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Belgrade Media Report 03 March

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LOCAL PRESS

• Dacic: Sierra Leone withdraws recognition of Kosovo (Tanjug/RTS/RTV)
• Vucic and Thaci met at the White House (VoA/Tanjug/Beta)
• Daily communication between police forces of Serbia, Hungary (RTS/RTV/Tanjug/Beta)
• Lutovac calls DS assembly, suggests that party’s Statutory Commission be disbanded (Beta)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Radoncic says B&H will not be able to deal with 10,000 migrants per day; Comments of B&H Border Police officials (O Kanal/BHT1/Glas Srpske)
• SDA Collegium will discuss issue of audio recording on Tuesday; Sarajlic resigns to all party posts (Al Jazeera Balkans)
• Session of HDZ B&H and HNS Presidencies held; Covic optimistic ahead of meeting with SDA (BHT1)
Montenegro
• Vukovic: Recycling the old matrix will be in vain (Dnevne novine)
Republic of North Macedonia
• European Commission confirms Macedonia should start the EU accession negotiations (Meta)
• Spasovski hopes for a date for negotiations (Republika)
• Foreign Affairs Minister Dimitrov interviewed by Greek daily newspaper To Vima: What is important now is for the accession negotiations to start and the division among the people to be overcome (Meta)
• Macedonia increases the number of border policemen and soldiers in case of a new wave of refugees (Meta)
Albania
• Thousands supports President’s anti-govt protest as Meta calls on people to rise (ADN)
• Rama: EC report shows that we have successfully done our homework on integration, now it’s up to EU countries (Radio Tirana)
• Cakaj: Tripartite initiative Albania-Croatia-Kosovo established to boost relations (Radio Tirana)
• Yuri Kim: EU accession process and the reforms required will make Albania stronger. We hope EU will say “YES” to Albania (Radio Tirana)
• Maas: Germany committed to a speedy start of EU membership negotiations with Albania (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• What is in the Commission’s updates on North Macedonia and Albania? (EWB)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Dacic: Sierra Leone withdraws recognition of Kosovo (Tanjug/RTS/RTV)

 

Sierra Leone has withdrawn its recognition of Kosovo as independent state, said Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, who is on an official visit to this country. According to Dacic, Sierra Leone is the 18th country to withdraw recognition of Kosovo’s independence. “It is with particular pleasure that I can show a note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that Sierra Leone is withdrawing recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and will respect the results of the dialogue, with the mediation of the EU and the UN,” Dacic told Tanjug. According to Dacic, out of 193 UN members, 92 countries recognize Kosovo as an independent country, 96 countries do not recognize Kosovo, while five countries are in a fluid stance, they mostly recognize Kosovo, but no longer vote for Kosovo. “That means Kosovo no longer has a majority in the UN,” Dacic said. He noted that “de-recognition” of independence of Kosovo was of special importance for Belgrade, and recalled that Sierra Leone was among the first states that recognized independence of Kosovo in 2008. Dacic said he had successful talks in Freetown with the Sierra Leone’s President when it was agreed that bilateral relations, which had been stalled for years, will be improved. “The President gave the order to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reconsider their position on the recognition of Kosovo,” Dacic said. Dacic also said that the visit of the Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio is expected in June, while the country’s Foreign Minister will come to Serbia before that to lay ground for the visit.

 

Vucic and Thaci met at the White House (VoA/Tanjug/Beta)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his counterpart Hashim Thaci met at the White House, as Voice of America in Albanian reports. It is not yet clear in what format they met, but earlier it was announced that the President of Serbia would be hosted by the US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. The two presidents are in the United States on separate visits.

