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Belgrade Media Report 14 February 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Thursday 14 February 2020

LOCAL PRESS

• Statements signed on intent on completing highway and renewal of railway between Belgrade and Pristina (RTS/Tanjug)
• Vucic: US firmly insisting on lifting of Pristina’s taxes (Tanjug/B92)
• Djuric: Serbian goods will reach faster our southern province (RTS)
• Stefanovic with Pinter: Serbia will not be bottleneck for migrants (Beta)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik and Covic hold meeting: Election Law and law that would eliminate foreign judges from B&H CC are two things that will be key to sustainability of B&H (ATV)
• Ambassadors of Quint countries meet with RS officials in B&H institutions in premises of B&H Presidency (Hayat)
• Dodik meets Russian Ambassador Ivantsov to discuss decision of RS officials (RTRS)
• EUD Head Sattler: B&H CC’s decisions need to be respected (N1)
• Dodik: RS has embarked on a path of secession from B&H, US will not stop us (RTRS/Sputnik/RTS)
• RS special parliament session to discuss information regarding anti-Dayton activity of B&H CC is supposed to take place on Monday (Hayat)
• RS officials start to implement decision not to take part in decision-making process in B&H institutions (RTRS)
• Izetbegovic: We will not accept ultimatums; OHR and B&H Prosecutor’s Office must react (Dnevni avaz)
• Federation of B&H politicians: We will not accept weakening of B&H CC (Hayat)
• Brnabic: Belgrade will protect Serbs’ rights in the region (O kanal)
Croatia
• Green MEPs claim Croatia forcibly returning migrants to B&H (Hina)
Montenegro
• Boskovic: Law on Freedom of Religion is a trigger for hybrid war against Montenegro (CDM)
Albania
• Meta: Kosovo and Serbia must resolve problems through agreement – border changes is not the solution (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• A New Approach: The EU and the Western Balkans (Visegrad Insight)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Statements signed on intent on completing highway and renewal of railway between Belgrade and Pristina (RTS/Tanjug)

 

The letter of intent for renewing the railway, as well as the statement on intent for completing the highway, between Belgrade and Pristina were sgiged today in Munich. The signing of documents was attended by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the US Special Representative Richard Grenell, and the President of Kosovo provisional institutions Hashim Thaci. The letter of intent was signed on behalf of Belgrade by the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric.

 

Vucic: US firmly insisting on lifting of Pristina’s taxes (Tanjug/B92)

 

The US is insisting very strongly and firmly on an urgent lifting of Pristina’s taxes on Serbian goods, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Thursday after meeting with US special presidential envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina talks Richard Grenell in Munich. These discussions are never easy for Serbia, he said. “The fact that the Americans are insisting very strongly and firmly that the taxes be lifted immediately, urgently, and that the discussions between us and Pristina be continued is exceptionally important,” Vucic told reporters. When it comes to negotiations with Pristina, he said it all depends on the abolition of taxes. “We sat with them in various venues, but formal negotiations depend on the abolition of taxes”, Vucic said, adding that it had nothing to do with the election campaign. “My idea is that when you go to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania, you have no borders, but that requires political stability,” Vucic says, adding that he is concerned about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the crisis broke out because of the Constitutional decision court that land in Republika Srpska belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Vucic told reporters that in his conversation with Grenell, he also expressed his belief that we would “all have the strength together to preserve peace and stability”. “I spoke with Milorad Dodik on the phone, he conveyed his position to me and I saw that everything that had happened hit him hard. We agreed to discuss this in more detail on Saturday”, Vucic said in Munich, where he will participate in the Security Conference tomorrow. He said that in his conversation with Dodik, regarding the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he sensed worry and concern, but also shared that concern with Dodik. He hopes that we will have enough strength to understand Bosniaks and everyone else, given that peace is a priority interest of all of us. “Anyone who thinks otherwise, counting people, heads, potential weapons, makes a terrible mistake. We don’t need that. I hope we can avoid bad scenarios, and at the same time be able to strengthen the economy further”, Vucic said. He rejected claims by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti that the Serbian authorities want to create a fourth Yugoslavia, saying that all he wants is to secure higher living standards for everyone who joins the mini-Schengen initiative, adding that Mr. Kurti knows neither the history of his own people, nor the history of the region. “My only goal is to secure the free flow of goods, people and capital and stronger economies for the region, both for the Serbs and Albanians, but unfortunately they don’t understand that in Pristina,” Vucic said, adding that they have conspiracy theories instead.

