Vucic: I hope there is a possibility of reaching a compromise solution to the Kosovo problem (Tanjug)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Monday met with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, highlighting the very good bilateral relations and Italy’s support on Serbia’s European path. Vucic noted the two countries maintained a long tradition of good and friendly relations and that Italy was one of Serbia’s most significant political partners in Europe, as well as one of its most significant economic partners for several years now. “It is Serbia’s second-largest external trade partner and its second-largest export market (after being the largest until the end of 2018), as well as its fourth-largest import partner,” Vucic said, noting that Italy was also one of the largest investors in the Serbian economy. The two parties discussed the situation in the region and the standstill in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue following the introduction of taxes on Serbian goods. Vucic noted Serbia was ready to continue discussions and the dialogue with Pristina immediately after the lifting of the taxes and expressed the hope there was a possibility of reaching a compromise solution to the problem. “Italy is a friend of Serbia on the European path and we will do everything to accelerate the accession process. The Western Balkans is a key factor of EU enlargement,” an official statement quoted Di Maio as saying. Di Maio congratulated Vucic on Serbia’s economic results, in particular concerning the reduction of the jobless rate, new technologies and the inclusion of young people in those processes.
Di Maio: Greater EU support and mediation was needed in finding a solution to the Kosovo problem (Tanjug/RTS)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic expressed her gratitude to Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio for his continued support for Serbia’s European integration and for his continued commitment to the enlargement agenda within the EU. Brnabic said that she expects the fourth joint session of the two governments to be held soon, at which cooperation on innovation and start-up entrepreneurship, science and research could be discussed. Di Maio said that there is a special connection between the two countries and peoples and that, therefore, Italy’s support on many issues is a strategic partnership of our countries is natural. He said that Italy supports Serbia’s European path, both because of the results achieved in the reforms implemented and the fact that Serbia is an important factor of stability in the Western Balkans region. The Italian Foreign Minister conveyed his country’s support for the continuation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, and assessed that greater EU support and mediation was needed in finding a solution.
Brnabic expressed her gratitude to Italy for the presence of Italian soldiers within KFOR, which is of great importance for the safety and security of Serbs and all citizens living in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as for the preservation of our religious sites.
Dacic: Serbia wants to know whether or not there will be EU enlargement (Beta/Tanjug)
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio met in Belgrade with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. After the meeting, Di Maio and Dacic addressed the media in a joint conference.
Dacic said Serbia wants a clear response from the EU about whether or not there will be enlargement to the Western Balkans. “It’s important for us to know whether or not the EU will go into further enlargement. That is why our request to Italy is to get a clear answer whether the EU wants Serbia or not. No bad feelings, we just to know what the situation is,” Dacic said after his meeting with the Italian Minister. Dacic said this was important because there are many bilateral problems in the region, for the solving of which the European future of the Western Balkans is important. Di Maio said that EU’s enlargement to the Western Balkans was crucial for Italy and that Rome is pointing this out to all EU members. “I believe that at a time when the EU is facing Brexit, it’s good to expand its horizons. We will do everything we can to make the EU clearly commit to enlargement,” Di Maio said.
Selakovic: Serbia’s constitutional obligation is to protect Serbs in the diaspora (RTV)
The Law on Freedom of Religion has caused revolt of the people in Montenegro who doesn’t agree with these legal solutions that directly affect the issues of the church, its property and their, above all, religious but also civil rights and freedoms, Serbian President’s General Secretary Nikola Selakovic told Radio and Television of Vojvodina (RTV). “There is no orchestrated attack from Serbia on the events in Montenegro, because we recognize Montenegro as a sovereign and independent state and we are trying to reach the best possible solution for both sides,” said Selakovic. He says that Serbia has the constitutional obligation to help and take care of its people outside the mother country, and it will offer every kind of expert and legal aid so the position of Serbs would not be endangered, as is the case now. He notes that relations between Serbia and Montenegro have not been the best since 2006, when Montenegro declared independence from the common state and that the current presidents have not officially met either in Belgrade or in Podgorica. Commenting the parliament decision on the amendment of election conditions and the reduction of the census from five to three percent, Selakovic says that at issue is worsening of conditions for the strongest political party and this is the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Speaking about election conditions, Selakovic underlines they are far better today than they were in 2012, when the present opposition had far more media inclined to them than what was the case when the SNS took power because they didn’t have one single media ‘om their side’ at the time. Speaking about the future meeting between Serbian President Vucic and Angela Merkel, Selakovic reminds that they probably will not discuss the resolution of the Kosovo problem at that meeting, but will discuss the methodology of the solution for Kosovo and Metohija. The fact is that there has been a deadlock in the negotiations over the introduction of taxes, and it is not realistic to expect the negotiations to resume until this is resolved, regardless of the fact that the Kosovo authorities are requesting that we stop with the political activities and lobbying for withdrawal of recognitions of Kosovo independence.
