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Belgrade Media Report 25 March

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LOCAL PRESS

Vucic’s address on the occasion of 21st anniversary of NATO aggression (Politika)
Solidarity evidence of closeness of peoples of Serbia, Turkey (Tanjug)
Joksimovic: €94 million redeployed from IPA funds for Serbia (Tanjug)
Vucic: Belgrade, Valjevo and Nis – for hotspots of virus, special measures (B92/Tanjug)
Radojicic: The city is ready to isolate 10 central municipalities (B92/TV Prva)
Kon: No need for isolation of Belgrade (RTS)
Another 81 cases, 384 infected in Serbia (RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

B&H CoM adopts draft budget for 2020 and decision on closure of airport in B&H; Ministers from RS vote against draft of budget that implies increase of salaries, purchase of cars and buildings (FTV)
Dodik, Dzaferovic talk about coronavirus situation with Varhelyi (RTRS/BHT1)
Dodik with Lavrov: Russia is ready to help RS and B&H amid coronavirus crisis (ATV)
Two new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Konjic; Total number of infected in B&H increased to 168 (Klix.ba/O kanal)
Banja Luka City Headquarters for Emergency Situations: New measures will be introduced (ATV)
Are B&H citizens confused by different instructions coming from 13 crisis headquarters in the country? (N1)
Croatia

Croatia welcomes green-light for launch of EU entry talks with Macedonia and Albania (Hina)
Coronavirus cases rise to 418 (HTR)
Montenegro

EU’s support: €3 million for healthcare system and €50 million for long-term program (CDM)
Number of coronavirus cases in Montenegro reaches 52 (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia

Zaev: Start of EU negotiations, historic mistake fixed, no obstacles or conditions (MIA)
Twenty-nine new coronavirus cases in North Macedonia, total tally hits 177 (MIA)
Kumanovo public transport cancelled (MIA)
Albania

Rama: Finally, the accession talks are open (ADN)
Coronavirus cases rise to 146 across Albania (ADN)
Government announces state of natural disaster (ADN)
COVID-19, EU pledges 50 million Euros for Albania (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Coronavirus postpones elections across emerging Europe. Except in Poland (Emerging Europe)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic’s address on the occasion of 21st anniversary of NATO aggression (Politika)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addressed on Tuesday the nation on the occasion of 21 years since the beginning of the NATO aggression. The entire address reads: “Today is 21 years since the beginning of NATO aggression against our country. The citizens of Serbia will never forget the crime committed by a coalition of the 19 most powerful states in the world, as well as the thousands who were killed in that aggression, and whose sole guilt was that of being Serbs or citizens of Serbia. We were guilty because the great Western powers wanted to continue with the fragmentation of the Serbian territory, and Serbia and its citizens were merely incidental – or as they named it – collateral damage. For us in Serbia, little Milica from Batajnica and little Sanja from Varvarin and all the other children, our soldiers and police officers, all of them together are our grief, our tragedy and a reminder of a horrific crime that we must not forget. They have been striking and killing Serbia to occupy Kosovo, and they thought they had finished their job forever in 2008. They were physically much more powerful in 1999, and Serbia was politically fatally weak by 2008. In the aftermath of all, and after many painful years, we managed to economically recover, rebuild, and lift the libertarian spirit of our people as the phoenix bird rose from the ashes. We also reinstated Kosovo as a topic to the international stage. And we will keep striving for our nation, our people, but also for Serbia in Kosovo and Metohija. And today, 21 years later, we know how horrifying a crime they have committed against us, but we have learned a great deal from our own mistakes, irresponsible political actions and heroism without cover. The past is important, and we must not forget it, but the future is paramount. That is why it is imperative that we also develop alliances and friendships with those who aggressively attacked our country without seeking revenge, just as we did not pray for mercy. Cooperation and partnership are the keywords on which we will build a more abundant and more prosperous Serbia. At the same time, this day represents an opportunity to thank all our friends in the world who opposed the aggression against our country and who stood on the side of justice in those difficult times. In particular, we must pay tribute to all Serbian heroes who laid down their lives on the altar of the fatherland. We must never forget our pilots who defied a much more powerful enemy, nor the Kosare heroes, nor our slain children. For our sake and for the sake of our future, we will have to find the strength to forgive those who committed this horrific crime against our homeland. May proud and libertarian Serbia live forever.”