 

Djuric: Serbian goods will reach faster our southern province (RTS)

 

The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has told Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that at issue is a letter of intent, i.e. one political statement to renew the rail traffic between Belgrade and Pristina after 20 years. “This is something that will make our capital, the largest Serbian city Belgrade, closer with the largest city in our southern province. This is something, once realized, and this implies the renewal of the railway to Pristina via Podujevo to the Merdare administrative crossing, that Serbian goods will reach faster our southern province, while passengers and everything else will be much easier,” noted Djuric. He points out that this is also a political message. “The political message is that we want to connect with what is for us our southern province. Let us not forget that over 20,000 Serbs reside in the region of Gracanica, thus central Kosovo and Metohija. I think that, apart from our economy that will have undoubted benefit, that our fellow nationals in central Kosovo and Metohija could also have undoubted benefit,” says Djuric. Asked who will sign the letter on intent on the Pristina side, Djuric says there is no doubt that the side of the provisional institutions in Pristina voices political will to open the line. “From our side, the infrastructure is functional and ready, while due to war activities in Kosovo and Metohija and over theft of rail tracks, since several tens of kilometers of the rail is not in function under the management of the Pristina institutions, there will be a lot of work for those who should be working on the renewal of the railway,” concluded Djuric.

 

Stefanovic with Pinter: Serbia will not be bottleneck for migrants (Beta)

 

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic stated in talks with Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter, that Serbia would certainly not be a bottleneck where migrants would gather when they are unable to go to one of the EU states, and that the Interior Ministry was strengthening the capacity of border police, exactly in order to both prevent irregular migrants from entering Serbia and strengthen the external borders of Europe. Stefanovic discussed this issue with Pinter after they inspected the Horgos border crossing, the Interior Ministry has stated.

“For us, the establishing of firm control on our borders and the significant improvement of the capacity of border police to suppress all forms of crime, not just irregular migrations, is one of the absolute priorities of our country and, naturally, of the Interior Ministry in particular,” Stefanovic said. Pinter pointed out the excellent cooperation between Serbian and Hungarian police, recollecting that 20 Hungarian police officers were helping their Serbian colleagues as of January this year, in the suppression of irregular migration at Serbia’s border with Macedonia.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik and Covic hold meeting: Election Law and law that would eliminate foreign judges from B&H CC are two things that will be key to sustainability of B&H (ATV)

 

A meeting between the delegations of SNSD and HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) was held in the Administrative Center of the Republika Srpska (RS) government in Istocno Sarajevo on Thursday. Representatives of the two parties stressed that SNSD and HDZ B&H are determined to defend the constituent status of all peoples in B&H, adding that the Election Law and the law that would eliminate foreign judges from the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H are two things that will be a key to the sustainability of B&H. SNSD and HDZ B&H are seeking talks with the third side, i.e. the Bosniak side, but with no interference of foreigners. Until then, representatives of the RS in the B&H joint institutions will boycott the decision-making in the B&H joint institutions that HDZ B&H senior officials were informed about at Thursday’s meeting in Istocno Sarajevo. SNSD leader Milorad Dodik stressed that he is convinced that “what we are doing is not directed against anyone, including the Bosniak people.” Dodik stressed that it should be a political interest of the Bosniak people to persuade Serbs and Croats to be for B&H and not to make Croats and Serbs dissatisfied with their status in B&H through imposition of decisions through the international community (IC), High Representatives and the B&H CC. HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic asked how one can be satisfied when one does not have legitimate representatives. “How can you be satisfied when we have two Bosniak members in the Presidency today,” Covic asked. Leaders of SNSD and HDZ B&H agreed that foreign judges have no place in the B&H CC. “That is not a constitutional court, that is only called constitutional court. That is only camouflage for deception and swindle of the Serb and Croat people, and in that respect, it is clear that this issue will have to be solved. The foreign judges are proof that B&H is not a sovereign country” Dodik emphasized. Covic stressed that HDZ B&H, together with SNSD, at a meeting held in Banja Luka four or five years ago, stated that an expert team will be formed that would discuss ways to draft a law defining the work of the B&H CC that would be in the spirit of the Constitution of B&H. “I personally believe that this is one of the issues, at least when HDZ B&H is concerned, that should have been solved a long time ago,” Covic stressed. At the initiative of SNSD and HDZ B&H, a proposal will be submitted to competent authorities soon that will provide a way to eliminate the foreign judges from the B&H CC. SNSD and HDZ B&H will also submit changes to the B&H Election Law which, according to the representatives of the two parties, guarantee legitimacy of all peoples. Leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic did not hide his surprise with Thursday’s meeting between the delegations of SNSD and HDZ B&H. According to ATV, until the last moment, Izetbegovic hoped that HDZ B&H would not be a partner to SNSD when it comes to the departure of the foreign judges from the B&H CC. “I do not believe that Mr. Covic will follow such adventures of Mr. Dodik, but we will see if I am mistaken. We will defend the constitutional and legal order of B&H and the rule of law. There have been crises before and all crises were ultimately resolved,” Izetbegovic underlined.

