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Belgrade Media Report 07 May

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LOCAL PRESS

Serbia lifts state of emergency (Tanjug/Beta/RTS)
Vucic congratulates Victory Day to Putin (RTS)
Vucic: Less talk about perspective and more about enlargement (RTS)
Serbia is part of the ‘Europe team’ (B92/Tanjug)
Djilas at PES meeting ahead of EU-Western Balkans Summit: No conditions for fair elections, Serbia is a dictatorship (Beta)
Another 57 cases, 2,160 recovered (RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

HR Inzko presents regular semiannual report to UN SC (O kanal)
Russia’s UN SC representative accuses Inzko of ‘demonizing Serbs’ (O kanal)
Leaders of 27 EU member states, six Western Balkan countries pass Zagreb Declaration (BHT1)
Dzaferovic and European Council President Michel discuss B&H’s EU path (O kanal)
Croat officials stress importance of European path of B&H and necessity to change Law on Elections (Vecernji list)
Prosecutor’s Office of B&H announces new steps in investigation in case of procurement of 100 respirators for FB&H health system (BHT1)
SC Office for Fight against Corruption investigates procurement of protective masks ordered from company, owned by son of SBB representative (N1)
Seranic: People will have to learn to live with the virus and get used to certain measures (ATV)
RS Public Health Institute publishes precise instructions and recommendations on gradual easing of measures (ATV)
Kresic: Reaction to Russian experts was caused by those who are allergic because Covic submitted request for Russian assistance (Dnevni avaz)
B&H records 39 new Covid-19 cases and 4 deaths, tally now at 2,026 (N1)
Croatia

Zagreb Declaration adopted at Western Balkans Summit (HRT)
Zovko: Holding the summit is the biggest success of Croatia’s foreign policy; Picula: EU needs to resolve its internal issues before thinking about accession talks (HRT)
In Croatia, 6 new cases of infection, a total of 2125, 1 person died (N1)
Montenegro

Djukanovic: We must not leave Balkans to third parties (CDM)
Greater connection between the Balkans and the EU is needed (RTCG)
Freedom House Report on Montenegro offers plenty of reasons for debate (Dnevne novine)
Number of recovered cases rises to 265, as Institute for Public Health reports no new cases of coronavirus (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia

North Macedonia prepared to start negotiations using new methodology, Spasovski tells Zagreb summit (MIA)
Mitsotakis: Good neighborly relations only way to European future of North Macedonia (MIA)
Osmani: Bulgaria not planning to block EU process, supported start of negotiations (MIA)
Constitutional Justices won’t reconsider constitutionality & legality of parliamentary dissolution (MIA)
SDSM push for early elections and rule by decree collides with Venice Commission rules (Republika)
Deskoska insists that government decrees will remain in effect even after the state of emergency has been lifted (Republika)
In Macedonia 33 new Covid-19 cases, patient dies during emergency transport from Veles to Skopje (Republika)
Albania

Albanian Premier’s harsh reaction over Freedom House Report (ADN)
Protesters beaten by police during anti-isolation rally in Albania (ADN)
Ten new Coronavirus cases detected in Albania (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

4 takeaways from the EU’s virtual Balkan summit (Politico)
EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit held via video link (Al Jazeera Balkans)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Serbia lifts state of emergency (Tanjug/Beta/RTS)

 

The Serbian parliament lifted tonight the state of emergency that was declared on 15 March over the coronavirus epidemic. In favor were155 MPs and no one voted against. Lifting the state of emergency does not mean going back to the daily routine that had existed before 15 March as certain restrictions that were introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus will remain in force. The MPs also adopted the Law on validity of the decrees passed by the Serbian government during the state of emergency with a co-signature of the President of the Republic, and confirmed by the Serbian parliament. The parliament abolished 11 decrees that were in force during the state of emergency. In addition, the competent election commissions will adopt on 11 May decisions on the continuation of electoral activities. Speaking at the parliament session at which the state of emergency was abolished, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated that we still can’t declare victory over coronavirus, but that we are close to it, which is why the Serbian government proposed to lift the state of emergency. Brnabic said that the next happiest day for her will be when the flags, which are now at half-mast, are raised again, because that will mean that there are no more human victims. She expressed her gratitude to the citizens who have adhered to the restrictive measures, to health workers and institutions that have been fighting every day to maintain the health system and save the lives of the elderly citizens. It seems to me that we can look all together back to those two months behind us and say that in the future we will not be ashamed of this period. I think we will be able to be proud of how we fought and how we put human life above everything, and not politics and the economy, Brnabic said. According to her, the Serbian government will continue the practice of full transparency and communication with all media in order for citizens to receive accurate and timely information. The most important thing for us is that Serbia starts working again, with all precautions, and to ensure rapid economic growth. We must continue to fight together, and the success will depend on each of us individually, Brnabic concluded.

 

Vucic congratulates Victory Day to Putin (RTS)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic received today Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko and on that occasion handed him a letter for President Vladimir Putin, congratulating him the 75th anniversary of victory over fascism, the Presidency announced. “The Victory Day is one of the brightest dates in the history of mankind and a symbol of the indomitable and libertarian spirit of our glorious ancestors. I am honored that our nations went together through severe trials in the noble mission to free the world from the greatest evil of the twentieth century, overcoming fear and scorning death. That is why we have a duty forever to keep the memory of their superhuman struggle, on the side of justice and truth. Serbia, Russia and the world are now back together in a battle, this time against an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, that knows no boundaries. Allow me to express my sympathy for the victims of COVID-19 in Russia and my hope for a speedy recovery of the diseased. At the same time, I would like to thank you for showing your concern for Serbia at these times of greatest challenge for your country. Thank you for the human and statesmanlike solidarity, which you have conferred by sending generous medical assistance and the team of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. For us, this is a confirmation of your personal relationship with Serbia, as well as a confirmation of the extraordinary strategic relations and closest friendship of our two countries. Our relations are based on respect, understanding and mutual support, as demonstrated by Russia’s active support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia, to which we are sincerely grateful,” states Vucic’s congratulations to Putin, accompanied by the wishes to continue to pursue plans for Russia’s future providing her with a steady path of progress. Botsan-Kharchenko thanked for the letter and stated that the Victory Day, despite the postponement of the traditional Red Square parade, would be commemorated and that the Embassy of the Russian Federation, in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the city authorities in Belgrade, is preparing a series of events following the circumstances. Vucic and Botsan-Kharchenko discussed bilateral relations between Serbia and Russia and expressed hope that circumstances would soon allow for a high-level exchange of visits and the resumption of previously planned interstate contacts. The two interlocutors also discussed the regional situation, especially in Kosovo and Metohija.

 

Vucic: Less talk about perspective and more about enlargement (RTS)

 

“We want less talk of perspective and more about the enlargement process. Serbia wants to be in the EU and we want to get a concrete answer,” Vucic told RTS, adding that three issues dominated the video conference – economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic, continuing reforms and the enlargement process. “The EU is our strategic goal but I will not cow tow to anyone and speak out against China and Russia,” he said. He said that he asked the EU for more grants rather than loans but added that Serbia “will obviously have the highest growth in Europe” after the pandemic. “There was strong support to Lajcak, I reiterated that we respect him and we are happy to resume dialogue, as well as that we want a compromise solution, but that this is extremely painful for us and that we do not accept blackmail from Pristina that could be heard – that this makes sense only of Serbia recognizes Kosovo. One enters the dialogue bona fides, in the best intention to talk, you cannot say in advance what will be the content,” said Vucic.

