that cooperation with the US in regard to security will be resumed in the upcoming period. RTRS also reported on Cvijanovic’s meeting with Gowen and added that they discussed the possibility to improve cooperation between the RS institutions and state of Maryland, with focus on civil cooperation that implies civil protection exercises, cyber security and exchange of students and academician staff.

 

Plenkovic again invites Pope Francis to visit Croatia (Hina)

 

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday invited Pope Francis to visit Croatia, expressing hope the visit would happen at the right time even though the pope usually visits smaller European countries without a Catholic majority, and as for the canonization of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the pope’s key message was “patience”. “I’m glad that we were received by Pope Francis today… I hope that he will visit Croatia at the right time,” Plenkovic told reporters after meeting with the pontiff and the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. After the audience, which lasted about 20 minutes, the Croatian PM and the pope exchanged gifts.

Asked by reporters if today they had again discussed the canonization of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Plenkovic said that during their brief meeting they mentioned that topic as well.

“The position of the government and, I can say, the entire Croatian people, is that our expectations and wishes are well-known, there is nothing new about that. We expect the entire procedure to be completed within the Catholic Church, as it should. The message we received is ‘patience’,” said Plenkovic. One of the topics of the meeting between the Croatian PM and Pope Francis was ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, notably in the context of two important events held as part of Croatia’s EU presidency – a meeting with representatives of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of the EU and the Conference of European Churches, and the international conference “Human Fraternity – the Foundation of Security and Peace in the World”, organized by the Muslim World League, the leadership of the Islamic Community in Croatia and the Croatian Bishops’ Conference. “I think that the message we have sent through our presidency is that we are not only using the very good model of relations between the Croatian authorities and the Islamic community in Croatia but that that model can serve as an example to other European countries,” said Plenkovic. Plenkovic and Pope Francis also discussed topics related to Croatia’s EU presidency and the pope’s global role, given that Plenkovic today visited the Vatican, for the second time during his term, also in his capacity as the prime minister of the country chairing the EU. Among those topics were the topic of migrations, ways of preventing illegal migrations and regulating legal ones, the fight against poverty and social exclusion, demographic challenges in Europe and joint efforts in fighting climate change. Asked if they had discussed EU enlargement considering that the pope had visited Albania and North Macedonia, Plenkovic said that that topic had been mentioned as well, notably during the meeting with Cardinal Parolin, and that he had told them that the EU-Western Balkan summit, to be held in Zagreb in May, would send a strong message to neighboring countries regarding the prospect of their EU membership. This has been met with approval because we share the view that reform processes and the process of fulfilling the necessary standards can be encouraged only with a proactive policy and involvement, said Plenkovic. He said that he expected the issue of opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania to be resolved ahead of the summit, notably after yesterday’s report and proposal by the European Commission for a reform of the methodology of accession talks. As regards Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was also discussed during the meeting, Croatia attaches great importance to relations with that country, notably with regard to the status of Croats as an equal, constituent ethnic group, he said. “We have the Holy See’s understanding regarding that topic,” he said.

 

DF rejects Prime Minister’s call for dialogue (Dan)

 

Accepting the call for dialogue is not an option, DF members have said, commenting on Dusko Markovic’s call for dialogue aimed at overcoming divisions. DF member, Slaven Radunovic, said that the call for dialogue was seen as a desperate attempt of man who “is aware that he’s embarked on the Titanic”. “Only completely incompetent person could accept Markovic’s call and give some oxygen to his government,” said Radunovic. Socialist People’s Party representatives reiterated to be ready for the dialogue, provided that church issue is the first item on the agenda. United Montenegro is willing to talk, Goran Danilovic pointed out, but added that there had to be certain order. Assistant CEO of Dan, Nikola Markovic, said he would accept the call and added it should have happened much earlier. Markovic said he would state objections to media ambiance. He stressed that the country was obliged to provide free and safe work of the media. President of the Board of Directors of Vijesti, Zeljko Ivanovic, said in his letter to the PM that he would come to the meeting.