 

Ambassadors of Quint countries meet with RS officials in B&H institutions in premises of B&H Presidency (Hayat)

 

An unannounced meeting between ambassadors of Quint countries and Serb representatives in B&H institutions was held in premises of the Presidency of B&H on Thursday. Hayat unofficially learns that the meeting was attended by ambassadors of the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy, as well as by member of B&H Presidency and leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik. The meeting ended without statements for the press, but it is assumed that participants discussed the blockade of work of the state-level institutions in B&H. The meeting comes a day after Serb representatives in the state-level institutions in B&H announced that they will not participate in the decision-making until the law on the B&H is amended in a way to exclude further work of foreign judges at the B&H CC, as a response to the latest decision of the B&H CC declaring unconstitutional the article of the law on agricultural land of RS which stipulates that this land belongs to the RS. The ambassadors of the USA, UK, France, Germany and Italy arrived at the meeting in the building of the B&H Presidency after Dodik invited them. Dodik informed them about all conclusions of Wednesday’s meeting of representatives of all political parties in the RS, which announced the suspension until the Law on B&H CC is changed. He informed them that this decision will be confirmed at the special session of the RS parliament which takes place on Monday.

 

Dodik meets Russian Ambassador Ivantsov to discuss decision of RS officials (RTRS)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik met Russian Ambassador to B&H Petr Ivantsov on Thursday for a work dinner. Dodik informed Ivantsov about the decision of RS officials to suspend participation in the decision-making process in B&H institutions. Dodik announced that the conclusions of the meeting will be confirmed at the special session of the RS National Assembly (RSNA), which will take place on Monday.

 

EUD Head Sattler: B&H CC’s decisions need to be respected (N1)

 

Head of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H Johann Sattler, commenting on the recent decision made by the B&H Constitutional Court (B&H CC) and the following reactions, said that decisions of the B&H CC are legally binding and need to be respected. “Decisions of the Constitutional Court are legally binding and final. What we see, we are speaking of certain moves from Banja Luka, but I have to stress that the rest of the country, including the Federation of B&H and the B&H level, are also not implementing a significant number of earlier decisions of the Constitutional Court. Failure to implement such decisions leads to legal uncertainty, legal vacuum. This is dangerous for the country and it has to stop,” Ambassador Sattler underlined. Sattler called on political actors to focus on B&H’s progress on the EU path and to refrain from activities aimed at divisions that could endanger vital reforms that are in the interest of citizens. “The EU expects B&H authorities to continue to work in the context of key priorities from the European Commission’s (EC) opinion, including those referring to the B&H CC,” Sattler stressed.

 

Dodik: RS has embarked on a path of secession from B&H, US will not stop us (RTRS/Sputnik/RTS)

 