Serbia is part of the ‘Europe team’ (B92/Tanjug)

 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen claims EU-WB Summit proves that the Western Balkans is an absolute EU priority and its “privileged partner”. She stated that Serbia was “part of the Europe team” which collected over 4 billion dollars for the fight against COVID-19. “Western Balkans belongs to the EU and no one in the EU questions this. I firmly believe that the EU has a special responsibility to help its partners in the region,” von der Leyen said. After the video summit held with the leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans, Ursula von der Leyen emphasized that the EU showed clear solidarity with the region during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also thanked the region for its assistance offered to EU. “At the global donor conference, we collected 8 billion dollars, of which more than 4 billion dollars came from the “Europe team”, of which Serbia was a part, with a donation of 2 million euros. It’s a strong and clear message”, von der Leyen said. The President of the European Commission says that the EU has mobilized 3.3 billion euros to support the region in the health sector as well as in eliminating the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and helping small and medium enterprises.

She adds that during the pandemic, the EU included the Western Balkans in initiatives intended only for member states, and assessed that this is proof that the Western Balkans is a “privileged partner” and that it has unequivocal EU support for its European perspective. Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would come up with an economic investment plan after the pandemic aimed at long-term economic recovery, focusing on transport, energy infrastructure, green transformation of the economy and digital transition. “Once we put behind us this immediate phase of the pandemic, EU will present the investment plan later this year – it will focus on necessary transport and energy infrastructure, but also Green new deal and digitalization”, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated during the press conference. “Regional co-operation and good neighborly relations are the key to the economic recovery of the region. We in Europe know this very well because our single market is our strength. We want the Western Balkans to move closer to the EU single market and to benefit from it,” von der Leyen said. She called on the authorities in the region to continue with the reform processes, especially in the area of ​​the rule of law, the fight against corruption, the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration. “The EU wants to see clear evidence in the fight against corruption and organized crime”, von der Leyen said, adding that free press, which is the cornerstone of the democracy, is of particular importance when it comes to EU values. She emphasized that the new methodology of accession negotiations enables countries that show better results in reforms to move faster in accession negotiations. “Enlargement policy is one of the most successful EU policies that has expanded peace, prosperity and stability on the continent. I am convinced that it will bring benefit both to the EU and the Western Balkans,” von der Leyen concluded.

 

Djilas at PES meeting ahead of EU-Western Balkans Summit: No conditions for fair elections, Serbia is a dictatorship (Beta)

 

The leader of the Freedom and Justice Party Dragan Djilas addressed the participants of the May 6 meeting, organized by the Party of European Socialists (PES) and its caucus in the European Parliament “Socialists and Democrats”, ahead of the video-conference EU-Western Balkans summit, stressing that there were no conditions for the holding of fair elections in Serbia.

Djilas said that the people in Serbia had not forgotten the European path and European values, despite “the regime showing otherwise by its actions,” the Freedom and Justice Party has stated.

“For the past eight years, the people of Serbia have been living in a dictatorship. That is why the Serbian opposition decided to boycott the forthcoming election. I have read the statement of Mr. (Josep) Borrell about boycott not being a solution. Of course, it is not the solution. The solution is for all the people to show their free will. Considering that there is no possibility for expressing one’s opinion and free will, there can also be no elections,” Djilas said. “When we win our freedom back,” Djilas said, “we will leave the past behind and look only ahead, because there can be no future without reconciliation between the Serb people and the peoples of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.”

 

Another 57 cases, 2,160 recovered (RTS)

 

Until 3pm there have been there have been another 57 cases, in total 9,848, three more deaths, in total 206 deaths. There are 46 patients on respirators, and 2,160 have recovered.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

HR Inzko presents regular semiannual report to UN SC (O kanal)

 

High Representative Valentin Inzko addressed the UN Security Council (UN SC) via remote video Wednesday and presented his regular semiannual report on the status of peace implementation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), covering the period from 16 October 2019 through 15 April 2020. Inzko stated that B&H political leaders demonstrated an extraordinary level of readiness to cooperate at the beginning of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but that with time, certain politicians in B&H continued the rhetoric of division. Inzko stressed that the RS authorities, led by Milorad Dodik‘s SNSD, continued the attack on the foundations of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in B&H with threats that they will withdraw from the B&H institutions following the verdict of the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H on state property. Inzko also proposed establishment of an international body which would monitor corruption and illegalities in regard to international assistance to B&H. “In this crisis, the international community has done an excellent job of assisting B&H by providing financial and material assistance to the B&H authorities at all levels of government. On the other hand, the authorities in B&H to date have failed to reach a political agreement on the distribution of IMF financial assistance. Yet one of the bigger challenges for the country is how to minimize corruption risks related to the management of international financial and material assistance. While the B&H authorities must investigate and process these allegations, I strongly recommend to colleagues in the international community to set up international community-run mechanisms to track their financial and material assistance to avoid profiteering” Inzko said in his address to the UNSC. The second biggest problem, Inzko stated, is the “chronical dysfunctionality of the Federation of B&H (FB&H)”. Furthermore, the HR noted that, while the Republika Srpska (RS) formed its government swiftly after elections in October 2018, the new FB&H government has not been appointed after more than 18 months. He also noted that the solution for amendment of the Election Law of B&H and the Mostar elections have not been found yet, because parties in the FB&H are unable to harmonize their stances. He expects the postponing of local elections in B&H due to the pandemic and the failure to adopt the budget of B&H institutions for 2020. He added that the international community needs to know what is at stake in B&H and has to work jointly to preserve joint investments – time and money invested in B&H over last 25 years. Inzko emphasized that the international community needs to work jointly, adding that unity is their only strength and only recipe for success: preservation of long-term stability of B&H. Also, on the eve of his regular address before the UN SC about situation in B&H, Inzko talked with Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres via video-link. Inzko commended renewed commitment of the Presidency of B&H for the EU integration. He also informed Secretary General about other current political developments in B&H.

 

Russia’s UN SC representative accuses Inzko of ‘demonizing Serbs’ (O kanal)

 

Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya accused the HR in B&H Valentin Inzko of “demonizing” Serbs after the latter presented his semi-annual report on B&H to the UN SC on Wednesday. Nebenzya heavily criticized the report, saying that criticizing Serbs in B&H has become the norm for the High Representative. Nebenzya said that Inzko “demonizes” Serbs and that he is basing his argumentation on rulings by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). “We urge all three peoples to find a solution and agreement on any potential disagreements through dialogue,” he said. Nebenzya underlined that the situation in B&H is at satisfying level, adding that the OHR should be closed. Nebenzya also underlined that documents from the UK archives are revealing important details about events in Srebrenica and stressed they hope the commission in the RS will establish all the facts.