On separate occasions, Vucic and Thaci met with senior US officials, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer in Washington on separate occasions. The President of the so-called Kosovo and the President of Serbia are major negotiators of the two sides of the EU-led dialogue that has been frozen since November 2018, when former Kosovo authorities led by then Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj imposed 100 percent taxes on imported products from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Friday announced a proposal to gradually abolish the 100% taxes introduced in November 2018 on products from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a countermeasure on Serbia’s campaign to withdraw recognition of Kosovo’s independence. US officials, however, urges the so-called Kosovo to unconditionally abolish customs duties introduced in November 2018 on Serbian goods, while Belgrade is urged to end its campaign of derecognition of Kosovo’s independence. In less than a month, the United States secured two agreements between the parties to establish an airline, a railroad, and build a highway between the two countries. According to Tanjug, besides Vucic and Thaci, the meeting was attended by the US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Belgrade and Pristina Richard Grenell and Trump’s security advisor Robert O’Brien. The agency said all four agreed on the necessity of the removal of taxes and said they wished that Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations resumed immediately after the tariffs were revoked.

Earlier on Monday Vucic said his meeting with the State Secretary Mike Pompeo was sincere and meaningful and that he was grateful to the US officials for listening to Belgrade and understanding its problems, Beta reported. “I’m grateful to all American officials for their clear view. I have said several times that with some in the international community, you never know what they think, while with the Americans, you know everything. I’m aware that we have a different opinion about Kosovo, but thank them for listening to Serbia and understanding our problems,” Vucic told reporters after the talks with Pompeo. “Then I listened on the other side about how important it was. I said no problem, but for that, all the time I asked the Albanians only one thing, and I said it 500 times in Brussels: ‘People, you don’t run for different international organizations and institutions, do not force us to engage all our capacities, let us not, as we speak, go for additional recognitions and additional nominations to Interpol, UNESCO, to all other international organizations and institutions, so to agree on we will stop it, at least temporarily,” Vucic said. But, he stated, they never wanted it because they would immediately ask who are we to prevent the meaning of their existence from lobbying for these international organizations and institutions. “They never wanted an agreement on the matter. That is the essence, that without such an agreement Serbia cannot agree to it,” Vucic said.

 

Daily communication between police forces of Serbia, Hungary (RTS/RTV/Tanjug/Beta)

 

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic met in Belgrade with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary Peter Szijjarto to discuss the cooperation of the two countries as well as the current migration situation. Stefanovic presented the measures taken by the state border on enhanced border control and said that the current situation is stable and that the Ministry of the Interior is monitoring developments on the Greek-Turkish border. Szijjarto outlined Hungary’s position on the current migratory situation, noting that the country will continue to send its police officers to the Serbian-Macedonian border as part of the European Union’s project on managing the migration situation. The officials assessed that the daily communication between the police forces of the two countries on current events is at a good level. They also discussed the Coronavirus situation, emphasizing that, although there are no patients in either Serbia or Hungary, both countries will continue to monitor the situation closely. Szijjarto also said that Hungary will continue to support Serbia on its path to joining the European Union.

 

Lutovac calls DS assembly, suggests that party’s Statutory Commission be disbanded (Beta)

 

The leader of the Democratic Party (DS) Zoran Lutovac said that he had called the party’s assembly to suggest that the Statutory Commission be disbanded and new members appointed.

“Given that the Statutory Commission, using legal violence, has been obstructing the work of party bodies and preventing the implementation of political decisions made by a huge majority of votes under the Statute, I have decided to call the Assembly of the Democratic Party and suggest that the Commission be disbanded and its members replaced by new ones,” Lutovac told Beta.

The DS leader went on to say that, owing to informal influence over the Commission, some members of the party had been working against it, causing enormous damage, while aware that they would suffer no consequences. Lutovac added that as long as he was the president

of the party, the DS would respect its members, voters and citizens, acting upon its decisions. “That is the only way we can restore the trust of the citizens we have lost. We have made a decision, supported by an overwhelming majority of members, to boycott Vucic’s false election, and we’ll carry it out despite pressures, internal and external,” the DS leader explained.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Radoncic says B&H will not be able to deal with 10,000 migrants per day; Comments of B&H Border Police officials (O Kanal/BHT1/Glas Srpske)

 

B&H Minister of Security Fahrudin Radoncic wrote on his Instagram profile on Monday, responding to media claims that stated uncontrolled influx of migrants from Turkey into the EU will lead to a situation in which B&H would have to deal with influx of around 10,000 migrants per day. He said that the public and the EU partners must be aware of the fact that this will be too much for B&H to deal with on a daily basis. Radoncic earlier informed the ambassadors of the EU member states that B&H barely deals with 5,000 migrants on its territory. The Minister did not even want to discuss the possibility of arrival of such a large number of migrants into B&H.