 

Solidarity evidence of closeness of peoples of Serbia, Turkey (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic spoke by phone with Turkish Foreign Minister Malvut Cavusoglu about the current situation with the coronavirus and the measures the two countries are taking to combat the pandemic. Cavusoglu expressed his gratitude to Dacic for sending 150 Turkish nationals to Istanbul on the plane this morning to Istanbul. This is another proof of solidarity in difficult times that shows the closeness of our peoples and our states, Cavusoglu stressed. In gratitude, Turkey will send 500 test kits for the coronavirus.

 

Joksimovic: €94 million redeployed from IPA funds for Serbia (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Minister for EU Integration Jadranka Joksimovic announced today that EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Oliver Varhelyi has instructed his service to release approximately €94 million with the approval of the Serbian government from ongoing projects as well as projects from IPA funds that have not been carried out so far. Previously, Joksimovic formally addressed Varhelyi with a letter asking him to take measures to prevent and combat the effects of the coronavirus epidemic in Serbia. This equates to €15 million for emergency needs under current programs and contracts with UNDP and UNOPS. It also looked at the possibility of using almost €21 million more from European integration support programs. In his letter, the Commissioner also indicated the possibility of additional support in agreement with the government of Serbia by diverting the funds allocated for the implementation of projects, whose implementation has not yet started, to support the health system and overcome the socio-economic consequences in the amount of €57.6 million.

Joksimovic expressed her gratitude to the Commissioner for the effective and prompt response of the European Commission, which understood our messages aimed at providing emergency support by diverting part of the funds from current programmes and contracts and using unspent funds that could be used to support the health system in order to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

 

Vucic: Belgrade, Valjevo and Nis – for hotspots of virus, special measures (B92/Tanjug)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade is the largest hotspot of coronavirus in Serbia.

After Belgrade, these are Valjevo and Nis, and he announced new measures for the three cities.

He said he would be quarantined at the Belgrade Fair himself if found to be coronavirus positive. “What is not comfortable and beautiful does not interest me. It is important that we save lives,” Vucic said during a statement from the Belgrade Fair Arena. He came to the arena to visit volunteers. The president specifically appealed to pensioners as the most vulnerable group.

“I ask the pensioners not to go out, stay at home. If you go out, if you are disobedient, we won’t even have enough burial places on the New Cemetery in Bezanija,” the President said. He said the dog walk license could be revoked during curfew. Vucic added that they were able to bring in Serbian citizens who were in other countries when the state of emergency began. “Serbia is good for everyone in times of crisis. That is why it is our homeland, one and only,” he said. “I am happy that people are scared, because as doctors say, if people are afraid, they will be more careful”, Serbian President emphasized.

 

Radojicic: The city is ready to isolate 10 central municipalities (B92/TV Prva)

 

Belgrade Mayor Zoran Radojicic said the city is ready to put 10 central municipalities in isolation and only await expert opinion. “They are evaluating the moment of what and when the next move should be made, when is the optimal moment,” Radojicic told TV Prva. He also reminded that, along with our experts, there are Chinese doctors, who have experience and advice on how to act.

 

Kon: No need for isolation of Belgrade (RTS)

 

Serbia’s leading epidemiologist Predrag Kon said on Tuesday that the hospitalization of patients with mild coronavirus symptoms instead sending them into self-isolation, screening, more testing and timely discharging were the best measures for saving lives, and that “an aggressive suppression” of the epidemic would start. Speaking to RTS, Kon added that those new measures should be enough coupled with moves already in place and that the isolation of Belgrade or any other areas was not necessary. Kon on Tuesday told RTS that the country was in the 19th day of the epidemic and that the third and fourth weeks of expansion of the virus, and that Serbia keeps relatively flat line and slowing down the spreading of the infection.

 

Another 81 cases, 384 infected in Serbia (RTS)

 

Member of the Crisis Headquarters for Combatting COVID-19 and epidemiologist Predrag Kon announced today that a total of 384 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been registered in Serbia up until 3pm. At a regular press conference held in the Palace of Serbia, Kon underlined that the samples of 245 people have been tested since the last report, 81 of which are positive and 164 are negative to the new coronavirus.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

B&H CoM adopts draft budget for 2020 and decision on closure of airport in B&H; Ministers from RS vote against draft of budget that implies increase of salaries, purchase of cars and buildings (FTV)


The B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) passed on Tuesday the proposal of decision on temporary closure of international border crossings in air traffic for passengers and the draft law on budget of B&H institutions and international obligations for 2020. B&H CoM also passed the decision on temporary financing of B&H institutions and international obligations for the period April – June. B&H Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Stasa Kosarac, B&H Minister of Communications and Transport Vojin Mitrovic and B&H CoM Chairman Zoran Tegeltija voted against the draft law on budget of B&H institutions and international obligations for 2020, explaining that the situation caused by coronavirus pandemic has changed significantly and this draft law was created in normal circumstances. Tegeltija reminded that four border crossings in air traffic for passengers were temporary closed, and that cargo traffic border crossings will be opened if necessary. According to Tegeltija, the decision was proposed by B&H Ministry of Security and will come in effect on 30 March as the Federation of B&H is expected to get the necessary medical equipment, materials and new shipment of COVID-19 tests by then.