 

Leaders of 27 EU member states, six Western Balkan countries pass Zagreb Declaration (BHT1)

 

Leaders of 27 EU member states and six countries of the Western Balkans who attended a video conference of the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit on Wednesday adopted the Zagreb Declaration confirming a clear European perspective of the Southeastern Europe (SEE) countries and commitment of the Western Balkan partners to preservation of European values and principles. The EU Council gave green light for opening of the accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic stated that the process of the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans was one of the priorities of the Croatian presidency of the EU, stressing that he advocates holding of summits of the EU and Western Balkan leaders on a regular basis in the future. President of the European Council Charles Michel said that important decisions proving the EU’s commitment to the SEE countries were adopted at the conference, reminding that a firm stance and a message on the need to continue with reforms in the field of rule of law, democratic values and the fight against corruption were also conveyed from the conference. Michel assessed that these topics are important as they are in the interest of citizens and also because they contribute to strengthening of the partnership between the EU and the region. European Commission (EC) President Ursula Von der Leyen said: “Even if it is a virtual summit, it is a testimony that the Western Balkans is priority for the EU and the EC, it belongs in Europe. The EU feels responsibility for this region, especially regarding the fight against the pandemic.” The declaration does not mention the EU enlargement, but it confirms the EU perspective of the Western Balkans countries. Brussels officials seek from Western Balkans countries clear commitment to the EU paths, which means these countries must provide the same support to the EU as the EU gives to them and their progress. The EU officials said that any ‘combinations’ with third parties, primarily with Russia, Turkey and China, and even with Saudi Arabia, must stop if these countries want a stable future in the EU. The declaration clearly stated that some countries of the region are maintaining close relations with Russia, Turkey and China, but the EU expects them to decide where they belong before attempting to join the Union. The declaration text also mentions that the EU is the biggest financial supporter of countries of the Western Balkans region, and no other country of the world provided such continuous support.

 

Dzaferovic and European Council President Michel discuss B&H’s EU path (O kanal)

 

Prior to the Zagreb Summit, the EU path of B&H was the topic of the talks held between B&H Presidency Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic and President of the European Council Charles Michel. Michel underlined that the EU stays committed to the strong EU perspective for B&H and the region, while Dzaferovic expressed his wish for B&H receiving the candidate status as soon as possible, which would lead to the beginning of the accession talks. Dzaferovic also confirmed that B&H will join and support the EU Declaration.

 

Croat officials stress importance of European path of B&H and necessity to change Law on Elections (Vecernji list)

 

Speaker of the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic took part in Wednesday’s video-conference of the European People’s Party (EPP) and leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans. According to the daily, participants of the conference spoke about the European integration in the region and joint response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The conference was addressed by EPP leader Donald Tusk, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and other EU and Western Balkans officials. Covic told the conference that HDZ B&H has been working hard on the European path of B&H and that part of the vision is the equality and trust among the constituent peoples. The HDZ B&H leader said that “we, legitimate and democratically elected representatives of Croats, as a constituent people” are committed to the EU path and are closely working with the EU Delegation to B&H on meeting the 14 priorities from the EC’s Opinion. Covic noted that the priorities identified ‘our weak points’, especially the issue of democratic representation of constituent peoples and minorities, adding that unconstitutional electoral rules allow election of people who do not represent Croats. In this context Covic said he would like to use the opportunity to inform participants of the conference about “irregularities” in the Central Election Commission of B&H, which threaten to undermine and endanger the election process. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also took part via video link in the abovementioned conference. Participants discussed the fight against coronavirus, but also European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. Vucic asked for the removal of trade barriers, protective measures and quotas with an emphasis on export of steel to the EU for the entire Western Balkans. Vucic pointed to the European perspective of Serbia and solidarity within EPP.

 

Prosecutor’s Office of B&H announces new steps in investigation in case of procurement of 100 respirators for FB&H health system (BHT1)

 

The Prosecutor’s Office of B&H has announced new steps in the investigation in the case of suspicious procurement of 100 respirators for the Federation of B&H (FB&H) health system, after members of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) of B&H raided the premises of the FB&H Civil Protection Administration in Sarajevo and the ‘Srebrena Malina’ company on Tuesday and seized the necessary documentation. (The agreement on purchase of respirators worth BAM 10.5 million was signed between the FB&H Civil Protection Administration and the ‘Srebrena Malina’ company that runs the raspberry production and processing business. This company got a job of import of respirators from China. It is suspected that the procurement of respirators from China was done contrary to the law on public procurement of B&H.) The Prosecutor’s Office of B&H stated on Wednesday that the necessary expert evaluations will be requested and further activities will be ordered within the investigation, after analyzing of the seized documentation is completed. The Prosecutor’s Office of B&H and SIPA have asked the Montenegrin prosecutor’s office for help in the investigation because a company from Montenegro was mentioned as one of mediators in the procurement process.

 

SC Office for Fight against Corruption investigates procurement of protective masks ordered from company, owned by son of SBB representative (N1)

 

The Sarajevo Canton (SC) Office for the Fight against Corruption launched an investigation because they doubt the transparency of the procurement of 50,000 protective masks ordered by the SC Civil Protection Service from the company ‘Panta Rei’, which is owned by the son of SBB representative in the SC Cantonal Assembly Bilsena Sahman. The company did not work on the import or procurement of medical equipment before the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the information the media came into possession ‘Panta Rei’ company is a cake distributor which makes it unsuitable for this type of procurement. However, this company is also registered for wholesaling and retailing. SDP B&H) Caucus in the Sarajevo Canton (SC) Assembly has announced it will ask that the information on the procurement of face masks from a company owned by the son Sahman is included in the agenda of According to SDP B&H, there is a reasonable doubt that this company was selected for a job of procurement of face masks as a counter-favor given that Sahman’s vote was decisive in overthrowing the previous convocation of the SC government.

 

Seranic: People will have to learn to live with the virus and get used to certain measures (ATV)

 

The RS so far recorded 50 coronavirus fatalities, while 391 people in the RS recovered from the virus. Speaking of wider relaxation of restrictive measures in the RS which is expected to happen as of 11 May, RS Minister of Healthcare and Social Protection Alen Seranic explained that this entails strengthening of discipline and change of behavior. “We cannot eradicate coronavirus. We cannot set ourselves the goal of keeping measures in force until the moment when this virus will no longer exist in the RS. That is impossible,” Seranic said, adding that people will have to learn to live with the virus and get used to certain measures and new ways and norms of behavior when it comes to the existence of coronavirus. Seranic stressed that after measures are liberalized after 11 May and a large number of business entities reopen, samples will be taken from employees in re-opened shops and companies to obtain information on the circulation of the virus. Seranic announced that quarantines for people infected with COVID-19 who are experiencing milder symptoms will be abolished by the end of May and these patients will be treated at home instead of in quarantine. Seranic underlined that the RS did everything it could to stem the spread of coronavirus, noting that every country adapts the measures to itself and the needs of its population. Seranic emphasized that the RS Government is doing everything in its power to prepare the system and citizens for life with the presence of coronavirus in the society.

 

RS Public Health Institute publishes precise instructions and recommendations on gradual easing of measures (ATV)

 

The RS Public Health Institute has published on its website precise instructions and recommendations on gradual easing of measures in regard to coronavirus and future work of certain business and other entities in the RS which will reopen on Monday, 11 May. As far as coffee shops, restaurants and grills are concerned, guests will only be allowed to stay in the outdoor seating part of those establishments from 7 am to 7 pm. When it comes to hair and cosmetic salons, working hours will be from 7 am to 7 pm and customers will have to call in advance to book an appointment. As of Monday, many companies and shops in the RS will reopen after two months and they will again start making money, but in somewhat different conditions than before. As of Monday, citizens in the RS will be able to drink a coffee at their favorite coffee shop. Customers of coffee shops will have to sit at a slightly greater distance from the guests sitting at another table. Three people are allowed to sit at the same table, with the exception of members of one household. Dental clinics in the RS are also ready to receive their first patients after two months. Kindergartens in the RS will also reopen as of Monday. The recommendation of the RS Crisis HQ is to work with a minimum number of children with instructions on hygiene measures issued by the RS Public Health Institute.