Serbian Presidency member Milorad Dodik believes B&H will not exist next spring unless it returns to Dayton positions. He also said that RS has embarked on a path of secession from B&H, a road with no return. “We will do this and we will not be stopped by the United States or anyone else, because we believe that the Dayton Agreement has been broken, primarily by the intervention of an international factor” Dodik told reporters in East Sarajevo. He said that time would show how serious RS is in that regard, stating that RS has a choice between two options, one of which is to allow it to quietly disappear and be destroyed through a “lethal” package made by the international community and Bosnjaks’ parties in Sarajevo, RTRS reports. “In the first phase, it was realized through the High Representative and the imposition of a resolution, and now they are doing it through the Constitutional Court, covering it with the story of the rule of law. If it was a rule of law, three foreigners and foreign embassies would not be able to make decisions there,” he said. Dodik added that it is altogether necessary for “RS to do what it has to do”, Sputnik reports. “I want everyone in the RS to know – we have been pushed against the wall and we now have to decide whether to accept that these false U.S. and Western embassy claims keep us in the story of some principles and essentially undermining our rights, or that the RS does what it has to do”, Dodik said. Dodik stressed that neither he nor anyone else has the right to neglect the fact that 29.000 people gave their lives for RS and the freedom of its citizens. “The thing is, we made a vow that RS will survive,” Dodik said. He reiterated that RS cannot trust B&H. “B&H is a bad place and a place of no freedom for Serbs and RS. If there is no agreement for the parties to leave the Constitutional Court and put it into office, as in all other countries, then there is no B&H. You should bare that in mind,” Dodik emphasized. In light of recent developments in B&H and the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the law on public land, which led the Serb-majority leadership to pass a decision on blocking the decision-making process at the state level, Dodik emphasized that it would be best for the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina to split up and to create “something that would be a space for free movement of people and goods” since it is not possible to create a state that operates on the principle of two entities and three constituent peoples. “RS could choose between being drowned within few years through decisions of the Constitutional Court, which constantly rules against its (RS’) interests, or to take the path of its independence” Dodik told RTS. “Whatever they decide to do, they must now know that they have contributed to the launch of RS’s independence. We will not allow this to happen, this is the red line that has been crossed. The B&H Constitution clearly and explicitly prescribes the competencies of B&H, and it does not state anywhere that property falls within its jurisdiction,” Dodik said. Dodik concluded that he would discuss the issue with the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and ask for Serbia’s understanding for the situation that RS is currently facing, adding that the Constitutional Court of B&H is destroying the status of RS within B&H.

 

RS special parliament session to discuss information regarding anti-Dayton activity of B&H CC is supposed to take place on Monday (Hayat)

 

Upon the request of RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic, a session of the RS parliament Collegium will be held on Friday with a goal to establish the date of the urgent session of the RSNA dedicated to the discussion on the latest decision of the Constitutional Court of B&H (B&H CC) declaring part of the RS Law on Agricultural Land unconstitutional. There should be only one item on agenda of the abovementioned session: Information regarding anti-Dayton acting of the B&H CC. The special RS parliament session of to discuss the information regarding anti-Dayton activity of the B&H CC is supposed to take place on Monday. RS parliament speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic scheduled the session of the RSNA Collegium for Friday, when the decision on the exact date of the special session will be passed. Cubrilovic said that he received the formal request for the special session of the RS parliament by Cvijanovic and he started the preparations for it. He announced that the Collegium of the RS parliament will convene on Friday and he will propose the session takes place on Monday. Head of the SNSD Caucus in the RSNA Igor Zunic expects full unity of political parties of the RS at the RS special parliament session.

 

RS officials start to implement decision not to take part in decision-making process in B&H institutions (RTRS)

 

RS officials who have been elected and appointed to posts in B&H institutions started implementing the decision made unanimously by representatives of parties in the RS on the suspension of participation in the decision-making process in all B&H institutions made on Wednesday. The RS officials request changes to the Law on the B&H Constitutional Court (B&H CC) and the removal of foreign judges from the B&H CC. MP of SDS in the B&H Parliament Dragan Mektic announced on Thursday that he will not follow this decision. He added that he will not respect the decisions made by the RS parliament. “The land should have been returned to the real owners in the process of restitution and we would not have this problem,” said Mektic on Thursday. Sessions of several B&H level commissions and bodies were postponed and others took place but were cancelled. At the start of the session of the B&H House of People (B&H HoP) Constitutional Legal Affairs Commission (CLAC), representative of the Serb Caucus in the B&H HoP Sredoje Novic announced that he and Lazar Prodanovic will attend the session but they will not express any opinions on the final decisions of the commission. The joint session of both Houses of the B&H Parliament was postponed, while sessions of several other commissions of the B&H Parliament were finished in a short time and without results. Deputy speaker of the B&H HoP Nikola Spiric said that that the stance and reactions coming from the Federation of B&H are not in line with seeking compromise and this will not be good for anyone. Former member of B&H Presidency from rank of Serb people and honorary President of PDP Mladen Ivanic said that the decision of the B&H CC declaring part of the RS Law on Agricultural Land unconstitutional was unnecessary. Ivanic added that this decision represents continuation of practice that is detrimental for relations in entire B&H. He added that the RS authorities need to provide a response to such decision. Ivanic underlined that he is glad PDP cautiously supported the decision according to which the RS’ representatives will not participate in the decision-making process in B&H institutions. Acting President of DNS Nenad Nesic said that the B&H CC turned into an instrument in the hands of Bosniaks. “Everything they failed to do during the war, they are now trying to do via the CC, i.e. they are trying to dispossess the RS and make an empty shell from it in a way,” Nesic underlined.