Serbia’s military delegation had to take off uniforms to enter Montenegro (Sputnik/Tanjug/B92)
Montenegrin authorities have not allowed a Serbian military delegation, led by Minister Aleksandar Vulin, to enter Montenegro wearing Serbian uniforms. According to Sputnik, it happened on the eve of the travel to Rovca near Kolasin, where the Serbian defense minister was supposed to lay a wreath at Pavle Bulatovic’s monument today. Belgrade media reported that the Montenegrin authorities first issued a permit to the Ministry of Defense delegation Monday afternoon, implying that they are allowed to tome to Kolasin in uniforms. However, during the evening, they called our ambassador to Podgorica, Vladimir Bozovic, for an emergency meeting, telling him that the permit for uniforms was no longer valid. Vulin denied to Tanjug that speculations that a Serbian Army delegation had been halted at the border crossing with Montenegro, but confirmed that Montenegrin authorities did not allow a Serbian military delegation, headed by him, to enter Montenegro dressed in Serbian uniforms. Vulin attended a holy liturgy at the Kostrikovaca Monastery in Rovci near Kolasin, marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of federal minister of defense of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Pavle Bulatovic. The Holy Liturgy was served by the Metropolitan of the Montenegrin-coastal Amfilohije, and the liturgy was attended by members of the family of Pavle Bulatovic and numerous citizens.
RS Ministry of Agriculture: B&H CC reached decision declaring Article 53 of RS Law on Agricultural Land unconstitutional for purely political reasons (O kanal)
The Republika Srpska (RS) Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management has stated that the Constitutional Court (CC) of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) “for purely political reasons” reached the decision declaring Article 53 of the RS Law on Agricultural Land unconstitutional. The RS Ministry of Agriculture added that under the Constitution of B&H, B&H does not have its property, “but property belongs to the entities.” “The Constitution of B&H does not in any way give exclusive right to B&H, nor does it give authority to any B&H body to regulate property rights on agricultural land through legislative or other normative activity” reads a statement issued by the RS Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management. According to the RS Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, the CC of B&H made a ruling in three cases back in March and April of 2017 and October of 2018, which confirmed that the agricultural land was not subject to privatization and is property of the RS.
Dodik, other RS politicians strongly oppose ruling of B&H CC (EuroBlic)
Following the decision of the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H to proclaim the Article 53 of the RS Law on Agricultural Land as unconstitutional, deputy speaker of the RS parliament Milan Petkovic stated that it is obvious that B&H CC discussed something that does not fall under its jurisdiction and violated the RS’ competencies. “The RS Constitution stipulates that all property and obligation matters are entirely under the competencies of the RS and the RS is the one that protects its property. Should this decision (of B&H CC) be respected and should agricultural land be registered to B&H, this would mean forcible taking away of land of the RS, similar to what is being done in Montenegro by a law, while here it is being done by a decision of the court. I think this is a form of revision of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) done through B&H CC”, Petkovic added. Professor at the Faculty of Law in Banja Luka Vitomir Popovic stated that the disputable ruling of B&H CC must be publicly rejected and added: “The DPA is stronger than their laws”. Popovic argued that the state has no jurisdiction over agricultural land of the RS because a clear line was drawn: “It was stated that it is a public property, but of the RS”. Lawyer from Banja Luka Zeljko Bubic said that this is a continuation of rulings which are being made against the RS and added that even the manner in which the ruling was rendered and voting carried out was disputable. Bubic said that it is clear that court decisions must be respected but, if the current stance is maintained, a significant part of agricultural land might be taken away as a consequence and deciding on this matter might be transferred onto the level of B&H. “Pure depriving of the RS through judicial institutions,” Bubic assessed and reminded of past initiatives to establish a ministry of agriculture at the level of B&H. Serb member of the Presidency of B&H and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik stated that B&H CC is “a place of manipulation” and reminded that agricultural land is not one of competencies of B&H. “B&H CC cannot be a constitution-maker and grant rights,” Dodik said and argued that B&H CC is violating the Constitution. The daily reminded that then Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the RS Boris Pasalic stated in March last year that changes to the Law on Agricultural Land of the RS would enable tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land to be registered to the RS and be put at disposal of agricultural producers. “Once we solve this by laws, we will be able to fully solve the issue of concessions, rent and use of this land,” Pasalic added. Meanwhile, leader of SDA and Deputy Speaker of B&H House of Peoples Bakir Izetbegovic congratulated seven delegates in the RS Council of Peoples (CoP) because of their successful motion before the Constitutional Court of B&H (CC). FTV reminded that on Friday, the B&H CC declared unconstitutional the Article of the RS law, through which the “authorities of the RS entity tried to appropriate the public agricultural land as state property”. According to FTV, “in elaboration of this decision, the Constitutional Court noted that this law is contrary to the provisions of B&H Constitution, which establishes sole competence of the state in disposing with the state property, including public agricultural land”.