 

Kresic: Reaction to Russian experts was caused by those who are allergic because Covic submitted request for Russian assistance (Dnevni avaz)

 

Deputy B&H Minister of Defense Mijo Kresic deems that B&H should have accepted the humanitarian assistance from Russian military experts and he deems that Russian experts could not abuse this visit because this is a team of 24-25 people who could not have produced any bad situation, considering the procedure and the fact they would be accompanied by Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies. “I think that the mistake was not made in Security Ministry but in Foreign Affairs Ministry, but I see that the reaction was made because the persons are allergic to the one who asked for support, i.e. request for assistance,” said Kresic. He added that those who were ‘allergic’ because Dragan Covic submitted a request for assistance will recognize themselves. Kresic further welcomed the series of moves, undertaken by Security Ministry led by Fahrudin Radoncic, stressing that this Ministry overcame the lethargy and restored the lost credibility. “This can be seen in the beginning of the response to this crisis, in approach to the migrants which I advocated for three or four years which is now publicly presented. We have a security threat when it comes to migrants. There is also a series of other issues there, an access to Europol this was all changed to a significant extent. I am pleased that this is the case,” ends Kresic.

B&H records 39 new Covid-19 cases and 4 deaths, tally now at 2,026 (N1)

 

B&H health authorities reported 39 new cases of Covid-19 over the past 24 hours – 28 from the RS and 11 from the FB&H. Apart from this number, there were also 4 fatalities, 3 in the RS, 1 in the FB&H. When it comes to virus-related fatalities, 3 persons have died in the Banja Luka University Hospital and 1 in Mostar Clinical Centre. All patients were elderly men with pre-existing chronic diseases. The state Civil Affairs Ministry said that the total number of confirmed cases now stands at 2,026, 954 people recovered and 90 had died as a result. The RS health officials said they tested 519 samples for the new coronavirus, of which 28 came back positive. So far, the entity confirmed 1,043 cases of the new coronavirus, of which 53 had died and 391 recovered. They say that 15,988 people have been tested for the presence of coronavirus in this entity, since the beginning of the pandemic in the country. The FB&H health authorities said they tested 706 samples over the past 24 hours, 11 of which came back positive for Covid-19. The Health Ministry’s Crisis Staff said a total of 21,187 people have been tested in this entity since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Of that number, 864 came back positive. To date, 530 patients recovered from the disease. Entity health authorities reported 34 Covid-19-related fatalities.

Zagreb Declaration adopted at Western Balkans Summit (HRT)

 

EU leaders and six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo) met in a video conference on Wednesday for a high-level summit in which the EU affirmed its support for the region’s EU ambitions and their fight against the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit, the key event of Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, was held via video link on Wednesday due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although EU foreign ministers had already given the green light for accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania back in March, the Zagreb Declaration adopted at Wednesday’s conference did not expressly mention enlargement, but rather affirmed “the European perspective of the region” and the six countries who are all hoping to join the EU. At the same time, Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen stressed that the Western Balkans were an “absolute priority” and that the summit was “a testimony of the importance the European Union gives to the region”. “The Western Balkans belong in the EU. There is no question for us about this. And this is why I firmly believe that the European Union has a special responsibility in assisting its partners in the region,” said Von der Leyen on Twitter following the summit, without mentioning when the six counties might become member states.

European Council President Charles Michel, who chaired the summit, said it was an opportunity to re-state the European Perspective for the region, but called for “the continuation of reforms, particularly regarding rule of law, democratic values, and the fight against corruption and organized crime, must remain essential priorities.” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said since Croatian was the newest EU member state, they understood the struggles and ambitions of the Western Balkans very well, and that they wanted the summit to be a strong message of support on their way to the EU. The Zagreb Declaration also pledged mutual EU-Western Balkans support and solidarity during the Covid-19 crisis and its socio-economic consequences. EU leaders emphasized that the bloc had swiftly mobilized a package of over 3.3 billion euros in favorable loans to help the region in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The six Western Balkan countries were also given access to programs normally reserved for EU member states only, including the joint procurement of medical equipment, as well as securing the fast flow of essential goods across borders.

Zovko: Holding the summit is the biggest success of Croatia’s foreign policy; Picula: EU needs to resolve its internal issues before thinking about accession talks (HRT)

 

Croatia’s Presidency over the Council of the EU is close to end and the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb was supposed to be the peak of that presidency, during which leaders would discuss the EU perspective of the six Western Balkans countries that showed their commitment to joining the Union. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic a video conference was hosted by official Zagreb on Wednesday. Member of the European Parliament, Zeljana Zovko (HDZ B&H) said the summit was “historical”, primarily because it was organized by the youngest EU member state. She emphasized the importance of continuation of the EU enlargement process, because that will ensure the Union’s stability and safety for its citizens. Zovko noted that many leaders that took part in this summit became aware of this fact. “Holding this summit is the biggest success of Croatia’s foreign policy” she said, congratulating Plenkovic for organizing the event. She also supported Plenkovic’s stance on B&H’s EU path and need to have equal rights for all of its people. Zovko concluded by saying countries of the Western Balkans must also work on resolving their problems and disputes, so that the region is stable and ready for joining the EU in the future. MEP Tonino Picula (SDP Croatia) asked about EU’s readiness to continue the enlargement process at this moment, said that Zagreb summit from 20 years ago showed EU’s stance in the matter, which said the Western Balkans region belongs in the Union. “Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, especially after the big enlargement in 2004, when ten countries joined the EU”, Picula said. He stressed that several large crises hit the Union in the last 12 years and that has slowed down its work on further enlargement. Picula said the EU needs to resolve its internal issues before thinking about accession talks.

 

In Croatia, 6 new cases of infection, a total of 2125, 1 person died (N1)

 

Currently, there is a total of 2.125 cases of coronavirus infection in Croatia, and 1.641 has recovered. A total of 86 people has died. “In the last 24 hours in the Republic of Croatia we have 6 newly infected persons, totaling 2.125,” said Maja Grba Bujevic, adding that one person has died. “The first 10 days of eased measures passed without a significant increase in the number of infected people, which encourages us to continue the easing of the measures to the third phase,” Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic reported on Thursday.

 

Djukanovic: We must not leave Balkans to third parties (CDM)

 

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, taking part in the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit which took place in the format of video conference said “we must no leave Balkans to third parties, as it is living European tissue”. “We have been hearing a lot that the world won’t be the same after coronavirus. Let’s do our best to make it better. Europe must preserve values of western democracy, liberal society, freedoms and human rights, market economy… our message is: We must not leave Balkans to third parties as it is living European tissue. That means that region countries must strengthen resistance to offers that are trying to undermine European values and unity. We want to preserve this type of dialogue and make WB part of the European recovery plan,” Djukanovic said. Djukanovic thanked Croatia for demonstrating leadership at European level despite extraordinary circumstances. Djukanovic added that support and assistance of the EU proved that European solidarity hadn’t stopped at its borders. In Djukanovic’ s opinion, Montenegro has reinforced stability and trust in its own capacities. Institutions, healthcare system and Montenegrin citizens have demonstrated vitality, responsibility, and competence. It has been confirmed that the European path of reconstruction since renewal of independence wasn’t in vain. “We won’t stop here. We are committed to building open European society of democracy and rule of law. We are focused on economic recovery and dynamic development. Green economy, digital transformation and diversification remain guiding principle to our strategic goal: achieving European quality of life of our citizens,” he says. Djukanovic pointed out that it was time for geo-political positioning of the EU at global stage. The path to that is reinforcing stability and mobilization of all European development resources. That imperatively means completion of the EU accession process. “We in the WB are aware that our EU membership has sense if it makes contribution to new quality and global competitiveness of Europe,” Djukanovic pointed out. The President says that Europeanization process of the WB can be encouraged by high-quality infrastructure connection with the EU, through comprehensive and precisely focused investment strategic framework. “It is necessary to help our region to ground its further social development on science, high technologies and innovation. That way, we are going to accelerate the process of coming out of the backwardness generated by instability, keep young and educated people and improve our citizens’ health. The current crisis has warned us that we must invest more in health and science,” Djukanovic said.