B&H CoM also passed the decision to ban entry to foreign citizens, but the decision will not be applied to representatives of civil protection bodies, diplomats and representatives of EUFOR and NATO. According to the CoM, decision on the prohibition of entry to foreigners has some exceptions: diplomats and people engaged for medical help and civil protection, as well as the transit through Neum. The CoM also reached decisions on additional conditions for entry of foreigners to B&H and temporary interruption in issuing of visas with some exceptions. The B&H CoM adopted a decision on temporary exemption from payment of indirect tax for equipment donated from domestic and foreign producers with the aim to prevent spreading of the Coronavirus. Commenting on the decision on closure of airports in B&H, Tegeltija said that the decision will come into force on 30 March at 6,00hrs, adding that the decision was reached at the request of the “Federation of B&H side”. BHT1 noted that the draft of the budget implies among other things, increase in the amount of money for salaries for employees by nearly BAM 30 million, as well as plans for purchase of capital facilities and purchase of cars. Officials from the RS voted against this decision. Commenting on this issue, Tegeltija stated: “I did not have the courage to propose this kind of the budget to citizens of B&H. I believe that we must sit down and repack and decide what is the most necessary at this moment for B&H. I think that at this moment, some other things are way more necessary than purchase of cars, buildings, furniture and similar stuff”.

 

Dodik, Dzaferovic talk about coronavirus situation with Varhelyi (RTRS/BHT1)


Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik spoke on Tuesday over the phone with EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi. The two spoke about the EU’s assistance for countries of the Western Balkans in stopping the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Varhelyi informed Dodik that this region was included in the EU’s Mechanism for procurement of medical equipment and that B&H will get 7 million Euros for its healthcare sector. He also told Dodik that B&H will receive additional 50 million Euros after the virus is contained, which will be intended for renewal of B&H’s economy. Dodik urged the Commissioner for B&H to be included in the system of unimpeded supply and also for export of B&H goods to the EU countries to be enabled. BHT 1 later reported that the Chairman of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic had a phone conversation with Varhelyi. According to Dzaferovic, Varhelyi contacted him and the only topic of the conversation was fight against the Coronavirus pandemic in B&H. Dzaferovic added that Varhelyi informed him that aside from the 7.2 million Euros, the EU will allocate additional 28 million Euros for healthcare sector in B&H and 40 million Euros for support to B&H economy. Dzaferovic stated that Varhelyi was interested to know how B&H is handling the Coronavirus pandemic and he informed him about the situation. Dzaferovic said: “I particularly asked to help B&H – aside from the financial funds – with purchase of equipment that we need, primarily ventilators, protection resources and tests. This is something that is missing on the world market, as all countries are closing and take care of their population which is completely logical, as well as the countries that produce it. I asked to help B&H especially in this area. He called on B&H to join an initiative that the EU is leading – as if B&H is an EU member state – for purchase of the equipment from China and tomorrow, we will inform the European Commission (EC) that we, of course, accept this. He also offered help with transport of medical equipment and all other help that he can ensure for B&H. Therefore, we primarily need medical equipment: ventilators, testers and protection resources”.

 

Dodik with Lavrov: Russia is ready to help RS and B&H amid coronavirus crisis (ATV)


Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik Tuesday spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the phone. Dodik and Lavrov discussed the current situation caused by the coronavirus which Republika Srpska (RS), B&H and the entire world found themselves in. Dodik said that Lavrov expressed interest in the situation in the RS in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic and promised that Russia will do everything to help in this difficult situation. “He stated that Russia is ready to help the RS, but also B&H in terms of available materials regarding the fight against coronavirus,” Dodik said, adding that he asked the Russian Foreign Minister to make sure the Russian market of medical equipment and drugs is available to buyers from the RS, i.e. to the RS institutions. “Here we come to the problem that has been current for some time, perhaps even a year, which is license to import drugs from Russia. I believe that the B&H Agency for Medicinal Products, having in mind that many Western companies canceled drug delivery, will now urgently solve this issue,” Dodik underlined.