Zaimovic: If HDZ B&H does not change rigid stance regarding Election Law, we will not have Federation of B&H government for long time (Dnevni avaz)
Speaker of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina House of Representatives (Federation of B&H HoR) and Vice President of SDA Mirsad Zaimovic said that when it comes to the procedures the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliament could appoint the new Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Government in a month, but he underlined that this appointment is solely the matter of political deals. He underlined that delegations of parties are discussing the Government formation and SDA Collegium received weekly updates about the process. “Unfortunately, the problem still lays in a rigid stance of the HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) leader Dragan Covic concerning the changes of Election Law”, said Zaimovic. He underlined that if HDZ B&H’s stance remains as rigid the Federation of B&H authorities will not be formed for a long time. “The known changes of the Election Law which HDZ B&H advocates are unacceptable to us. I expect that HDZ B&H will stand down and come to realize that such hard stance is not good for anyone in the Federation of B&H,” said Zaimovic, saying that they explained it for many times why the HDZ B&H’s Law is unacceptable for them. He noted that the Federation of B&H Parliament is working in full capacity and that this situation with forming of the executive authorities is not affecting the MPs.
Varhelyi: Countries of Western Balkans need to be treated as future EU members (Dnevni avaz)
European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi presented the new enlargement strategy before the European Parliament in Strasbourg and noted that the EU has to restore the trust and credibility by treating the countries of the Western Balkans as future EU members. The Commissioner noted that with such approach the EU will have a realistic chance to make progress in relations with the countries of the Western Balkans in next few years, which will benefit the Europe as a whole. “I have to remind that we are strengthening and improving the process and the goal remains the same, which is accession and full membership in the EU”, said Varhelyi. The Commissioner noted that clear and tangible stimulants to reforms are necessary and the citizens should feel the benefit of accelerated integration if the countries turn towards successful implementation of priority reforms. He noted that the priority of the European Commission is to accelerate the process in the Western Balkans, but at the same time, to have the member-states assured that the process is reversible and that corrective measures can be undertaken if the country falls off the road of reforms. The Commissioner stressed that EC still proposes opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, which fulfilled their conditions and that it is time for the EU, as a credible partner, to meet their end of bargain. “It is our goal to increase presence in the Western Balkans, increase investing and contribute to closing of the gap of economic progress between us. We have to turn towards concrete measures, which we can undertake to benefit the investing in the Western Balkans for the sake of increase of the access to single market,” ended Varhelyi.
Covic visits Russia: Dialogue between B&H and Russian Parliament needs to be increased (N1)
Cooperation between B&H and Russia should be improved, Speaker of the B&H House of Peoples (B&H HoP) Dragan Covic and Chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko agreed during their meeting in Moscow on Monday. It was stated that Russia is one of the biggest investors in B&H with almost USD 900 million. Some international relations experts believe that in a strategic way the Balkan region is not very important for Russia, but other experts say that Russia uses its influence in this region to prevent accession of the countries in NATO. Matviyenko thanked Covic for the fact that B&H did not impose any sanctions to the Russian Federation and she emphasized that this move will allow the two countries to continue their successful cooperation. “There is a constant political dialogue between Moscow and Sarajevo, trade and economic cooperation is improving”, she said, adding: “Russia is one of the biggest investors in the country’s economy and our goal is to expand such interaction”. Both officials assessed this meeting as very useful. “I believe our relations are friendly. They are characterized by the lack of complex and open issues. However, by objectively analyzing the situation, there is currently no consensus in B&H in regard to implementation of our foreign policy,” Covic stressed. He believes that B&H and the Russian Federation must expand their cooperation, which includes strengthening the inter-parliamentary cooperation. “I believe it to be a privilege for B&H to have the Russian Federation as its partner,” Covic concluded. Covic announced that Matviyenko will again visit B&H in May, when she is supposed to take part in a session of the Association of European Senates.