 

Greater connection between the Balkans and the EU is needed (RTCG)

 

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic spoke with European Council President Charles Michel ahead of the European Union video summit on the Western Balkans. According to Djukanovic’s cabinet, it was jointly assessed that the organization of the summit during the pandemic was a strong confirmation of support for the Western Balkan countries and an opportunity to send clear messages to the European public and the region about the strong link between the European Union and our region. “The interlocutors agreed that it is necessary to work on further elaboration of strategic investment integration of the Western Balkans and the European Union, which is even more necessary in the conditions caused by the pandemic, statement said. “EU support and assistance to Montenegro and the Western Balkans has not been absent in these difficult times, which is another in a series of positive messages from the new European institutions, which encourages optimism and adds enthusiasm for the region’s European future,” Djukanovic said.

 

Freedom House Report on Montenegro offers plenty of reasons for debate (Dnevne novine)

 

According to the latest report “Nations in transit”, by Freedom House, human rights organization, Montenegro and Serbia have lost the epithet of “partially consolidated democracies”. After the assessment of state, Freedom House grouped these tow WB countries in the category of “hybrid regimes”, consisting of countries where democratic institutions are fragile and faced with challenges in defending their political rights and civil freedoms.

However, assessment of state in Montenegro is, at the very least, problematic, for several reasons. It is incredible that the institution has published that religious processions which took place last year although everybody knows that first important protests began in January and lasted until the outbreak of the pandemic. Part of the report entitled “Within Eco-Protests, Support for Democracy”, says:  Meanwhile, Montenegro experienced the largest protests in its history last year—involving perhaps 10 percent of the population—yet government officials there only granted concessions to a diffuse campaign against dams whose rallies never drew more than a few dozen people. The report is flippant as it is clear that methodology of the research is not correct as events from this year have been put in the last. The report, simply, is not accurate. Montenegro has come under attack of “scientific collaborators” of Freedom House due to cooperation with China and while reading the report, you can form an impression that it is wrong and made to point t Chin as global problem. Freedom House states that China is seizing on the weaknesses of institutions. The report points out the import of technology for surveillance in countries like Serbia, as well as companies of media influence, in which Chinese authorities intervene in order to shape content to their advantage. FH states that Montenegro owes 39% of its debt to China. Everybody in Montenegro knows this debt refers to the construction of the highway and that so far, there has not been any indicator that the debt can’t be settled. What would this report look like if the highway was being constructed by some American, German, Swiss or French company? Freedom House reminds of the opposition boycott in the parliament after the Coup attempt in 2016.

 

Number of recovered cases rises to 265, as Institute for Public Health reports no new cases of coronavirus (CDM)

 

According to the latest data of the Institute for Public Health, another four persons have recovered from the coronavirus, bringing total number of recovered cases to 265. There are currently 51 active cases. “Laboratories have analyzed another 130 samples and found that all of them were negative for coronavirus. Total number of cases in Montenegro is the same, 324”. So far, eight persons have died due to coronavirus. Active cases:

Podgorica: 28

Ulcinj: 10

Bar: 5

Gusinje: 3

Plav: 2

Niksic: 1

Herceg Novi: 1

Bijelo Polje: 1

 

North Macedonia prepared to start negotiations using new methodology, Spasovski tells Zagreb summit (MIA)

 

Over the past three years North Macedonia has decided to turn new pages in its history. We came out of a deep political crisis and restored democratic institutions and the rule of law. We have delivered concrete and sustainable results in implementing EU-related reforms and good neighborly relations. We joined NATO and received a decision for the start of EU accession negotiations, said Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski in his video-conference address at the plenary session of the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit 2020 on Wednesday. Spasovski, Deputy PM for European Affairs Bujar Osmani and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov took part in the online meeting, hosted by the Croatian EU Presidency. Spasovski said North Macedonia is prepared for the next steps, engaging with commitment alongside the European Commission and the Council, towards sooner scheduling of the first intergovernmental conference that marks the practical part of the negotiating process in accordance with the new methodology. “Let me reassure you that North Macedonia will remain committed to the fundamental reforms and continue to contribute for the European security. The Prespa Agreement with Greece and the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria are our investment in the future common European future, and it is of enormous significance to implement them through good will, on our part and on the part of the member-states concerned,” said Spasovski. EU and Western Balkans leaders discussed cooperation in coping with the COVID-19, European perspective of Western Balkans countries, as well as their commitment to the European values and reforms, the government said in a press release. According to the PM, the Zagreb summit is taking place at the right time, when Europe is finally seeing a slowdown of the virus spread and relaxation of restrictive measures. “We can take a breath and make the preliminary analyses, but also discuss future expectations and joint steps. Let me express my sincere gratitude to our Croatian friends, EU officials and leaders of member-states for the opportunity to hold this summit through a video-conference, which has become our daily reality. This Zagreb summit is symbolic because the city also hosted the first in the series of summits that opened the European perspective of regional countries exactly 20 years ago,” said Spasovski. The coronavirus, he added, has caused devastation and produced many challenges, but also something positive – it has clearly demonstrated that the European continent has a common future, sharing the same administrative culture and practices, but also high degree of socio-economic inter-dependency between the EU and the Western Balkans’ economies, as well as among countries in the region. The PM thanked the EU for the solidarity and assistance in the form of emergency support to the health sector, the financial package for management of the socio-economic effects, as well as the macro-financial assistance. “We also highly value the unprecedented access to the other EU mechanisms and instruments, as well as the joint efforts to bring our stranded citizens back home. We are thankful for the Union’s treatment of our countries as if we were part of the Union. This gives us a feeling of safety that we will share the crisis burden. COVID-19 will continue to test our resolve and the most important thing at this time is to focus our efforts to the recovery and overcoming the deep socio-economic consequences in the countries,” added Spasovski. Regarding the Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which is to be released this fall, Spasovski said it will be of huge importance in supporting the development of the private sector, transport and energy networking, digitization, green agenda and social investments in the area. “We are prepared to brief the Commission on the ripe infrastructure projects having a regional dimension, which are part of our plans and to which realization we are committed together with you,” noted Spasovski. He referred to the railway networking with Bulgaria and Albania, airline traffic with Kosovo, gas inter-connector with Greece, development of digital economy and green growth, and stimulation to trade and tourism in the Western Balkans. The COVID-19 threat has led to closer cooperation among Western Balkans countries, which have established so-called “green corridors” for continual movement of primary products, followed by their enlargement and merger with European corridors. “North Macedonia and Bulgaria are co-chairing the Berlin Process in 2020. One of our priorities is enhancement of inclusive regional economic integration and development of a joint regional market based on EU law, thus making the region a more attractive investment zone. In this regard, we are planning to present a document for further development of regional economic integration at the Sofia summit later in the year, together with the Regional Cooperation Council and the European Commission,” said Spasovski. He also thanked the Croatian EU Presidency and member-states for opening the door to a regular political dialogue with the Western Balkans at the highest level. “Let me conclude by voicing my conviction that we will jointly overcome this crisis and swiftly recover our economies, because despite the initial difficulties, Europe has shown its resilience at the time when mutual understanding and action was needed the most. This makes the European Union unique and special, a desired home of our citizens. As leaders of our countries and representing our citizens, we stand ready to enhance mutual cooperation in meeting the EU membership criteria, so that we can soon call ourselves ‘Europeans’ before the rest of the world,” Spasovski underlined in his summit address.