 

Two new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Konjic; Total number of infected in B&H increased to 168 (Klix.ba/O kanal)


Media reported late on Tuesday night that Civil Protection of Konjic reported that two more persons were registered as infected with COVID-19. With this number of positive cases in Konjic increased to 17 and total number of infected in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) increased to 168. When it comes to number of cases in individual cities and settlements, the situation is as follows: Banja Luka- 81, Konjic- 17, Mostar- 7, Laktasic- 7, Sarajevo- 5, Kozarska Dubica- 5, Bihac- 5, Zenica- 4, Gorazde- 4, Celinac- 3, Knezevo- 3, Siroki Brijeg- 3, Bijeljina- 3, Modrica- 2, Brcko- 2, Tesanj- 2, Bosanski Brod- 2, Prnjavor- 2, Bosanska Gradiska- 1, Derventa- 1, Novi Travnik- 1, Breza- 1, Orasje- 1, Visoko- 1, Srbac- 1, Teslic- 1, Bosanska Krupa- 1, Prijedor- 1, Ribnik- 1. Thirteen new cases of infection with the new coronavirus (COVID-19) were registered in Republika Srpska (RS) on Tuesday. Six cases were registered in Banja Luka, three in Laktasi, one in Kozarska Dubica, two in Brod and one in Teslic. Four persons were admitted to the RS University-Clinical Center in Banja Luka, while the rest of them are self-isolated at home. Three newly infected persons come from the third cluster in Banja Luka, while the infected persons from Kozarska Dubica and Brod were in touch with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The second death case from coronavirus pandemic was registered in B&H on Tuesday. A man (53) from Konjic was admitted to the Clinic for Infectious Diseases of the University Clinical Hospital in Mostar on Saturday. His health suddenly deteriorated and he died on Tuesday afternoon, when he died. Another case of death caused by COVID-19 was registered in B&H on Tuesday evening. The case is about an elderly woman from Sarajevo, who did not reveal the information that she was in touch with her daughter who was in Italy. She died at the Healthcare Center in Ilidza and later on she was tested for COVID-19.

 

Banja Luka City Headquarters for Emergency Situations: New measures will be introduced (ATV)


Following Tuesday’s session of the Banja Luka City Headquarters for Emergency Situations, it was stated that six more cases of COVID-19 have been registered in Banja Luka and that new measures will be introduced. One of the new measures is that those who violate self-isolation measures in Banja Luka will be accommodated in tents at the location of Rakovacke bare. Banja Luka Mayor Igor Radojicic stressed that “if someone would not mind replacing the commodity of his home with accommodation in a tent settlement, then he is welcome.” Radojicic said that clusters identified so far are under control, but that potential problem could be citizens who in previous days entered B&H from countries which are faced with coronavirus epidemic. “There is a potential problem that irresponsible individuals with their movement could transmit the virus to a larger number of people and that this could lead to a significant increase in the number of infected,” Radojicic underlined. It was also announced that classic public transportation in Banja Luka will be suspended as of Thursday. Instead, corridor transportation in three directions will be organized in Banja Luka. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik told a press conference on Tuesday that one of the following measures in the RS will be to forbid gatherings of more than two people in the streets. People older than 65 will have two days a week, with clearly determined timeframe, in which they will be able to go outside and complete their shopping or other activities. RS authorities already published names of 30 people that violated their self-isolation order. BN TV reported that the Personal Data Protection Agency of B&H issued a decision on Tuesday which forbids institutions at all levels, including entity and cantonal ones, as well as crisis headquarters to publish the personal data about citizens that are infected with the coronavirus and citizens that are ordered to stay in self-isolation. It was stressed that the personal data of citizens falls under a special category of personal data and has a special place in the Law on Protection of Personal Data. The Agency believes that the publishing of data of citizens who are under restrictive measures can undermine the trust of citizens into the medical system. It was added that the publishing of personal data of people who do not respect measures of self-isolation can lead to the stigmatization in society and physical threats to the citizens.

 

Are B&H citizens confused by different instructions coming from 13 crisis headquarters in the country? (N1)


N1 reports on 13 existing crisis headquarters in B&H which deal with the coronavirus situation. This often leads to confusion of the B&H citizens as they are unable to follow the issued measures and rules. The made decisions are similar but differ in certain parts. State authorities say that it does not matter who issued the orders, all citizens must follow them. Chairman of the B&H CoM Zoran Tegeltija said the reason behind these measures and rules lies within the need to preserve people’s health and prevent further spread of the virus. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated all political talk must be put aside and we all must to unite in fight against this dangerous disease. Entity governments try to coordinate and adopt decisions and measures at the same pace.