Dzaferovic meets Secretary General of Muslim World League Al-Issa (Hayat)
Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic met Secretary General of the Muslim World League Mohammed Abdul Karim Al-Issa in Sarajevo on Monday. Dzaferovic informed Al-Issa about the political situation in B&H, its organization and foreign policy goals. It was stressed that the multiethnic composition of B&H can be used as a good example of cooperation and mutual respect and applied at a global level. Al-Issa announced that the Muslim World League will provide concrete help for the museum which will be built in the Memorial Center in Potocari. He stressed the necessity of cooperation among the different peoples in the Balkans, which will ensure lasting peace and prosperity. The officials expressed hope that the visit will contribute to strengthening of overall relations and intensifying of cooperation between B&H and the Muslim World League.
Programs of Happy and Pink M TVs limited owing to broadcasting hatred (CDM)
Council of the Electronic Media Agency has decided to limit re-broadcasting of “Good Morning Serbia”, “Cirilica” and “Posle rucka” TV shows on TV Happy, as well as “Novo jutro” on Pink M TV, for a three-month period owing to the promotion of hatred, animosity and discrimination directed at members of Montenegrin nationality. According to the Convention on Transfrontier Television and article 7 thereof, and Directive on AVM services and article 6 thereof, all items of program services, as concerns their presentation and content, shall respect the dignity of the human being and the fundamental rights of others. In particular they shall not display violence or incite racial animosity or give undue prominence to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality. “Considering that this is violation of standard, the Council concluded that the aforementioned program items incite hatred, animosity and discrimination directed towards Montenegrin people, coupled with offensive, degrading and disturbing language provoking intense negative emotions and undermining Montenegrin nation by negating their national identity,” it was said in a statement.
A Greater Serbian insurgency in Montenegro (RTCG/MINA)
In Montenegro, there is a Greater Serbian rebellion against state-building, civic, multi-ethnic, anti-fascist and Euro-Atlantic countries in addition to support of Serbia and Russia, the former coordinator of Movement for Independence Rade Bojovic said. He believes that under the excuse that religious and property rights of Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) have been threatened, there is a Greater Serbian insurgency against Montenegro. “In doing so, a united church-opposition action, aided by a help from abroad, is logically aimed against the hesitant and passive authorities that at last dared to ask – whose Montenegrin property is,” Bojovic told in an interview with MINA agency. Bojovic said there was an obvious intention in the background to destabilize Montenegro and open space for resuscitation of the policy that preceded 30 years ago that had already destroyed Montenegrin society. “From such an anti-Montenegrin and anti-civilization policy, Montenegro has not recovered yet, and thus would have a hard time surviving the new Greater Serbian administration,” Bojovic added.
New version of the PPO law put on fast track for adoption with a narrow vote of 63 in favor (Republika)
The parliament voted with 63 votes in favor of advancing the latest version of Zoran Zaev’s law on state prosecutors under an expedited procedure. Opposed to the motion were 32 MPs. The draft PPO law will now be sent before the European Affairs Committee of the parliament for approval, and if approved, back before the full house, where it will need 81 votes to pass. It’s unclear how quickly the parliament will push the proposal – the ruling SDSM party is in a hurry to adopt the law which critics say is tailor made to shield its leader Zoran Zaev from a serious investigation into his many corruption scandals. Zaev spent the last few days courting loose members of parliament, especially those from a group of bribed and blackmailed representatives he used to impose the name change in early 2019. But not all of them were declaring their readiness to vote for this proposal, indicating that furious haggling is going on in the background. Two ethnic Albanian opposition parties also joined the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE in its criticism of the law and they avoided the vote this evening. Some of the so-called “gang of eight” of bribed former VMRO-DPMNE representatives also voted against the proposal to expedite the law, or abstained from the vote. A version of the law was proposed after being approved by the government, but it was withdrawn after day long secret negotiations during which even SDSM coalition partner DUI had misgivings. Justice Minister Renata Deskoska insisted that the law contained some “minor technical issues” and had to be withdrawn. One of the changes that will be introduced in the new version is that ethnic Albanian parties will have veto over the appointment of the next organized crime prosecutor. The assistants made technical errors and when they were noted, an order was sent out that they are corrected, Deskoska said, trying to explain the chaotic situation in the parliament. Antonio Milososki from VMRO-DPMNE called the new proposal a forgery. The law is being proposed by the government, but Milososki observed that the government didn’t have time to meet and approve this new version. He warned speaker Talat Xhaferi that he is violating the law when he allows an obviously forged draft bill to be sent before the parliament. Ilija Dimovski from VMRO noted that the law will go into delayed effect of four and a half months, and will only begin to be implemented in the summer. This clause adds to the impression that Zaev is making sure he doesn’t face any kind of criminal scrutiny until well after the 12 April elections. Why the need to adopt this law urgently, under the expedited procedure in Parliament, if it has a delayed effect? This is all proof that chaos reigns and that some politicians are in a hurry to pass a law only to protect themselves, Dimovski said.