 

Mitsotakis: Good neighborly relations only way to European future of North Macedonia (MIA)

 

The Western Balkan countries belong in the European Union, and this prospect expressed in the Declaration of Thessaloniki in 2003 must be kept alive, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday, at the EU-Western Balkans summit. Noting that it was Greece that first initiated and supported the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU, Mitsotakis said, “The Thessaloniki document is still valid, 17 years later, while for Greece the European integration of the Western Balkans is a strategic choice.” The Greek Premier called on North Macedonia to fully implement the Prespa Agreement with Greece as part of its obligations towards the start of accession talks, saying that “relations of good neighborhood is the only way leading to the European future of North Macedonia.” Referring to Albania, he acknowledged the country’s progress in fulfilling its obligations, but noted it was not enough. Mitsotakis said he expected Albania to also respect the rights of the Greek ethnic minority there, as part of its process towards the accession talks. Mitsotakis called on Europe to fulfill its obligations in managing the migration crisis also. “Greece has shouldered a great burden in the migration. We did our duty, and we expect others to do the same,” the Greek Premier said. He also asked for the collaboration of Western Balkan countries on the issue of undocumented migration.

 

Osmani: Bulgaria not planning to block EU process, supported start of negotiations (MIA)

 

Bulgaria was one of those who voted for the start of EU accession negotiations. If it had wanted to block the process, it would have done so in March, because the decision would have been impossible without Sofia’s consent, said Deputy PM for European Affairs Bujar Osmani on Wednesday. “Bulgaria’s remark at the March summit was a unilateral act incorporated in the minutes of the meeting as an opinion by a member-state, but not in the Conclusions that reflect the opinion of all member-states. However, we have signed the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria and are obliged to fulfill this agreement, including the positive results of the committee focusing on historical issues,” Osmani told a press conference. According to him, one of the general prerequisites for EU membership is good neighborly relations and closure of all open issues with neighbors, and there is nothing new in this context. “I believe we should sit down together with the Bulgarian side in the coming period and discuss all issues, in an attempt to overcome this matter. We have signed the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria and the Prespa Agreement with Greece, which incorporate aspects that have to be implemented. Of course, there are mechanisms and bodies that are established on the basis of these treaties and they are used as platforms for discussion where we will try to find a solution,” underlined Osmani.

 

Constitutional Justices won’t reconsider constitutionality & legality of parliamentary dissolution (MIA)

 

The Constitutional Court has decided not to discuss Justice Osman Kadriu’s proposal to start an ex officio procedure to evaluate if dissolving Parliament was constitutional and legal because “the matter was already settled.” “No conditions exist to initiate an ex officio inquiry into the Decision for the Dissolution of the Assembly (‘Official Gazette of the Republic of North Macedonia’ No. 43/2020),” the Constitutional Court confirmed in a unanimous vote on Wednesday. “The Constitutional Justices already had their say on the constitutionality and legality of this decision,” sources familiar with the court said, “at a session held on April 8 and 15, 2020, when they decided by a majority of votes not to initiate proceedings to appraise its constitutionality and legality.” Justice Kadriu proposed initiating an ex officio inquiry on April 30, but “the prior discussion had already taken into consideration the circumstances he brought up in his proposal,” according to the Constitutional Court.

 

SDSM push for early elections and rule by decree collides with Venice Commission rules (Republika)

 

In its push to hold early elections as soon as possible, before the coronavirus epidemic has been resolved, the SDSM led government is about to collide with recommendations made from the Venice Commission again. SDSM already violated recommendations from the leading Council of Europe legal authority, with its politically charged law that turns Macedonia into a bilingual, Macedonian – Albanian state. Now the party insists on summer elections, hoping to be done with it before the full extent of the economic crisis is felt in the public. But recommendations from the Venice Commission with regard to both Turkey and Georgia, when their constitutional clauses for the state of emergency were examined, demand that enough time is left after a state of emergency is lifted, before elections can be held. The Commission favorably considered a constitutional provision in Georgia which provided that there could be no elections during a state of emergency or period of martial law and no election could be held until 60 days had expired from the lifting of the state of emergency because elections “require a peaceful political atmosphere and the complete fruition of all freedoms and human rights and a condition of full guarantee of public order and security”, the Commission found in 2017. Conversely, on Turkey, the Commission condemned an article that would allow elections even during a state of emergency or martial law. SDSM is about to violate another principle protected by the Venice Commission. Justice Minister Renata Deskoska announced that decrees issued by the government, which have the force of law during the state of emergency even though many of them are not directly linked to the coroanvirus epidemic, will remain in force after the emergency has been lifted. And yet, the Commission has found that “emergency decree laws should lose their legal effect with the expiry of the state of emergency – permanent changes to legislation should not be introduced through such decree laws but must be left to ordinary legislation”. Some of the unrelated decisions included paying money to the politically linked employees of the now disbanded Special Prosecutor’s Office, decrees on trade with minerals and vehicles, online booking and other matters that are not related to the crisis.

 

Deskoska insists that government decrees will remain in effect even after the state of emergency has been lifted (Republika)

 

Justice Minister Renata Deskoska came out with a position that the decrees declared by the caretaker government using its powers under the state of emergency will continue to remain in effect after the state of emergency has been lifted. Many of the decrees have nothing to do with the coronavirus, but Deskoska insisted that they are needed to tackle the ancillary effects of the crisis in education, the economy and other areas. “Under the state of emergency, declared in accordance with article 126 of the Constitution, the government decrees have the force of laws. And one such act can only be amended or suspended with another law. At a time when there is no parliament, the government has the legislative function,” Deskovska said. She added that the Venice Commission has found in previous occasions that such executive decrees can remain in force even after the state of emergency.

 

In Macedonia 33 new Covid-19 cases, patient dies during emergency transport from Veles to Skopje (Republika)

 

A 70-year-old coronavirus patient from Veles who was treated in the local hospital for several days died during an emergency transport to Skopje. The Healthcare Ministry informed that the man took a turn for the worse and his doctor decided to send him to the Infectious Diseases Clinic in Skopje, but the patient did not make it. Additionally, 33 new Covid-19 cases were registered out of 332 tests conducted over the past 24 hours. Most of the patients were in Skopje (11), followed by Veles with 9 and Prilep with 5. This brings the death toll to 89 and the total number of infected patients to 1.572 – over a 1.000 of whom have overcome the illness. There were 11 patients admitted to the two clinics in Skopje that treat Covid-19 patients, and the total there stands at 62. Five require mechanical ventilation.