 

Dialogue and consensus necessary (RTCG)

 

Dialogue, consensus and mutual tolerance are indispensable to Montenegrin society, said Social Democratic Party (SDP) President Draginja Vuksanovic, adding the party would later declare its stance regarding Prime Minister Dusko Markovic‘s call for dialogue. Vuksanovic confirmed that she received an invitation from Markovic, who invited all relevant political and social actors to dialogue on issues that he said would help overcome divisions and find a common denominator in the interest of citizens and the European perspective of the state. “The SDP has received an invitation from Markovic. We will take a stand and the public will be informed in a timely manner as well as the Prime Minister,” Vuksanovic said at a press conference in the Parliament of Montenegro building. She said that the SDP, as a democratic and European party, has always been and remains committed to dialogue. “The same will also be the case this time, of course, if we estimate that there is a serious political intention to solve major political and institutional problems in society during an election year,” Vuksanovic said. She said the SDP supports the recent statement by European Union Ambassador Aivo Orav that dialogue and consensus are true European values. “We believe that dialogue, consensus and mutual tolerance are something that is essential for this society and we will fight for it to happen,” Vuksanovic said.

 

Kemp: All parties to get involved in the dialogue (RTCG)

 

British Ambassador to Montenegro Alison Kemp says it is essential that all parties get involved in the inclusive dialogue as soon as possible, commenting on the events following the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion. She finds similarities between the situation in Montenegro and the Brexit. Kemp understands it’s a very emotional issue, having a lot to do with the sense of citizens’ identity. “I appreciate commitment of the orthodox church to keeping the protests peaceful,” the Ambassador said. She recognizes the efforts that the police devote and reminds that the police said today that they would stop safeguarding religious processions. “Montenegro has to find balance between police work and protection of fundamental freedoms,” said Kemp.

Speaking about hybrid threats, Ms Kemp said it was nothing new. “It’s important to work on the freedom of media and responsibility the media assume in reporting data,” Kemp said. Regarding the forthcoming elections and hybrid threats, Kemp says nothing would surprise her. Montenegro’s NATO accession was very important. “Montenegro makes considerable contribution to the Alliance. We are proud to be part of NATO, together with you,” Kemp said.

The Ambassador said that Great Britain would continue to support Montenegro on its EU path. She added that rule of law was key question in the EU accession process. Commenting on Britain leaving the EU, Kemp said that Brexit had provoked a great deal of excitement. “A very challenging period lies ahead,” Kemp concluded.

 

US Embassy: All parties should engage in a constructive dialogue (CDM)

 

The US Embassy urges all parties to engage in a constructive dialogue over the religious freedom law.  We continue to call on all sides to show restraint and avoid any escalatory or violent actions. The US strongly supports fundamental freedoms such as speech, association, assembly, and the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their freedom of religion and belief. We also respect the rights of all sovereign countries to pass and implement laws consistent with democratic norms and free from foreign interference. In an effort to fully understand issues of importance to Montenegrins, US Embassy officials routinely meet with individuals from all parts of society, including from civil society and religious communities. As friends, partners, and allies, the US strongly supports Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and is committed to the country’s long-term security and prosperity.

 

It’s official: Coalition between Alliance and Alternative for April elections (Republika)

 

The Alliance for Albanians and Alternative will jointly run in the early parliamentary elections scheduled for 12 April. In a public address, the leader of the Alliance for Albanians, Zijadin Sela, confirmed that they had received written consent by Afrim Gashi, the leader of the Alternative political party, to from pre-election coalition for the 12 April elections.

“Unfortunately, we have no answer from the other parties. From this moment on we have a pre-consent for a coalition for 12 April. There is no turning back. As President of the Alliance for Albanians, I inform you that we will have a coalition with Alternative. In the meantime, we remain open to all other parties interested in reinforcing and uniting the Albanian vote and maximizing the Albanian offer in the 12 April elections, but also in the period after 12 April,” Sela said.