 

Izetbegovic: We will not accept ultimatums; OHR and B&H Prosecutor’s Office must react (Dnevni avaz)

 

SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic spoke about the latest political crisis in B&H which started when RS representatives decided to boycott all decision-making processes in state institutions until foreign judges are removed from B&H Constitutional Court (B&H CC). Izetbegovic noted that B&H has just left a year-long blockade caused by SNSD leader Milorad Dodik, and it is already entering a new one. He expressed fear that this is a case of political mentality which can function only in conflict, and which cannot function basing on principles of equality without attempts of domination and ultimatums. Asked if Dodik’s behavior constitutes an attack on B&H Constitution and if he expects a reaction of the international community, Izetbegovic replied: “This is an attempt of silent coup d’état, continuation of killing of the state and its economy by failure to fulfill obligations. The international community, primarily OHR, but also B&H Prosecutor’s Office should have acted concretely and resolutely a long time ago. Their abeyance, their playing it safe and their cowardice encouraged such harmful and arrogant behavior. Flagrant, unambiguous and arrogant opposing and even mocking of B&H CC’s decisions and OHR’s authority passed without sanctions, and let us into this situation,” said Izetbegovic. He added that he believes that the patriotic bloc of SDA, SBB and DF can stop all attacks against the state. According to Izetbegovic, such blocs have been fighting off attacks against B&H for decades. Izetbegovic warned that if OHR and B&H Prosecutor’s Office run away from responsibility again and fail to react, B&H will face another long exhausting crisis. “B&H will not fall apart as some wish, we will not accept ultimatums and weakening of state institutions, they will not achieve anything except weakening of economy which will hit us all, but most severely those who are causing it. Namely, the economy of the Federation of B&H is significantly stronger than in the RS,” Izetbegovic emphasized. Commenting the role of HDZ B&H in the latest crisis, Izetbegovic said that HDZ B&H has already presented its demands regarding the Election Law, and it has two possible options now. The first option is for HDZ B&H to stand with pro-B&H parties and “stabilize situation in B&H together with us and representatives of the international community” which would relax relations between Bosniaks and Croats, and open path to braver compromises. The other option is for HDZ B&H is to cooperate with those who generate crisis in hope that such pressure would force patriotic bloc to give in to HDZ B&H and make concessions which HDZ B&H expects. However, underlined Izetbegovic, this second approach would only reduce room for compromise.

 

Federation of B&H politicians: We will not accept weakening of B&H CC (Hayat)

 

Leader of SDA and deputy speaker of B&H House of Peoples (HoP) Bakir Izetbegovic said that those in RS attempted to usurp agricultural land, adding that the Constitutional Court of B&H (B&H CC) prevented it with decision passed upon a motion filed by Bosniak delegates. “Now, they are asking us to weaken this court. We will not do it” explained Izetbegovic. He also stated that they will not allow domination of entities over the state of B&H. “If necessary we will enter a new crisis. The Constitution and rule of law will be respected in this country. Entire last year was unfortunately lost due to the attack on the rule of law,” explained Izetbegovic. Speaker of B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Denis Zvizdic (SDA) expressed hope that situation will not escalate and all sides will accept dialogue. “We have been living in this political ambient for long and are aware that blackmails and blockades cannot achieve solutions,” stressed Zvizdic. Zvizdic said that “pro-Bosnian forces will not accept the constitutional coup, directed by SNSD”.

Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic warned: “I would advise them to immediately stop with this kind of activity because that will then create a chain of events that will not be good for anyone in this country”. Our Party representative in B&H HoR Damir Arnaut stated that foreign judges are in B&H because of blockade mechanisms that exist in the Constitution of B&H and they cannot leave until B&H joins NATO and the EU. Arnaut said that foreign judges in the B&H CC are the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) category “same as entity voting and everything else in the Constitution of B&H.” Arnaut said that foreign judges should resume to participate in work of B&H CC until B&H becomes the EU and NATO member.

 

Brnabic: Belgrade will protect Serbs’ rights in the region (O kanal)

 

Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s Prime Minister, said on Thursday that the unstable regional situation does not suit Serbia, but that all problems should be solved through diplomacy, carefully, but added Belgrade would protect the currently endangered Serbs’ rights across the region. “We need a stable region to continue to develop and grow,” she told reporters and added that among other regional states, Serbia needs stability the most because the reforms it implemented returned good results. She added that Serbia had raised its credibility and that any instability was not functional. She recalled that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic invited Serbs from Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) for a meeting in Belgrade on Saturday. “He will talk to them about the best way we can help them, support them, but also how to calm the situation in the region down,” Brnabic added. Serbian Minister without portfolio in charge of innovations and technological development Nenad Popovic said that it is obvious that B&H institutions, with strong support of some Western countries, have launched destroying of RS and of its international position defined by the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). Popovic warned that forcible taking away of the RS’ competencies and property will continue.

 

Green MEPs claim Croatia forcibly returning migrants to B&H (Hina)

 

Speaking ahead of a plenary debate on the situation at the external borders of the European Union in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Green MEPs said it was unquestionable that Croatian border police were forcibly returning migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) in violation of legal procedures. “The only people who are insisting that illegal pushbacks are not happening in the EU’s largest external land border are the Croatian authorities” Green MEP Tineke Strik said in a report. “The UN agencies, the Croatian Ombudsman, civil society and migrants and asylum seekers we spoke to showed us clear evidence that this is happening,” she added. Last week Strik was on a fact-finding mission, along with her party colleagues Saskia Bricmont and Erik Marquardt, to Croatia’s border with B&H. In Zagreb, they met, among others, with Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, who denied their accusations. In B&H, they visited two refugee camps at Bihac in the northwest of the country and talked to local government officials, representatives of international organizations, activists and migrants.

In their report, the Greens demand that Croatia allow independent oversight of the conduct of the Croatian border police and that the European Commission investigate allegations of human rights violations. “People reported being beaten up by the Croatian police, being forcibly taken back to Bosnia and Herzegovina and given no information or denied access to the asylum system. Nearly 40% of the individuals pushed back are children,” Strik said in the report.

“Contrary to what the Croatian Government and the European Commission say, it is evident that there is no human rights monitoring mechanism. We call on the Croatian authorities to immediately start an independent monitoring, involving the Ombudswoman and civil society organizations, on the situation at the border. The Croatian government must examine all complaints and we urge the Commission to do a thorough investigation into the allegations and take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with European rules and fundamental rights.

“The EU is pushing Croatian authorities to ‘protect’ their borders and keep asylum seekers and migrants out, without demanding the respect for fundamental rights. It is astonishing that despite the substantiated allegations of violent push backs, EU countries like Germany are applauding Croatia. The EU and its member states must stop turning a blind eye to this humanitarian situation at its borders,” Strik said.

 

Boskovic: Law on Freedom of Religion is a trigger for hybrid war against Montenegro (CDM)

 

Predrag Boskovic, Defense Minister, said in Brussels that Montenegro had learned some lessons from the hybrid war in Montenegro, “which was triggered by the Law on Freedom of Religion”.

“Although a small country, with limited resources, Montenegro has shown it can deal with the challenges it comes across,” Boskovic said. According to him, hybrid campaign will intensify as elections are approaching. “Law on Freedom of Religion is a trigger for brutal conflict with Montenegro. We’ve seen that all those protests have more to do with political ends of some political subjects in Montenegro” Boskovic pointed out. Minister said that Montenegro “has learned some lessons” but he firmly believes that we will know how to counter all challenges.