 

Albanian Premier’s harsh reaction over Freedom House Report (ADN)

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama has reacted on Wednesday over the last report of Freedom House on Albania, considering country partially free and democracy in decline. According to Premier, Albania has fallen by only 1 point, compared to last year and country has the most positive index of democratic freedoms in the Western Balkans. Saying that only a desperate journalist sees that Albania had fallen down the last in the Balkans, because is not true at all. Rama said that Serbia is below Albania, with 66 points and North Macedonia comes third, with 63 points. Furthermore, Montenegro has fallen to 62 points and Kosovo 56. As far as the PM is concerned, Bosnia is in complete stagnation and last in the region. “Albania is the country with the most positive index of democratic freedoms in the Western Balkans. Albania has a freedom index of 67 points. Yes, true, we have fallen by a point compared to last year and we could have fallen even more if the fiery political climate had burned the country,” said Rama. Freedom House published earlier the report for 2020 considering Albania’s democracy in decline. It received particularly bad scores for its judicial framework and independence (3.25) and corruption (2.75). It also got less than satisfactory results for national democratic governance (3.25), and independent media (3.75). In terms of its position among its Western Balkan neighbors, it was surpassed by Croatia (4.25), Montenegro (3.86), and Serbia (3.96). Its overall score of 3.82 is the median for the region. The median score for Central Europe is 5.4, falling to 1.39 in Eurasia.

Protesters beaten by police during anti-isolation rally in Albania (ADN)

 

The first protest against isolation due to coronavirus turned in to chaos. Police have beaten protesters that rallied in Scanderbeg Square against coronavirus lockdown imposed by government. They have demanded the liberation of the country from the restrictive measures and the resumption of normal life. Dozens of police forces have intervened, beating citizens who were present at the protest and escorted four of them. Some tried to resist by lying on the ground, but the officers dragged them into the police cars. Protesters have demanded the removal of the quarantine and the opening of businesses to continue life normally, because as one of them said, the rules are being set by “Despot Edi Rama“. One of the escorted persons is lawyer Zaqe Islami, who, since the start of the coronavirus has stated that Covid-19 is just a deception. The calls for this protest started on Facebook. Citizens during the protest said that the coronavirus is an illusion and that this illusion was created to install dictatorships.

Ten new Coronavirus cases detected in Albania (ADN)

 

Ten new COVID-19 cases have been reported during the past 24h in Albania, bringing the total number of infected people to 842. Of those detected in the last 24 hours, 3 cases are from Tirana, 3 from Kruja, 2 from Shkodra and 2 from Kamza. During the daily briefing, director of the Institute of Public Health, Rovena Daja stated that there are currently 206 active cases of COVID-19. “Most of the affected are being followed up by the family doctor or are asymptomatic, while in two COVID hospitals, in the infectious diseases hospital and Shefqet Ndroqi hospital, currently 38 patients are hospitalized and only 7 of them are in intensive care,” said Daja. The geographical distribution of active cases is as follows:

Tirana 96

Kruja 69

Shkodra 16

Kamza 8

Kurbin 4

Elbasan 3

Fier 3

Mirdita 2

Berat 2

Durres 1

Korca 1

Lezha 1

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

4 takeaways from the EU’s virtual Balkan summit (Politico, by David M. Herszenhorn, Jacopo Barigazzi, Andrew Gray, 7 May 2020)

 

Both sides got some of what they wanted, if not a physical meeting.

It was not the Zagreb Summit anyone had envisioned. The presidents of the EU institutions, along with 25 of the bloc’s 27 national leaders, convened via videoconference late Wednesday afternoon for a summit with their Western Balkan counterparts that had been scheduled to take place in the Croatian capital, and was intended as the crowning moment of Croatia’s first-ever presidency of the Council of the EU. But with Europe still reeling from the coronavirus, the six Balkan countries at various points on the real or aspirational path to EU membership — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — had to make do with a show of support that was virtual, both physically and in some senses politically as well.

The formal summit declaration made no mention of the EU’s decision in March to begin membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia — by far the most significant development related to the region. That was due to the wariness of some EU countries toward the whole idea of further enlarging the bloc. And while officially a top goal of the event was for EU leaders to voice “unequivocal support for the European perspective” of the region, those same leaders were also looking for a clear signal that the Balkan nations are committed to looking west to Europe rather than east to Russia or China. Fittingly for the leader of a country that is an EU member but also a neighbor of the would-be members, the summit’s virtual host, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, seemed the one person willing to say what needed to be said — for each side.

At a concluding news conference with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Plenković hailed the decision on Albania and North Macedonia, adding that from his country’s view at least, it had taken too long. And he made sure that EU leaders heard that the Western Balkans is committed to the EU. “These countries are in a way surrounded by the European Union. If we look at geography, there is nowhere else that they can go,” he said. North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, meanwhile, summed up the mood of regional leaders. “The recommitment to the European perspective is welcome,” he told POLITICO. “We would have been even happier with a reference to enlargement or completion of the European Union. After all, the Council took a decision to start accession talks.” But, he stressed, “under the circumstances, where everyone is 100 percent focused on the coronavirus, it’s a good sign that Europe still got together and focused on the region.” Here are four takeaways from the virtual summit:

 

1. It’s all about perspective — again

Due to the differences among EU members over enlargement, Western Balkan leaders once again had to make do with a commitment to a “European perspective” for the region. In a classic Brussels compromise, the prospect of membership was alluded to indirectly — with a reference to a declaration from a 2003 Thessaloniki summit which stated unambiguously: “The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” EU diplomats stress that even though Wednesday’s text shied away from saying so, things are moving ahead on the enlargement front. They point to the decision to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania and to the fact that next month the European Commission is expected to present the negotiating framework for both countries. That doesn’t mean anyone will be joining any time soon, however. The accession process takes years and candidate countries need to jump through many hoops before they can be deemed ready.

 

2. Forget China, show us some love!

One of the most striking passages in the final declaration concerns EU assistance to the Western Balkans to tackle the coronavirus. The statement notes the EU has mobilized €3.3 billion to help the region and declares: “The fact that this support and cooperation goes far beyond what any other partner has provided to the region deserves public acknowledgement.” The line reflects the fact that the EU is in competition for influence in the region with other powers. Translation, particularly for Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić: Quit flirting with China and Russia and show us some love. In the early days of the epidemic, Vučić lashed out at what he said was a lack of assistance from the EU. “European solidarity does not exist,” he declared. “That was a fairy tale.” Vučić also showed up at Belgrade airport to welcome a plane from China carrying a large shipment of medical supplies. And he declared Chinese President Xi Jinping to be a “brother,” because the Chinese “are the only ones who can help us.” The EU also scored a PR own goal by initially not exempting Western Balkan countries from export restrictions on medical protective equipment. That was later remedied. EU diplomats admit there were some problems at first in getting and highlighting assistance to the region. But “it’s simply true that we are doing more than everyone else,” one of them stressed.

 

3. EU plays catch-up with US on Kosovo

The leaders stressed the importance of “good neighbourly relations” and touched upon the most difficult relationship in the region — between Belgrade and Pristina. Two decades after the war that ended Serb rule over Kosovo, Belgrade continues to regard the territory as a rebel province and does not recognize its 2008 declaration of independence. The leaders welcomed the appointment last month of Miroslav Lajčák, a former foreign minister of Slovakia, as the EU’s special envoy for the stalled dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. But the EU is playing catch-up in a contest with the United States. Last October, Donald Trump appointed Richard Grenell, his ambassador to Germany and now also acting director of national intelligence, to a similar role. Grenell has not been slow to make his mark, in controversial fashion. He struck a deal to resume flights between the two capitals — although critics questioned its viability. He also contributed to the fall of Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government, after publicly criticizing Kurti for not swiftly removing trade tariffs on goods from Serbia. Grenell has been accused by some Kosovan politicians of taking Serbia’s side and pushing for a peace deal as an election-year achievement for Trump. For his part, Grenell has denied supporting border change — a hugely sensitive issue in the region — as a way to get a deal. Lajčák has his work cut out to play a leading role between the two sides, not just because of Grenell’s rival operation. Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi criticized Lajčák’s appointment even before it was announced, saying his mission was “designed to fail.” He said Lajčák had worked to stop Slovakia recognizing Kosovo and to prevent the country joining the U.N. cultural body, UNESCO. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell did not make matters any easier by wading into the heated border debate on the eve of the summit, declaring he was not opposed to a change if both sides agreed. That statement brought swift condemnation from Kurti, who remains acting prime minister.