Radoncic stated earlier that B&H cannot deal with the new migrant crisis on its own. Radoncic said that so far, the EU has been investing much more in the humanitarian aspect of the migrant crisis than to the security aspect. The Minister of Security underlined that in case of “cataclysmic scenario” where three or four million people would start moving towards the EU, it would be a huge security challenge. Croatian authorities stated that possibility to engage its army on protection of this country’s borders cannot be excluded. Reporter commented that Croatia has been successfully preventing migrants to enter this country by using some debatable methods, adding that in this way B&H became a hotspot for migrants. In order to provide more efficient response to the migrant crisis, B&H is planning to train several hundred border police officers. This process should last several months. Also, B&H started with strengthening protection of its eastern borders. Namely, 145 members of B&H State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies and the RS Ministry of Interior (MoI) have been engaged to provide assistance to B&H Border Police in this area. Advisor to Director of B&H Border Police Svevlad Hoffman stressed that the abovementioned agencies have been providing significant assistance to B&H Border Police. He added that B&H Border Police needs some 1,200 police officers to improve border protection. Reporter noted that reception centers for migrants in B&H have capacity to accommodate some 6,500 people, adding that according to the IOM’s assessments, there are around 7,000 migrants in B&H at this moment. Spokesperson for the B&H Border Police Franka Vican stressed that these police officers include officers of the SIPA, the Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies of B&H and the RS MoI. “They have all been deployed to the eastern border to control the border towards Serbia and Montenegro,” Vican said. Chair of the Coordination Body for Monitoring of Movement of Migrants in the RS’ Territory Darko Culum told the daily on Monday that past conclusions of the RS government, which stated that the RS has neither conditions nor capacities to accommodate migrants, are still in force. Culum added that activities in the field will be strengthened following the announcement on influx of migrants and added that adequate instructions will be issued to heads of police administrations. “It is not realistic to expect up to 10,000 migrants per day to arrive, as some announced,” Culum concluded.

 

SDA Collegium will discuss issue of audio recording on Tuesday; Sarajlic resigns to all party posts (Al Jazeera Balkans)

 

The Collegium of SDA will discuss on Tuesday the case of the audio recording that allegedly proves malversations in the process of election of a new President of the SDA Cantonal Board in Sarajevo. Al Jazeera Balkans reminded that according to the recording, a job in the state civil sector was offered in exchange for votes. SDA Vice President, the main actor of the affair, Asim Sarajlic resigned on Monday to all positions in this party.

 

Session of HDZ B&H and HNS Presidencies held; Covic optimistic ahead of meeting with SDA (BHT1)

 

Sessions of HDZ B&H Presidency and the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) Presidency were held in Mostar on Monday. Following these sessions, leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic stated that he is optimistic ahead of meeting with SDA scheduled for Wednesday. According to Covic, serious progress should be made at this meeting in regards to the Election Law of B&H. He added that if an agreement is reached on Wednesday in regards to the Election Law, that will solve the issue of constituent status and legitimacy in the Presidency of B&H and the House of Peoples, as well as in Mostar on the ground of decisions of domestic and international courts, it will be possible to wait for another 15-20 days or one month to work on the abovementioned issue. The leader of HDZ B&H stressed that elections in Mostar will be held. “We want this Election Law to be changed in the parliamentary procedure,” explained Covic.

 

Vukovic: Recycling the old matrix will be in vain (Dnevne novine)

 

One should be straightforward today concerning the resistance to the incoming evil. All forms of peaceful resistance, dignified and full of sense are welcome. Montenegro urges those who are devoted to it to raise their voice of reason and respond to attempt at destroying foundations of a civil state. The alleged endangerment of Serbs is just a recycling process of the old propaganda material from the same centers. They must know: They are not going to get away with this, says Miodrag Vukovic, DPS member, a man with long political experience, commenting on the reaction of the Movement for Independent Montenegro.