Montenegro remains reliable NATO member, was the conclusion of the NATO ministerial meeting, which was attended by Minister Boskovic. Ministers stated that NATO had demonstrated that it remained relevant actor at global level, and it was confirmed that the Alliance remained strong and unique. Progress made in the area of defense funds was praised. Ministers addressed measures that Alliance will undertake to protect territories and citizens after the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty ceases to be in force. It was confirmed that NATO will remain strongly committed to acting in accordance with the Article 5 of the Washington treaty. Defense and deterrence concept is crucial to prevention of conflicts. Boskovic said he was satisfied with the progress made in the implementation of the adapted NATO command structure. While talking about hybrid threats, Boskovic said that Montenegro was ready to counter them and emphasized excellent cooperation with the USA in the domain of cyber defense. Boskovic added that the Law on Freedom of Religion had been used as trigger for brutal conflict with Montenegro.

 

Meta: Kosovo and Serbia must resolve problems through agreement – border changes is not the solution (ADN)

 

Albanian President Ilir Meta said on Thursday that it is time that Kosovo and Serbia resolve their problems through an agreement as border changes is not the solution of their problems.

Speaking during the ceremony organized by the Kosovo Embassy to Tirana on the occasion of 12 anniversary of Kosovo independence, Meta underlined that it is high time that the two countries resolve their problems. “It is time that problem between Kosovo and Serbia be solved, as those between North Macedonia and Greece were solved. At the heart of an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia should be mutual recognition between the two countries. This would make a tremendous release of positive energies throughout our region,” said Meta. According to him, there are no bad people or good people, but wise, visionary or murderous and destructive politics.  “This is valid for all countries. In the Balkans, citizens are majority in one state and minority in another, and the solution can never be to change borders. The only solution is to respect the European standards of every minority in every country. This is why Albania is making efforts to respect every minority in our country,” said the Albanian Head of State.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

A New Approach: The EU and the Western Balkans (Visegrad Insight, by Spasimir Domaradzki  12 February 2020)

 

The European Commission’s plans for strengthening the accession process for the Western Balkans contain interesting solutions with great potential, but may also have some weaknesses.

On February 6, the European Commission announced a new approach to the accession process for the Western Balkans. Exactly on the same day, two years earlier, it disclosed a “new” strategy for the Western Balkans. If implemented right, it will be fully compatible with the collective goals of Central Europe.

The new approach:

  • emphasises the responsibility of politicians involved in the enlargement process,
  • improves the sense of partnership through the participation of representatives of candidate countries in important EU meetings,
  • engages EU countries into the negotiation process, and
  • mobilises institutions involved in the enlargement process for greater participation.

The communication on the accession process creates room for a new opening in March when the decision to start membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania will be raised again at the European Council. In support of Angela Merkel’s promises, the EC is also planning to present before the Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb a comprehensive plan that will speed up the process of drawing the region’s countries into the EU. The new concept can be seen as an attempt to introduce a new quality to relations with countries on the path to membership, strengthen the EU’s power of influence in the region, as well as an attempt to overcome recent failures in EU relations with the countries of the region. We are talking here about both an effort to reboot EU enlargement and place the Western Balkans at its centre. This follows a period of being sidelined in the Berlin process (during the Juncker Commission), which is an intergovernmental cooperation initiative aimed at sustaining multilateral ties between the Western Balkans and selected EU member states. Additionally, the EU needs to improve its credibility after it abstained from beginning negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania in last October.

 

Early spring

Relations of the Western Balkans with the previous European Commission, presided by Jean-Claude Juncker, were neither unequivocal nor obvious. At the beginning of his term in office, Jucker declared that in his time there would be no enlargement, thus demotivating even the most ardent supporters of integration.

The vacuum in relations began to be exploited by Russia and China. When the Commission saw its error, at the beginning of 2018 it proposed a new strategy for the Western Balkans. Together with the Western Balkans summit in Sofia in May 2018, they tried to constitute a new opening in mutual relations. The Prespa agreement settling the name of today’s North Macedonia was seen as a good example of an increase in the EU’s influence. However, both the Sofia summit and the Greek-Macedonian agreement have exposed the weaknesses of the EU’s approach to the Balkans. The Western Balkans Summit in Sofia showed intra-EU friction over Kosovo’s independence. In view of the problems related to Brexit, migration and alternative visions for the future of integration, the Berlin process remained the main axis of interaction between the EU countries concerned and the region. The accumulation of these problems not strictly related to the Balkans has led to the practical discrediting of the EU’s position towards the Balkans, when, after French (but not only) opposition, the EU rejected the proposal to start membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Given the ambiguous attitude of the Juncker Commission to the Western Balkans, its departure was a chance for a new beginning. Now, we have the opportunity to learn about its future shape.