 

4. Spain shows up!

Being forced to hold a virtual summit may have been a bummer for Croatia but it was a political gift for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who was able to avoid being in the same room as leaders from Kosovo, which Spain does not recognize as an independent country. Even before it was clear the summit would not take place in Zagreb, Madrid had negotiated with the Croatian hosts over pre-conditions for participating in the event, which included no formal reference to “six” Balkan countries, but rather general references to the EU’s Balkan partners; no reference in the formal declaration to EU membership; and no introduction by title that would have bestowed official status or recognition and no display of flags. Indeed, a glance at Sánchez’s tweet about the summit, or at his statement issued by the government, and it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the meeting was mainly about helping the Balkan countries manage the coronavirus crisis.Spain’s hypersensitivity over Kosovo is tied to its own internal problem with Catalonia, where separatists have long voiced a desire to break away from Madrid. Sánchez’s predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, skipped most of a similar EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2018 for the same reason. He attended a dinner the night before, but didn’t turn up for the actual summit meetings. Spain has also opposed allowing Kosovo to join international organizations or even the Eurovision Song Contest because it might be seen as official recognition. Instead, Madrid has insisted that Kosovo must work out an agreement with Serbia — a point that Sánchez reiterated in his statement Wednesday evening, expressing support for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and praising the EU’s designation of its special representative to help resolve the dispute. Sánchez said that Spain “encourages both parties to make progress aimed at achieving a consensual and lasting solution.” And luckily for the prime minister, he didn’t have to deliver that message in person.

Cristina Gallardo contributed to this article.

 

EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit held via video link (Al Jazeera Balkans, 6 May 2020)

 

The EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit was held via video link on Wednesday. Addressing a press conference following the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit, President of the European Council Charles Michel stated that the first important topic of the summit was the COVID-19, stressing that it is important both for the EU and the partners in the Western Balkans to overcome this challenge. Michel recalled that the EU secured EUR 3.3 billion in assistance for the region in order to support the fight against COVID-19 in the region. “The second important topic that we have discussed at the summit is the European perspective of the Western Balkans partners… It is necessary to continue with reforms, implement reforms, the rule of law, democratic values, fight against corruption. These topics are crucial for the benefit of the citizens and the people, but also to strengthen the partnership between the region and the EU” Michel said, recalling that the EU reached a decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Addressing a press conference following the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit, President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen said that the Summit, “even if it was a virtual one”, is a testimony of the importance the EU gives to the Western Balkan region. “It is a testimony that the Western Balkans is an absolute priority for the European Union and for my Commission. The Western Balkans belongs in the EU and there is no question about it” Von der Leyen said, thanking the countries in the region for their solidarity with the EU during the coronavirus crisis. Von der Leyen recalled that Albanian doctors went to help Italy and that Serbia and Montenegro helped enormously to fly back home EU citizens who were stranded. The President of the European Commission recalled that the EU mobilized an unparalleled financial package in the amount of EUR 3.3 billion. “EUR 750 million is macroeconomic financial assistance and it has been designed to help the Western Balkans address the immediate needs in the health sector, but also of course to take the first measures to mitigate the social and economic impact and to inject liquidity to small and medium-sized companies in the Western Balkans region” von der Leyen said. Von der Leyen stressed that “once we put behind us the immediate phase of the coronavirus crisis, the EU will accompany the longer-term recovery with an economic and investment plan.” “I expect the plan to be presented later in the year because of course it is linked to our European budget,” von der Leyen underlined, adding that the investment plan itself will focus on the necessary transport and energy infrastructure to interconnect the regions. Von der Leyen emphasized that regional cooperation and good neighborhood relations are key for the economic recovery of the region. “We know this too well in Europe where our single market is our strength and we want the Western Balkans to get closer to the single market and benefit from it. For this, governments in the region will need to continue to deliver on reforms, particularly in the area of the rule of law and the fight against corruption, functioning of democratic institutions and public administration. This means tackling corruption and organized crime where we want to see a clear track record established,” von der Leyen said. The President of the European Commission said that she is particularly happy that the summit took place under Croatia’s presidency. “It is in this Croatian presidency that the European Council decided to give the green light to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania – a strong sign. We have just celebrated a few days ago the biggest enlargement to the EU sixteen years ago. The enlargement policy – this is something where I am deeply convinced – is one of the most successful EU policies as it has spread peace, security and prosperity across the continent and I am sure it will continue to be the benefit of the Western Balkans and the EU,” von der Leyen said. Croatian Prime Minister and host of the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb summit Andrej Plenkovic stated that message of the meeting is that the EU is ready to support reform efforts of all six countries of the Western Balkans. “The message of the EU is that all six of our neighboring countries are being financially supported in the fight against COVID-19, that the European Commission (EC) is preparing a large package of economic aid that will follow regular reports on the progress of these countries, and we believe that after the Zagreb meeting which took place in Croatia twenty years ago, with this meeting this year, we sent a big message which is related both to our neighbors, to the enlargement policy and to concrete achievements that will remain a kind of legacy of Croatia’s presidency and that is also the modified methodology of negotiations on accession” Plenkovic said. Addressing a press conference following the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb summit, Plenkovic said that it was Croatia’s privilege to be the virtual host of the Zagreb summit. Plenkovic stressed that Croatia wanted to organize this summit to send a strong signal to the countries of the Western Balkans that the EU is standing by them and that it is willing to help them on their paths to the EU. “As Ursula (Von der Leyen) has said, the enlargement policy was one of the most successful policies throughout Europe’s 70 year history and our ambition was – during the Croatian presidency which is being organized under the motto ‘A strong Europe in a  world full of challenges’ – we did not think when we drafted this text back in October 2019 that we were going to be faced with a COVID-19 pandemic, but still, we wanted to put among our priorities the enlargement to the Southeast European countries and the Western Balkans,” Plenkovic said. Plenkovic recalled that the European Council in March confirmed the decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. “In our view as Croatia, these decisions were long overdue. Secondly, we have managed to adopt a new methodology of the accession negotiations, so the new enlargement methodology, which I believe is essential at the outset of the work of Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission and I believe this will help not only Montenegro and Serbia, which are negotiating accession since 2012 and 2014, but also in the future North Macedonia and Albania,” Plenkovic stressed. Plenkovic underlined that “Croatia in particular accentuated B&H as our closest neighbor country which in our view deserves the status of a candidate country.” “We shall continue to support them in their reform process, but also on their path towards the EU. In this context, we emphasize the issue of equality between the three constituent peoples in B&H and ‘the Others’ and in particular the position of the Croat people in terms of legitimate representation in B&H’s highest institutions,” Plenkovic said. Chair of B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic addressed on Wednesday participants of the EU-Western Balkans Summit and he said that more than ever before, citizens of B&H need concrete indicator of the EU perspective of this country – and it is the status of the EU candidate country. He underlined that B&H’s goal is the EU membership, adding that the status of the candidate country is one of steps on this path. He also stressed that it is time for the EU to grant the status of the EU candidate country to B&H, so that it can realize the EU membership is realistic and can be achieved and that efforts B&H has been conducting are making sense. He underlined that this would encourage B&H to resume with necessary reforms.

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