 

Croatia welcomes green-light for launch of EU entry talks with Macedonia and Albania (Hina)

 

Croatia has welcomed the agreement on the launch of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, underscoring that one of the priorities of Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the EU has thus been fulfilled. EU ministers of European affairs, who make up the General Affairs Council, on Tuesday reached a political agreement on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, and the formal decision is to be made in writing after the political consensus was reached at a video-conference. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic wrote on Twitter that Croatia fully supported the two aspirants at the start of a new stage of their journey towards EU membership. The decision reached by the member-states’ ministers to give a political green-light for the launch of accession negotiations was described by Plenković as the fulfilment of one of the priorities of Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. The European Council is expected to support the conclusions on the start of the membership talks with Skopje and Tirana at a video-conference scheduled for Thursday.

 

Coronavirus cases rise to 418 (HTR)

 

Croatia has confirmed 36 new cases of coronavirus infection since Tuesday afternoon, bringing the total to 418, said Health Minister Vili Beros at Wednesday morning’s coronavirus task force press briefing. The Health Minister said that there had been no significant change in the conditions of patients in hospital, ten of whom are on ventilators. Croatia has tested 3,392 individuals for the novel coronavirus. “The average age of the patients on ventilators is 61. Most of them have other illnesses or chronic conditions,” Beros said. The head of the Public Health Bureau, Krunosalv Capak, said epidemiologists doing contact tracing had identified 2,000 contacts of people who have tested positive. He said 20 thousand people have been ordered into self-isolation, while 150 were in quarantine, 102 of whom are foreign nationals. He also provided more statistics. “Of the people who have been tested, 12% were positive. Their average age is 49.24. Fifty-seven percent are men, forty-three percent are women. As far as our medical staff is concerned, we currently have 15 doctors, seven nurses, and one lab technician who have tested positive,” Capak. Beros also lashed out doctors who were allegedly overblowing the scope of the scarcity of personal protective equipment. He said he was angry about the actions of individuals who were underscoring this issue. He said the situation was far from optimal, but much better than how it is being portrayed. “I have received information that certain doctors were intentionally taking personal protective gear off the shelves to present the situation as dire. In every war there is a fifth column. I want to send a message to everyone that we are working very hard to get more protective equipment,” he said.

 

EU’s support: €3 million for healthcare system and €50 million for long-term program (CDM)

 

The EU will donate €3 million of emergency assistance for healthcare system in Montenegro, as well as €50 million for the long-term program in accordance with government’s needs, Aivo Orav posted on his official Tweeter account. Montenegro’s Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic, thanked for the donation. Government representatives have also agreed acceleration of €18 million of joint program for helping small and medium enterprises, the most vulnerable categories and unemployed persons.

 

Number of coronavirus cases in Montenegro reaches 52 (CDM)

 

According to the latest data of the Institute for Public Health, there are currently 52 coronavirus cases in Montenegro, 10 of whom are in hospital. Boban Mugosa, Director of the institute for Public Health, said that „the situation is very dangerous. It’s highly infectious virus which spreads fast and can infect great number of people”. “I urge you to spread my word. The ration must rule now. I urge citizens to stay at home and anyone who has any symptoms shall isolate in special rooms,” Mugosa pointed out. He added that Tuzi had to understand that this was fight for their life.

 

Zaev: Start of EU negotiations, historic mistake fixed, no obstacles or conditions (MIA)

 

In these tough times for our people, the Balkans and the world we got joyous and long-awaited news from the EU – a decision for the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia. The historic mistake has been fixed, there are no obstacles or conditions. The European Commission is set to make the required preparations and the first intergovernmental conference will take place as soon as possible, said SDSM leader Zoran Zaev on Wednesday. “In the midst of the coronavirus fight, when all our capacities and thoughts are aimed towards protecting the people’s health, this is an encouraging message that only hard work and statesmanlike decisions can lead to overcoming of challenges. We have freed the country and took bold decisions to end problems with neighbors. We put an end to profligacy and fear, putting the economy back on its feet, joining NATO and now we are starting the EU talks,” Zaev told a press conference. He thanked the EU for the 66 million Euros in assistance for North Macedonia right after the decision on the accession negotiations was made official. “We are thankful for this support because we can successfully cope with all challenges only by staying together,” added Zaev. He thanked the SDSM-led government and the parliament for their efforts in reaching the Prespa Agreement and the Bulgaria Friendship Treaty, the reforms and the constitutional changes that required a two-thirds majority by MPs, who demonstrated historic responsibility on behalf of their people and the secure future ahead. The SDSM leader also thanked the citizens and the 80-percent support they give to the Euro-integration path. “This decision ends our 15-year wait after getting the EU candidate status. There is no turning back. North Macedonia’s future has been secured and guaranteed – NATO and EU member. We are now starting the process of positive transformation of the state and society that all EU member-states have gone through,” said Zaev. He also thanked the European leaders and institutions for their assistance and support. “It was worth fighting for this. Our will to work and be successful is even greater. We are now facing the challenge of beating this health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus and then fully commit to the process of accession negotiations. I know we will come out as winners,” underlined Zaev.