 

False data, fake photos

Commenting on the religious procession in Podgorica and the accompanying propaganda, Vukovic points out that Montenegrin public had the chance to see Saturday the recycling process of the 1990s matrix. “It was all manipulation, propaganda, misinformation, messages, all in one place. The culminating point of lies is the data that the procession gathered 150.000 people. The same medium that released that data stated in the subtitle there were 100.000. The false information was illustrated by fake photo taken on some of the assemblies in Washington. There are many of us who lived in the 1990s, we cannot be deceived,” Vukovic  says. DPS member says that even the most ignorant citizen could clearly see everything on Saturday. “The memorable moment of the procession was when one citizen, regardless of the function he performs, appeared on his balcony displaying Montenegrin flag. The photo was followed by a comment: “He showed up here to provoke believers”. That was the most important news of the inheritors of those media that paved their way for the later tragic events with their propaganda and lies.  Such information conveys a clear message – that believers can’t stand Montenegrin flag, state symbol and its legitimacy. Therefore, believers can’t stand this country,” Vukovic says.

 

Why is Serbia mentioning North Macedonia

Vukovic touched on the views of Serbian officials, focusing primarily on Aleksandar Vucic, who has been reiterating that Serbs in Montenegro should have the same status Albanians in North Macedonia have. “He’s mixing things that are different. North Macedonia has gone through some traumatic times and is now constituted as two-nation country. What Serbia is asking us to do is, therefore, a destruction of the state. Montenegro’s salvation lies in defending its constitutional concept and basis,” Vukovic is loud and clear. He evokes the time after the referendum, when the Constitution of Montenegro was drawn up. “We asked experts from the international community for consultations. We were sent seven recommendations from European institutions we were supposed to abide by. The first recommendation suggested that Montenegro should be established on the foundations of civil sovereignty, not national. Belgrade’s view was, of course, different. Right after the referendum they adopted the finished concept of the future constitutional organization of independent Montenegro, they already had the “offer” prepared. According to their proposal, Montenegro should be a country based on the constitution of the nation, just like Bosnia, which makes it dysfunctional state. But that didn’t work out, and the idea of the Serbian Orthodox Church won’t work out either”.

 

Carefully planned protests

Vukovic has no slightest doubt that every single detail in the organization of protests was carefully planned. “There has been an assignment of tasks. Somebody was in charge of drawing tricolors on roads, bridges, monuments etc., somebody even claimed to have seen tricolors on the sky, as God also drew it. Others even saw holy signs on trees and other shapes of nature. There were even those who witnessed faces painted on frescos shedding tears of joy. New patriotic songs emerged, full of pride because the nation is awake. However, as the time passes, fatigue of the activists starts to kick in,” Vukovic states. And the help from the side is coming. “Among others, those who are astray, or haven’t been told exactly what their task will be… Ignorant but full of extreme Serbian nationalism they start and finish their addresses with curses, threats and warnings that God will be the only judge on the Earth,” Vukovic says.

 

1918 – Never again

“Montenegro is currently facing its full truth, the truth of its people, its state. This struggle and this truth is difficult and requires rational and wise actions and decisions. Anyway, there’s no retreat”. As a response to the manipulation “don’t touch what’s holy” we say: 1918 – never again.

 

“Make Great Serbia with floors”

Vukovic cites one intellectual from the region as saying: Serbia lost Kosovo and now wants Republika Srpska and Montenegro as compensation. It wants Montenegro because of its warm sea. And maybe we should all give up on convincing Serbia it’s nonsense. Just let it all go but remind them to start making Great Serbia with floors, not going wide”.

 

European Commission confirms Macedonia should start the EU accession negotiations (Meta)

 

The European Commission (EC) adopted the mini report about Macedonia and Albania that confirms Macedonia’s confirmation for starting the accession negotiations with the EU. The Commission stresses that Macedonia has strengthened its efforts and has delivered tangible and sustainable results from key areas identified in the Council of EU’s conclusions dated from June 2018. The EC greeted the passing of the Law on Public Prosecution. The goal of the Law, among other things, is to secure a sustainable solution for SPO’s cases and to determine responsibility for the crime acts that have come out of the illegal wiretapping,” informs EC’s mini report.