 

Von der Leyen: Optimistic for EU new enlargement plan (Radio Tirana)

 

The President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen expressed her optimism about the new EU enlargement plan, stressing that it would pave the way for opening accession negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia. “A very good message to our Western Balkan friends about the EU enlargement process,” said Von der Leyen. “Today the European Commission proposes a credible and dynamic plan for opening accession negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia,” she said in a Twitter post, stressing that EU enlargement is a win-win situation.

 

Varhelyi: EU should fulfill its commitment to the candidate countries (Radio Tirana)

 

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said that he would work to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and that the European Commission would present the economic development and investment plan for the Western Balkans ahead of the Zagreb summit. “We need to engage more in the Western Balkans, at all levels. We want to involve more member states in monitoring and reviewing progress,” he said. “The accession process must be based on strong and mutual trust. The focus on fundamental reforms will be strengthened, while the EU must meet its commitment when the candidates meet the conditions,” Varhelyi said.

 

Rama meets with Secretary Pompeo (Radio Tirana)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is on official visit to the United States, where he was received by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Rama’s meeting with the White House’s number two also came in the capacity of the Head of the OSCE Mission, where Albania has been its leader since January 2020. A video posted on PM Rama’s Facebook account reveals plans for a meeting and a handshake between him and Secretary. Meanwhile, Albanian President Ilir Meta attended the official dinner hosted at the State Department by Pompeo with the International Alliance for the Protection of Religious Freedoms. During his speech, President  Meta said that “Albania will continue to be an example of interfaith harmony and an active supporter of the Alliance, adding that” Together with the U.S and our partners, through the Declaration of Principles, we have strengthened our joint commitment to protect and to promote freedom of religion as a fundamental human right and to oppose any form of violence and its violation wherever it occurs,” Meta said.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Serbian Authorities’ Intervention Ends Migrant Camping at Hungarian Border (Hungary Today, by Ábrahám Vass 7 February 2020)

 

Yesterday, a group of refugees and migrants set off from Serbia and reached Hungary’s southern border at Tompa-Kelebija to go on to Western Europe. The peaceful crowd, following hours of stalemate, was transported away by Serbian authorities. The group, consisting mostly of Syrians and Afghans, was planning to head to the border from Szabadka (Subotica). As this had long been known, the Hungarian police closed that border in the daytime and lined up on the Hungarian side. According to some of the participants, later confirmed by Serbian defense minister Aleksandar Vulin, the march was organized through social media groups. During the march, the Serbian police did not intervene while demonstrators, with children among them, carried banners stating: “our children deserve better,” “let us get through in peace,” “we are refugees, not criminals.” On the spot, Vulin commented that he doesn’t want the refugees to ruin the “good neighborly relations” between Serbia and Hungary. He claimed that some groups of refugees and migrants in Serbia are being misled by fake footage and rumors about opening the Hungarian border. According to him, illegal immigrants should stay in the reception centers and should be grateful to Serbia for welcoming them. He also said that certain Middle-Eastern people don’t want to be mixed in the shelters because of ethnic conflicts. Liberal HVG put the total number of people around 300, while pro-government public channel M1’s on-site correspondent claimed that the number of refugees and migrants might have peaked at around 400-500. According to reports, the refugees and migrants were peaceful throughout, and the group’s organizers told them that they wouldn’t tolerate “vandalism.” The group’s goal was to cross the border peacefully before moving on towards inner Europe. One person told M1 that they did not intend to stay in Hungary. While most of them were visibly prepared to spend the night there, according to Index, about 15-20 buses arrived together with numerous Serbian police at around 1 in the morning, who soon began to direct people onto the vehicles. According to local Pannon RTV’s report, none of them resisted and they followed the instructions peacefully. Buses eventually left the border area by two o’clock, and at around 7 in the morning, the border crossing’s operation resumed.

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