Varheyi warns against further delays in EU accession talks with Macedonia and Albania (Republika)
European Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varheyi asked the EU member states to approve the opening of accession talks with Macedonia and Albania ahead of the Council in May. Speaking before the European Parliament, Varheyi said that the new enlargement methodology is proposed and there is no more reason to postpone the accession talks. “We collectively have to regain trust and credibility. We have to treat our Western Balkan partners more and more as future Member States, which is our commonly agreed destiny. With this, we will have a real opportunity to make progress for the benefit of all,” Varheyi said. He warned that postponing the accession talks again would endanger the stability of the Balkans and open the region up for other foreign powers. Most groups in the European Parliament supported the idea, with the opposition coming from the nationalist groups, who are especially opposed to Albania, but also some criticism from the liberal-democrats. It was their grouping that blocked the opening of accession talks in October as both countries that blocked the talks, France and the Netherlands, are led by liberal-democratic politicians.
President urges Serbia’s Albanians to participate in elections (ADN)
President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta has encouraged all Presevo Valley’s political forces and Albanians living in Serbia to participate in the parliamentary elections of 2020.
In a press release, President of Albania has motivated Presevo Valley political forces and Albanians to unify their position, so as to maximize their role at future institutions at central and local level. Furthermore, he has expressed conviction that massive participation of Albanians in elections and political subject’s cooperation for Albanians’ representation will guarantee strengthening of Albanian population’s voice for completion of their legitimate requests and rights in Serbia. “President Meta encourages all the political forces of Presevo Valley and the entire Albanian population wherever it lives in Serbia, to take part in elections, to unify its positions, in order to maximize their role and contribution in the future institutions, as at central level, as well as at local level,” underlined the President.
Albania to fully support Kosovo recognition as a state (ADN)
Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, during the joint conference with new Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti, emphasized that he supports Kosovo 100%. According to the Albanian PM, he will also support Kosovo’s battle to move forward the process of full recognition and the ultimate affirmation as a sovereign and democratic country. “I’m pleased to welcome the delegation headed by Kosovo’s newly elected Prime Minister. I am glad that we have had an open, important, intense conversation about where we are and where we want to lead our relations, in terms of cooperation in all areas and with full engagement,” Rama said. Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti said that he will prove that through cooperation Albanians will get all the things they did not previously had. He said that he wants to co-operate with Albania and even set up an inter-state commission to continue implementation of 77 agreements and sign the new ones. According to Kurti, the inter-state commission will consist of MPs and ministers from both countries. “Thank you very much, Prime Minister Rama. I’m excited to be in Tirana. I want that in this third decade of the 21st century we have a strong start of Kosovo-Albania cooperation, one that has never been seen between our two countries. I wish to establish an interstate commission for those 77 agreements that have been signed so far, to be implemented and increase cooperation and coordination. On this occasion, I would like to thank Albania and the Albanian people for their unwavering support for Kosovo. Kosovo would not succeed in the war or in peace with Serbia without Albania. In the 21st century we want to move forward together, quickly, vigorously. We want to cooperate in terms of economics, productivity, education, security and foreign policy. These are areas where we have the same concerns,” said Kurti.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
U.S. Envoy Urges Kosovo To Drop Tariffs On Serbian Goods ‘With No Reciprocity’ (RFE/RL, 10 February 2020)
The U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, Richard Grenell, has urged Kosovo to drop tariffs on Serbian goods without introducing measures of “reciprocity” in trade, politics, and economy, his press officer told RFE/RL. “The ambassador is pushing for them to drop the tariffs with no reciprocity. So, Kosovo should drop the tariffs on Serbian goods, and not implement reciprocity. So, no reciprocal measures. Not just suspend the tariffs but drop them entirely,” Dick Custin said in a February 10 statement. The call by Grenell, who also serves as U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Germany, comes amid an international push for the two countries to establish diplomatic relations. In reaction to Grenell’s call, Deputy Prime Minister Haki Abazi told RFE/RL that the government’s position was that Serbia must stop “sabotaging” Kosovo statehood. “Reciprocity is a set of measures applied in international relations and this is a pragmatic approach, while on the Serbian side a commitment and a statement of stopping the campaign against new recognitions [of Kosovo’s independence] and sabotaging Kosovo’s statehood are expected.” Kosovo, a former Serbian province, unilaterally declared independence in 2008. The move has been recognized by more than 110 countries but not by Serbia. Both the European Union and United States have made reconciliation between the two countries a priority, saying it was key to economic development. But dialogue is stalled in part over Pristina’s imposition of the 100 percent tariffs in 2018.