 

Twenty-nine new coronavirus cases in North Macedonia, total tally hits 177 (MIA)


Twenty-nine new patients tested positive for the coronavirus in North Macedonia over the past 24-hours, bringing the total number of cases until 12:00 to 177, the Health Ministry said Wednesday. Of those, 20 new cases were registered in Skopje, three in Kumanovo, three in Veles, two in Prilep, and one in Debar. One patient has been cured, while two have passed away. Thus far, COVID-19 cases have been registered in Skopje (108), in Debar (41), in Shtip (7), in Kumanovo (11), in Veles (3), in Kavadarci (2), in Ohrid (2), Prilep (2) and in Gostivar (1).

 

Kumanovo public transport cancelled (MIA)


The government has decided to cancel public transport in Kumanovo municipality for the purpose of preventing the coronavirus spread, said Health Minister Venko Filipche on Tuesday. “Transport between Kumanovo and other cities and public transport within the city will be cancelled, along with the closure of shops in semi-open malls,” Filipche told a press conference. According to him, several indicators led to the enforcement of these measures. “Epidemiological data, new cases, their relationship, infected health workers, the fact that one of them lives outside of Kumanovo and the resulting contacts played a role in the decision. The 60 tests that we are expecting this evening will give us a clear picture of the situation. We believe that communication between Kumanovo and other municipalities should be interrupted in order to enforce this form of quarantine. This is similar to what was done in Debar when we perceived locally transmitted cases,” noted Filipche.

 

Rama: Finally, the accession talks are open (ADN)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, has reacted on Tuesday after the General Affairs Council of the EU (Ministers of EU Affairs) gave a green light to opening of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The head of Government said that finally the Albanian Flag will be waving with the other countries of EU. “Today Albania took the green light by EU for the opening of accession talks. It was not easy for Albania, but we will never lose any other battle. We will realize reforms and we will enter in another phase of history,” said Rama. He promised that the government will fulfill any obligations so that the Albania finally becomes the part of the EU. But as PM said, we could not celebrate today as covid-19 is threatening the country and the focus is how to keep people safe. President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta said that not even a minute must not be lost to implement the EU membership conditions before the intergovernmental conference. Expressing gratitude to EU countries for the encouraging decision to open accession with Albania, despite the difficult moments that everybody is experiencing, President Meta greeted this action. Furthermore, President of the Republic underlined that this decision of the EU Council of Ministers clearly confirmed the European perspective of Albania.

In the meantime, the intergovernmental conference will be convened after the adoption of negotiations framework and the entire world has been plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, which is infecting numerous citizens and claiming lives.

 

Coronavirus cases rise to 146 across Albania (ADN)

 

Albania has detected 23 new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of confirmed infections throughout the country to 146. Meanwhile, the map of affected cities has been expanded, with new cases already registered in Kruja. “In the last 24 hours, 23 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 111 tests have been performed. The map of those affected by COVID-19 has already been extended to Kruja and is being expanded to Tirana, Korca, Fier, Durres, Lezha, where epidemiological investigation is being carried out to trace positive cases and disrupt the infection transmission chain. The geographical distribution of positive cases is as follows:

  • Tirana 83 citizens
  • Durres 9 citizens
  • Lushnje 4 citizens
  • Elbasan 3 citizens
  • Fier 14 citizens
  • Rrogozhina 2 citizens
  • Kavaja 4 citizens
  • Korca 11 citizens
  • Vlora 5 citizens
  • Shkodra 3 citizens
  • Lezhe 4 citizens
  • Berat 1 citizen
  • Has 2 citizens
  • Kruja 1 citizen

    We inform you that there are currently 72 hospitalized patients in the Infectious Disease Hospital, 4 of them are in intensive care. While the rest are in stable condition so far. The good news is that up to this moment 17 citizens have recovered, but they have to stay in self-quarantine for 14 days,” said Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection, Mira Rakacolli.