The National Coordinator for Integration For EU Integration Bojan Marichik, stressed that the mini report is yet another confirmation about our dedication towards the reforms that are relevant for the country. “What follows are the Council of the European Union and the European Council which have to take into account this Report and the methodology used when it was adopted and to start the accession negotiations with Macedonia. We have every right to expect that the strategic mistake that was done in October 2019 to be corrected and the Republic of North Macedonia to start the accession negotiations with the EU,” said Marichik. The Deputy Prime Minister of European Affairs, Bujar Osmani said the report clearly confirms the country’s reformatory determination and stressed that all preconditions from the 26th of March were met in order for the decision for starting the accession negotiations with the EU to be adopted. The Ministry of Justice issued a press release that the European Commission has given a positive mark about the reforms in the judiciary. The Ministry of Information Society and Administration announced that in its latest report about Macedonia, the European Commission has stressed the positive step forward in the reforms in the public administration.

 

Spasovski hopes for a date for negotiations (Republika)

 

The European Commission’s report, which states significant progress of the Republic of Macedonia in the determined reform areas, is a good announcement for the start of EU accession negotiations with the country, Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski said at a meeting with the delegation of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, led by Minister Gordan Grlic Radman. As the government’s press service informed, Spasovski stressed that the visit of the Croatian delegation to our country on the day of the report expresses the strong support that Republic of Croatia gives to Macedonia during the entire process of integration into the European Union.

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Dimitrov interviewed by Greek daily newspaper To Vima: What is important now is for the accession negotiations to start and the division among the people to be overcome (Meta)

 

Nikola Dimitrov has a series of key dates highlighted in his calendar, but 24th of March is of utmost importance. That’s the date of the EU General Affairs Council in Brussels whose agenda includes the issue of setting a date for opening negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, informs the Greek newspaper To Vima which did an interview with Dimitrov after the High-level Conference on the Western Balkans. Regarding the Prespa Agreement, the minister said that it is part of international law, but we what is necessary now is to open accession talks. This will help the country to overcome the division among the people”. Regarding the protest note issued by Greece regarding the removal of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy’s name plaque, Dimitrov said that ”he has to be honest toward the people and with the voters”. “It may be legitimate for someone to have such an agenda, but we also have to be mindful of the consequences. It’s not fair to say to the public that the Prespa Agreement needs to be annulled, and then say to foreign interlocutors behind closed doors that the Agreement is a reality that needs to be accepted. VMRO-DPMNE voted for the Washington Treaty (NATO’s founding treaty), but tried to discredit those who voted for the changes to the Constitution. They oppose the Prespa Agreement but like the results stemming thereof,” said Dimitrov in the interview, among other issues.

 

Macedonia increases the number of border policemen and soldiers in case of a new wave of refugees (Meta)

 

The Crisis Management Center has called a meeting concerning the managing of a potential wave of refugees, informs the government. “Macedonia established a system from the previous refugee crisis and this system is ready and functional to respond to all challenges that Macedonia would face as a transiting country. In 2019, the state of crisis at the Southern Border was prolonged and in accordance with this decision in case of conditions of increased pressure on our borders all institutions are obliged to increase their presence and engagement. The number of police and army members was increased today at the Southern borders and all operative plans for additional engagements were confirmed in case of an increased number of immigrants,” informs the government. At the meeting, that was presided by the Defense Minister Radmila Shekjerinska, it was stressed that the government is monitoring the situation and is communicating with Macedonia’s partners from NATO and the EU.