Fajon: There is some progress in Serbia, but not the results we want to see (European Western Balkans, by group of authors, 11 February 2020)
Serbia turned the attention of the European Union to itself because of many concerning developments happening at the moment – the need for EU facilitated Inter-Party Dialogue last year, the boycott of the upcoming 26 April election by the opposition, the decline of the rule of law and freedom of the media, the slowdown in the European integration process, strong statements by the ruling party against the EU and its representatives, as well as the future choice of whether to opt-in to the new proposed enlargement methodology. EWB talked about these issues with the Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee Tanja Fajon (S&D).
European Western Balkans: Recently we can hear a lot of negative comments directed towards you by the members of the ruling party. Do negative comments discourage you when it comes to your work and future cooperation in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations?
Tanja Fajon: The negative comments that I hear I take more in the context of domestic political campaign. The politicians that are in many cases using narrative that is quite often dangerous or populist are doing that to get their domestic points. I don’t feel unwelcomed in Serbia, the opposite, I think we have a lot of things we share and common values and I am more disappointed when I see that we cannot reach any progress. We as European politicians coming to Serbia can sometimes be misused or manipulated for different interests. But nevertheless after my three visits to Serbia in the last couple of months my impression is – yes, there is some progress but we do not see the results we want to see. It is a difficult situation I would say, more that we are coming towards elections more tense it is. Sometimes I feel there are two parallel worlds, two parallel institutions, two parallel media and coming from the outside when you really want to help, support and facilitate in the talks between the opposition and the government, which was our role, it was not an easy talk. But I hope we brought some results. The time will show whether there is an implementation. There are promises done by the government, but we will have to see whether in reality there will be some changes especially when it comes to the freedom of media. How much we know the opposition is still in boycott. I would like to see that the next parliament will be really a place of democracy, where is possible to work and not that the opposition will again go to the streets. And of course I would also like to see progressive, democratic forces in the country join these elections.
EWB: We can see that the ruling party has almost completed the “implementation table” required in the European Parliament facilitated Inter-Party Dialogue held at the end of last year. Is that enough for the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for 26 April to be held in fair and democratic conditions?
TF: It is obviously not enough for the part of opposition that is still announcing the boycott. They claim that the conditions for the fair and democratic elections are not met. They claim there is no freedom of media – these are concerns we have to take seriously. And we are doing that. We will have an international observation mission that will be monitoring the elections and the European Parliament will be a part of the mission. But again, the EP Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimír Bilčík and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, we are here with the attempt to support, to facilitate and to establish better conditions. I regret to see that from December until today there is even more political parties on the side of the opposition saying – we will not go for an election. We made some progress, but the boycott is still there, the concerns about the freedom of media are strongly present.
EWB: Recently, we can hear different comments on reaching the conditions for a free and democratic elections from you and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi. Can different comments affect the ability of the EU to successfully assist in establishing fair electoral conditions?