 

Old strategy, new tactics

The essence of the EU’s new policy does not change, but unlike the Juncker commission, it clearly defines the extension to the Western Balkans as a priority for the Von der Leyen commission. It remains rooted in a conditionality policy based on a credible membership perspective and fundamental EU values (democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights).

The regulation of Belgrade-Pristina relations remains a strategic goal of the EC. At the same time, looking at the language and proposals for the new concept, it can be seen that a number of weaknesses in existing relations on both the EU side and the Balkan partners have been noticed in Brussels. The EC’s proposals also aim to shift the burden of enlargement from the Berlin process to formal negotiations in the context of accession negotiations.

 

Partners’ self-restraint

One of the main problems in the current EU relations with the Balkan authorities is the issue of credibility. In the weakening EU membership perspective, the Balkan authorities saw the possibility of justifying a lack of progress in the necessary reforms on the road to membership.

Leaders such as the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić are, on the one hand, portrayed by the EU as supporters of integration, and on the other hand, at home as defenders of national interests against a despotic EU. In the new concept, representatives of national authorities are to be accountable for their activities by increasing the number of EU-Western Balkans summits and the intensity of ministerial meetings, as well as allowing representatives of candidate countries to participate in EU meetings as an observer.

 

Improving formal relations

In the Balkan countries, the expectations of EU-related reforms have risen to the rank of a mythical loss of self-determination. Moreover, national politicians do not shy away from using the EU as a justification for introducing socially disadvantageous reforms to shift social frustration to Brussels. That is one of the reasons why the Commission wants to increase transparency in the negotiations by means of introducing clear pre-criteria, benchmarks and objectives to be achieved and a process to monitor them. The Commission also proposes to move away from the negotiation of individual chapters (though they remain in existence) in favour of a problem-based approach that will speed up the negotiation process itself. By refining the rewards for imminent reforms and outlining penalties for delaying or abandoning reforms, the new concept deprives national politicians of the ability to manipulate the negotiation process for internal benefit.

 

The EU’s emerging position

The French veto to start accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania in October last year was a blow that knocked down the EU’s credibility among all countries in the membership queue. Realising that after another such blow, the EU’s enlargement policy in its current shape may be knocked out, the EC drew its conclusions. By implementing the principle of reversibility, the EC wants to secure member states with the possibility of controlling the negotiation process. The ability to influence negotiations on the part of individual member states forces them to actively participate in the enlargement policy. Thus, the Commission wants to prevent another member state from undermining its credibility. On the other hand, most likely, the increased involvement of all EU countries in the negotiation process will reduce the raison d’être of the Berlin process.

 

A blot on the landscape

The new concept of strengthening the accession process for the Western Balkans contains interesting solutions with great potential. However, it has not been insulated from certain weaknesses. Apart from the fundamental issue of the existence of EU conditionality itself, it should be noted that the Commission was not able to restrain itself from putting its green governance priority in the concept. Although in relations with the countries of the Western Balkans this is definitely a secondary issue, to make mention of it can only be a source of unnecessary ambiguity that can be used by domestic politicians, who are terrified of the economic costs associated with adapting to this EU priority. The arguments regarding objectivity in the context of the rule of law and the democratic state should also be viewed with caution. It should be remembered that the accession process is at least as much a political as it is legal and economic. And where there is a bit of political discretion, it is difficult to talk about objectivity.

 

Central European approach

Regardless of these weaknesses and although modestly titled, the new concept is an attempt at a revolutionary change in the policy towards the Western Balkans, which the EU and the states badly need. The new concept goes hand in hand with the increased involvement in the Western Balkans, realised by the Polish government. Although the issue of reconciliation appears only once in the EU’s communication, its importance is tangible to the expectations of intensified regional cooperation. This is an area where the Polish experience of the last thirty years can serve as an example of good practice. Given the willingness of the EU Commission to prepare a support program for the region, one can be tempted to incorporate and extend the infrastructure of the Three Seas initiative, building up the potential of the eastern part of the European bloc.

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