 

Thousands supports President’s anti-govt protest as Meta calls on people to rise (ADN)

 

Thousands of Albanians rallied on Monday against the country’s left-wing government, responding to a call from the President, Ilir Meta who accuses that this majority for ‘coup d’etat’ and for violating the constitution. Considering the Presidency as the last fortress left in the country, Meta said that he was forced to call a rally because the judicial system was caught by this majority and the constitution was violated many time and despite his calls majority continue its violations. President’s protest was supported even by the opposition, which wants snap elections to resolve the political crisis. Meta accuses Prime Minister Edi Rama‘s Socialist Party government of violating the country’s constitution by exceeding its powers, and also of taking his own powers by nominating candidates for the six vacant seats on the nine-person Constitutional Court. “If majority will not consider this decree, I swear in front of the Albanian flag, I, Ilir Meta I will sign this decree in parliament,” promised the head of state speaking for the dissolution of the parliament. Government-proposed changes that: “if a member of the Constitutional Court is not called upon to take an oath by the President within 10 days, he shall take the oath in writing and forward it to the President of the Republic, the designated body and Constitutional Court.”

The new law will have retroactive effect; it will apply to Constitutional Court members who have been elected but have not sworn in before the president. With the entry into force of this law, “they shall swear by the rules of this law”.

 

Rama: EC report shows that we have successfully done our homework on integration, now it’s up to EU countries (Radio Tirana)

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama reacts after the European Commission published a report saying that Albania and Northern Macedonia have met the conditions for opening negotiations. In a message on Facebook, not commenting on the manifestation of President Ilir Meta, Rama points out that this report shows that Albania has successfully done its homework for the opening of negotiations.

Rama’s reaction:

Here is the conclusion of the Progress Report published today by the new European Commission: “In light of the significant progress achieved and the conditions set unanimously by the Council in June 2018 having been met, the Commission recommended in its 2019 enlargement package that the Council open accession negotiations with Albania. Overall, Albania has increased its efforts and delivered further tangible and sustainable results in the key areas identified in the Council Conclusions of June 2018. Consequently, the bases of the Commission’s 2019 recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania remain valid”.

“So, the new European Commission not only recommends opening negotiations with Albania, but reconfirms it by reinforcing the recommendation of the previous Commission last year! This means that Albania has done and continues to successfully perform its homework for the opening of negotiations. Does the European Council open or not open the negotiations afterwards, it is a matter of POLICY and it is up to the member states to decide, not Albania! Whether or not the member states find the consensus needed to give Albania what they need, it depends on how well they can harmonize their particular interests with the general interest!” writes Rama.

 

Cakaj: Tripartite initiative Albania-Croatia-Kosovo established to boost relations (Radio Tirana)

 

Acting Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Gent Cakaj, in a reaction on Facebook, announced that together with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Glauk Konjufca and Croatian Foreign Minister, Goran Grlic-Radman, they have decided to establish a tripartite initiative between Albania, Croatia and the Republic of Kosovo. The aim of this initiative is to hold regular meetings at the level of foreign ministers, to create common political platforms and to develop concrete projects of common interest. The Chief diplomat informed that the first meeting will be held in Albania within this year and then the other meetings will be held annually in the participating countries. “This initiative will contribute to boosting relations between our countries and the development of each in particular,”  emphasized Cakaj.

 

Yuri Kim: EU accession process and the reforms required will make Albania stronger. We hope EU will say “YES” to Albania (Radio Tirana)

 

US Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim says she hopes the European Union says “YES” to Albania for opening negotiations. “The EU accession process – and the reforms required – will make Albania stronger. We hope the EU will say YES to Albania,” writes Kim on Twitter as she delivers the message of the Enlargement Commissioner Chief Oliver Varhelyi. “The European Commission strongly endorses the recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and I hope the Member States make a positive decision in the coming weeks,” she wrote, following today’s recommendation by the Commission to open accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia.

 

Maas: Germany committed to a speedy start of EU membership negotiations with Albania (Radio Tirana)

 

“Following the positive assessments of the EC on North Macedonia and Albania, Germany is committed to a speedy start of EU membership negotiations,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. He stated that the two countries have made progress on key reforms. “The two countries have made clear progress on key reforms, in particular strengthening the judicial system and the fight against organized crime. We share the positive evaluations of the EC. That is why we are committed to an early start of EU negotiations. The accession negotiations are the best link that can be given to Albania and the North Macedonia and the best possible support for further progress,” Maas said. The head of German diplomacy warns that failure to open negotiations will be harmful to both countries, but also to the EU and Germany. “Without  the EU encouragement we will jeopardize the great progress made in recent years. This will also harm the interests of the EU and Germany. We need stable, efficient and democratic states in the Western Balkans, ” Maas said in a written statement published on the German MFA website following the EC’s positive reports on North Macedonia and Albania and the renewed recommendation for the start of accession talks. The EC, following published reports, says Skopje and Tirana have met the criteria for the start of negotiations and expects the EU Council to make a positive decision in the coming weeks.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