TF: It often feels that the EU doesn’t speak with one voice. But the European Commission was very critical in the last report on Serbia, when it comes to the freedom of media, the rule of law in the country, corruption and so on. Commissioner Várhelyi very strongly stressed these criticism. I don’t think he meant that all conditions are met. But, he is closely following, he tries to understand and be of help to Serbia because we are all aware together that we need to see fair and democratic elections. We need to see that the citizens will go to the elections and feel safe and free how to cast their vote and will have at the end of the day political diversity and choice to vote for. For us, Serbia is a very important partner in the region, for the enlargement, for the stability and we are maybe in a crucial year of how the enlargement will go on. That is also why we are closely monitoring. If you remember the last country reports from the European Commission, we have clearly stated inside the Commission that in the region we see signs of captured state and captured media. We have to work against it to protect our democratic and pro-European values.
EWB: According to that, is the strong emphasis on the rule of law in the new proposal of the EU enlargement methodology an indication that the EU is concerned about the state of the rule of law in the countries with which accession negotiations are already underway under the existing enlargement methodology, in Serbia and Montenegro?
TF: The rule of law is the toughest nut for the whole region of the Western Balkans, as well as several member states of EU. We were already focused on the rule of law in accession process, opening Chapters 23 and 24 at the beginning of the process was exactly with the purpose because these are the most difficult chapters about fighting against corruption and organized crime and these are challenges that persist all over the region. I see the new enlargement methodology’s positives and negatives. It is clear that we need to bring some new dynamic in the enlargement process, it is clear we need more carrots and stick on both sides. And having this possibility throughout the process following the rule of law – I think it is crucial. Because this creates a healthy environment for things like economy or social issues. I also see positive the chance that we can be opening clusters sectorial – politics and integration on different levels. I see risk in the option of reversing the process or even stopping it. I do hope that the member states will sincerely continue with the enlargement process and first proof will be during the March Summit, where now in a short time after we developed a new methodology they will can have the political courage and willingness to start the accession negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania. Because we all recognize it was a historical mistake done last October.
EWB: When it comes to North Macedonia and Albania, do you think that this proposed change in the enlargement methodology will make skeptical member states change their minds and agree to open negotiations with these countries?
TF: It can be good for the enlargement starting in March if we get this signal from the EU that North Macedonia and Albania can start accession negotiations. We have the EU-Western Balkans Summit in May in Zagreb, so it can be a good year for the enlargement if we really show that the process goes on. We now have elections in North Macedonia and Serbia and we have to get stable, democratic governments that will really sincerely push the European reforms. I think that it is important that after several years and all the work North Macedonia and Albania have done, to start the accession process, because this will be a positive signal for the whole region.
EWB: Should Serbia and Montenegro adopt the new proposed methodology?
TF: The good thing of the new methodology is that it is up to them. It will not affect the accession process, they are already a part of it. But they are given the option if they want at point of time to enter into some sectorial policies, if in that way they can bring the benefits thinking about the economy and social issues, they can do so. I think this opt-out for the two countries is the positive side of the methodology.
EWB: Do you think that the two countries should use the new methodology in their interest and maybe as a boost for their reforms?
TF: They should use it in their interest, they should take the best out of new methodology which would make the progress towards the EU faster. Both countries are on a good way. I can imagine with the sincere commitment from the side of both governments the process can be faster, but of course we also need political willingness in the sight of EU, we need to see in the side of EU to have trust and confidence back. I think that in the last few years we have lost a lot of confidence and trust on both sides – in policies and in leadership of the countries. And of course in credibility whether we are able to deliver the results – when we give promises also then to respect and deliver out promises.
EWB: Did you expect that the EU enlargement process would go faster when you first became an MEP in 2009?
TF: I am an MEP for almost 11 years and I have been following the enlargement for much longer before as a journalist. It is very clear that with each next enlargement the process became more challenging, more politically difficult, more conditions were on the way and the process became slower. I remember that several times in the last 10 years we were mentioning the dates which have already passed and in that time only Croatia joined the EU. So it is clear that we lost a lot of precious time. One can doubt about the commitment and seriousness of the whole process. But I think we are coming with some new dynamism because the awareness on the side of EU governments is again there in a way that we need a stable region, that we are all part of Europe and that we need each other maybe more than ever before because we have big common challenges around us that we can strongly fight better like security, migration, climate, energy, instabilities in our region and unpredictable authoritarian leaders around us. I would be very disappointed if in the next five years when it’s my third mandate in the EU, we do not see any concrete progress in the side of acceleration of any of the countries on the Balkans towards the EU so I hope we will have some bright examples.
The interview was moderated by Aleksandar Ivković and Sandra Maksimović.
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