 

Government announces state of natural disaster (ADN)

 

Government in Albania has decided to declare the ‘State of Natural Disaster’. The decision taken late this Tuesday was taken due to coronavirus pandemic situation. According to the new situation, all citizens are forced to respect the new strict measures taken by government in this extreme situation.

 

COVID-19, EU pledges 50 million Euros for Albania (ADN)

 

The European Union gives concrete help for Albania to fight COVID-19. The EU Ambassador to Tirana Luigi Soreca informed on Tuesday evening that EU pledged EUR 50 million for Albania. EUR 4 million for immediate equipment and health support; EUR 11 million for social protection; and EUR 35 million for economic recovery. “The EU will always be with Albania in time of need,” said Soreca.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Coronavirus postpones elections across emerging Europe. Except in Poland (Emerging Europe, by Dominik Istrate, 25 March 2020)

 

Emerging Europe was set for an eventful political season this spring. A number of elections were scheduled for April and May, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced authorities across the region to postpone most of them. We looked at three electoral contests – in North Macedonia, Serbia and Poland, on which the current health (and future economic) crisis could have a profound political impact.

 

EU support for North Macedonia could be crucial

Over the past few months, North Macedonia has been preparing for a landmark parliamentary election that was supposed to confirm the country’s EU and NATO aspirations. In a stunning blow to North Macedonia’s European future last October, Denmark, the Netherlands and France decided to block the EU from starting membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania. Calling the French-led decision a “historic mistake”, Mr Zaev, who was the chief architect of a name change deal with Greece that ended a 30-year dispute and cleared the way for Athens to support Skopje’s bid for EU and NATO membership, called for snap elections and then later resigned from his position, with the country now being led by the caretaker government of former interior minister Oliver Spasovski. “Given the coronavirus outbreak and a wide shutdown in the country, the postponing of the elections scheduled for April 12th was largely unavoidable. The decision for postponing, or to be more precise, cancelling the preparations for the elections, was a joint one of all political actors,” Simonida Kacarska, the director of the Skopje-based European Policy Institute tells Emerging Europe, adding that the postponement carries significance for both the ruling party and the opposition, since the current technocrat government includes opposition figures in key ministries. As for the government’s crisis management, Ms Kacarska explains that the current situation will significantly impact the decisions made by the electorate, once the elections are finally held. “Even though the opposition participates in the government, the management of the crisis and its consequences will mostly be weighed as performance of the main ruling party,” she highlights. According to her, the caretaker government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, in which public health and security-related tasks are distributed among officials from both the ruling party and the opposition, has so far not been over-politicised. However, the economic response and the consequences of the crisis will be used in upcoming elections. “It can be expected that the economic downturn, which is inevitable, will be used by the opposition as an argument against the ruling party. The performance of the health system is likely to determine the arguments of the ruling party at the elections, depending on when they will be held,” Ms Kacarska believes. Although it disappointed the Western Balkans in 2019, the EU has since moved to revive the enlargement process: the European Commission unveiled a plan that – amongst much else – aimed to convince enlargement-sceptic member states such as France or the Netherlands by giving more say to national EU governments in the process and putting an even greater emphasis on rule of law and corruption issues. In an even more encouraging move, after two years of political hurdle, all EU countries this week agreed to endorse the start of negotiations for North Macedonia’s and Albania’s membership. “An EU decision to start accession negotiations will be used by the ruling party to justify the legitimacy of its decisions regarding the name dispute,” Ms Kacarska continues. However, she points out that due to the sensitivity of the election period over the coronavirus outbreak, it is highly likely that the next campaign will focus on “bread and butter topics.” She estimates that the use of EU-related topics during the next electoral campaign will depend on the overall performance of the EU in relation to the coronavirus crisis, as well as support offered to North Macedonia and the region in this respect. “At the moment, the EU seems to be underperforming in this respect, but there is yet time to see if the tide will turn over this spring or summer,” she says.