What is in the Commission’s updates on North Macedonia and Albania? (EWB, 2 March 2020)

 

BRUSSELS – European Commission has released an update on the implementation of reforms in the fields of the judiciary, fight against corruption and public administration reform in North Macedonia and Albania. The updates are published several weeks before the sessions of the General Affairs Council and the European Council, during which the Member States are supposed to revisit the opening of accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana, which the heads of state and government failed to do in October 2019. European Commission for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhely, as well as the officials of both countries, expressed hope that the track record of reforms will be enough to convince the Member States to reach a different decision this time.

 

North Macedonia: Good progress in tackling corruption cases

“Good progress has been made through further consolidating a track record on investigating, prosecuting and trying high level corruption cases. These efforts need to continue unabated and in a transparent manner, irrespective of the position or political affiliation of the suspects”, wrote the Commission in its update. It highlighted 38 indictments, mainly for abuse of authority, in 2019, as well as opening of nine new investigations against 52 suspects. Final sentences and judgments against the former Prime Minister and former Minister of Interior, among others, have been particularly noted, as was the indictment of the former Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva and two other suspects in the “Extortion affair”. “In another high profile case not related to corruption charges, the first instance court has sentenced 16 people to prison, for periods from seven to 18 years for their involvement in the April 2017 attacks in Parliament… This includes a former Minister of Interior and former Police Director”, the Commission wrote. The Commission also emphasised the importance of the adoption of the Law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was adopted with a necessary two-thirds majority on the final day of parliament’s work in February, as well the establishment of the new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption. “Major steps were taken to ensure that the SCPC has the powers and financial resources to fulfil its tasks”, the update reads, adding that 66 cases of nepotism have since been indicted. Fight against organized crime has also seen further improvements, according to the Commission. “In 2019, first instance convictions were pronounced against 60 persons (compared to 37 persons in 2018). Final convictions were pronounced against 56 persons. Most of them concern smuggling of migrants or unauthorized production and trade of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors”, the document states. Additionally, reform of the security services and public administration reform have also seen progress, prompting the Commission to assess its recommendation to open accession talks with North Macedonia as valid.

 

Albania: Decrease of unfounded asylum applications, re-evaluation of judges continues

When it comes to Albania, European Commission has found that the number of unfounded asylum applications lodged by Albanian citizens to EU Member States and Schengen-associated countries is now 17% lower than in 2017, and 26% lower in the most affected EU Member State.

The fact that Albania is the first country of the region in which the agreement with European Border and Coast Guard came to force was also highlighted. The most often noted progress in the rule of law area for Albania has been the vetting of judges. According to the Commission’s update, the vetting institutions have completed 234 vetting cases, including all priority dossiers, out of the total 811 magistrates that have to undergo vetting. So far 60% of the vetted magistrates were either dismissed or they resigned. Albania has also established new institutions for the self-governance of the judiciary, which were effective throughout 2019. However, due to the vetting procedure, there are now multiple vacancies in the High Court and the Constitutional Court, and the process of appointing new judges is ongoing. When it comes to the fight against corruption, there were 246 final convictions involving lower or middle-ranking officials in addition to 289 final convictions in 2018. In 2019, there were two final convictions for passive corruption of judges, prosecutors and other officials of the judiciary. As regards the overall track record in the fight against organized crime, the number of new cases related to criminal organizations and structured criminal groups referred to prosecution increased from 34 in 2017 to 53 in 2018. In 2019, there were 50% more referrals, with 79 cases. “Overall, Albania has increased its efforts and delivered further tangible and sustainable results in the key areas identified in the Council Conclusions of June 2018. Consequently, the bases of the Commission’s 2019 recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania remain valid”, the Commission concluded.

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