 

Coronavirus could be a gamechanger in Serbia

Until March 16, Serbia was preparing for a parliamentary election that has now been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. It had already been the subject of political dispute, since a large proportion of opposition parties – united under the banner of the Alliance for Serbia and the Movement of Free Citizens – had decided to boycott the elections and had called on other parties to do, claiming that Serbian President Aleksander Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) maintain too firm a grip over the country’s media and the election process. “A lack of general consensus on issues like access to the media, the role of the media regulator, the transparency of voter records, and campaign financing has divided the public and political parties, while Serbia’s EU accession process became a collateral cost of this division,” says Srdjan Majstorovic, the chairman of the governing board of the European Policy Centre (CEP), a Serbia-based think tank, adding that the European bloc tried to mediate between the opposing sides, but with limited success. He explains that the majority of the Serbian opposition, which was boycotting the elections, decided to abstain from EU moderated dialogue, with their position being that the EU “was turning a blind eye on failing democratic institutions and procedures in Serbia in exchange for the engagement of its leadership in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo.” According to Mr Majstorovic, the pandemic is “a gamechanger that will influence political debate in Serbia”, projecting that the economic and social consequences, as well as the government’s response to the crisis, will dominate political discourse and the that the public’s perception of solidarity with the EU and other actors – especially China – during the crisis will determine the future political debate. “China’s quick reaction and provision of medical equipment, as well as the general perception that it has led a successful fight against the pandemic (that was heavily propagated by Serbian officials), will contest the EU model of cooperation and solidarity,” he adds, noting that “the EU unfortunately has shown its limitations in proactive strategic communication with Serbian citizens, as well as other Western Balkans countries.” “The EU decision to impose restrictions on trade of medical equipment with third countries should have exempted Western Balkans countries, all of which have signed Stabilization and Association Agreements with the EU and all of which are practically integrated into the EU market,” Mr Majstorovic argues. This – unfortunately – did not happen. “This regrettable display of a lack of geopolitical conciseness in a time of crisis provided a perfect setting for Serbian officials to praise their ‘iron brotherhood’ with China and to declare that ‘European solidarity does not exist’ towards Serbia,” he says, noting that a subsequent EU decision to provide a 7.5 million-euro donation to Serbia from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was acknowledged with far less enthusiasm. According to him, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis and its effects on the future of the EU will have an important effect on the future of Serbia’s democracy and the motivation of its leadership to even continue EU-accession driven changes. “The EU will have a difficult task in any attempt to address its own future role in the world. Whatever the outcome, the Western Balkans should be an integral part of that vision. Mutual and unequivocal recognition of common interest in Serbia’s – and other Western Balkans countries’ – integration in the EU is essential,” Mr Majstorovic believes, stressing that the European bloc “will have to finally prove its own credibility and include Serbia and other Western Balkans countries in a whole range of EU sectoral policies where both sides share a common interest to enhance cooperation – public health, security, migration, energy, environment and connectivity.”

 

A safe bet in Poland?

“I am convinced that at the moment there are no prerequisites to introduce a state of emergency (…) whereby the elections could be cancelled,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) told the press on March 21, pointing to the Polish government’s decision to move forward with the country’s presidential election on May 10, that many regard as a controversial decision in light of countries around the globe postponing their electoral contests. “Like always in crisis situations people tend to avoid risks which plays into the hands of the incumbent leadership,” Piotr Buras, the head of the Warsaw Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) tells me, explaining that holding the upcoming presidential election seems to be “a safe bet” for Andrzej Duda, the incumbent Polish president who – as a PiS candidate – is standing for reelection. Mr Buras says that the Polish president relies on support from the country’s ruling party which has taken swift measures to counteract the coronavirus outbreak and its economic fallout. “While it is still too early to assess the efficiency of these measures, especially the poor state of the under-financed health service, this might prove to be a ticking bomb if the number of infections rises rapidly. But for the time being it is Duda who benefits politically from them,” he believes. According to Mr Buras, this is best demonstrated by the fact that up until a week ago it was certain that the election would be decided over two rounds of voting. However, recent poll results suggest that Mr Duda could secure his reelection in the first found. “However, with the peak infection still not reached and general uncertainty as to how the corona crisis will unfold, a rapid shift of preferences or even collapse of support for the ruling party and Duda cannot be ruled out either. But if this happens, the decision to postpone the elections can always be taken – by announcing the state of emergency,” he adds. Mr Buras says that the coronavirus issue – as in many other countries – is at the centre of the political debate. “While the opposition candidates cannot run their campaigns anymore, Mr Duda uses his role as president to promote his public image as an efficient crisis manager (in spite of his very limited formal competences in this area). Not surprisingly, the opposition demands the presidential election is postponed,” he continues. He also notes that while the opposition generally approves of the restrictions imposed by the government to contain the spread of the virus, it remains critical of certain aspects.

 

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