Vucic on the incident in front of the parliament: We’ll protect democratic values (Tanjug/B92)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic encouraged all politicians and citizens in Serbia to strongly condemn today’s incident in front of the Serbian parliament. He assessed the incident as a fascist savagery of Bosko Obradovic and the Alliance for Serbia, and thus show that Serbia is a democratic country. Addressing the citizens of Serbia, published on his Instagram profile, Vucic said that today the “fascist phalanxes” of Bosko Obradovic and the Alliance for Serbia physically attacked MPs, knocked them to the ground, tore their jackets, wanting to show that violence should rule in Serbia and should receive the majority support of the people. “That is why I ask all citizens of Serbia to condemn the fascist savagery of these people in the strongest possible way and to show that Serbia is a democratic country,” said Vucic. He also encouraged all political representatives in Serbia to condemn the incident because, as he stated, politicians can differ in many ways and think differently on all issues, but fascism has never been present in Serbia.
“We could only see such incidents in the Nazi Germany in the 1930s and in the Ustasha Croatia in the 1940s,” Vucic said. He pointed out that Serbia will not allow fascism to win and that he is convinced that it will fight for the preservation of democratic values and democratic order.
“I expect the citizens to be absolutely united in condemning what happened today. And it is our obligation to fight to develop the country economically, to preserve democracy and to show on the elections who we trust and to defend and preserve the future of our children,” Vucic concluded.
Obradovic again makes chaos in front of the parliament, provoking Minister Loncar (Tanjug/B92)
The leader of Dveri Bosko Obradovic, several MPs and supporters of the party “blocked” the staircase at the entrance to the House of the Serbian parliament today. At one point, Obradovic and the Minister of Health, Zlatibor Loncar, who was coming to the parliamentary session, were pushed. Obradovic and Dveri supporters hold banners “Down with the government”, “Does coronavirus depend on the elections”, “We can’t celebrate St. George’s Day, but the elections can be carried out”, they carry Serbian flags and party symbols, and shout that the President of Serbia “betrayed Kosovo”. On the eve of the beginning of the session, they blocked the central staircase at the entrance to the parliament, blew whistles and did not allow the MPs to enter the parliament building, which can only access the main entrance to the parliament from the side. At one point, there was almost a fight, because some MPs wanted to enter the parliament building, where a new session should start. Loncar came to the parliament several minutes before 10 am, and at one point, the leader of Dveri provoked him, facing the Minister with a whistle, who tried to keep him at a distance. Security stood between the two of them, in order to prevent a major incident, and then they “escorted” Minister Loncar to the parliament, to the main entrance, but from the side, not the central side. Before Loncar, the leader of the Radicals, Vojislav Seselj, arrived in the parliament, to whom the gathered also shouted.
Police detain 15 people for attacking Serbia’s MPs (N1)
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said on Friday that police had detained 15 people who took part in the incident outside the country’ Parliament when the opposition nationalist Dveri Movement MPs tried to prevent the ruling coalition’s deputies from entering the building, N1 reported. “These people will immediately go before the misdemeanor courts which will punish them in line with the law,” the Minister said in a statement. He described the events “pure fascist attack by Bosko Obradovic and some Alliance for Serbia supporter on MPs and others who wanted to enter the parliament,” Stefanovic said.
Vucic: I won’t run for SNS head again, perhaps not for head of state either (TV Happy/FoNet/Beta)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reiterated late on Thursday he would stand down as the head of his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) this year and hoped he would not run for the second presidential term in 2022. Vucic told TV Happy the corona pandemic postponed some decisions, including the choice of his successor at the SNS helm. “We will finish that this year,” he said about his withdrawal from the post of the head of his party which had announced earlier.
“Presidential elections are in a year and a half. We will come out with our candidate, and I believe I’ll take part in choosing one who can win. I hope I won’t be that candidate and that we will find a better one,” Vucic said.
Dacic, Godfrey: Cooperation and solidarity during pandemic are indicators of friendship (Beta)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and the US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey concurred during their meeting that cooperation between Serbia and America in the most critical periods of crisis were “a clear indicator of good bilateral relations, as well as of the friendship between the Serbian and American peoples.” They reiterated that solidarity, as a universal value, should not be forgotten even in the hardest of times, and that Serbia and the U.S. had demonstrated that by setting an example in the corona virus pandemic, the Serbian Foreign Ministry has stated. According to the statement, the US Ambassador “praised the Serbian government’s activities in the fight against the corona virus, stressing that the government should be proud because its measures have saved lives.” Godfrey announced more US aid in medical equipment which should arrive in Serbia soon, via the World Health Organization. He praised the solidarity Serbia had demonstrated by participating in this week’s donor conference “Global Corona Virus Response”, and by sending aid to the region’s countries.
Instead of membership date, they offer ‘European perspective (Novosti)
Commenting on the EU-Western Balkans video conference, the daily noted that the conclusions from the conference did not even include the word ‘enlargement’ at all “and only vaguely spoke about ‘European perspective’. Along with internal reforms in the EU, continuation of reforms in candidate countries was requested for, so all of that will take a while”. Suzana Grubjesic from the Center for Foreign Policy in Belgrade told the daily that it is no surprise some of EU members do not want the enlargement to be mentioned in declarations adopted at summits and the same applies to dates. “The last time a date was mentioned was in the Enlargement Strategy at the end of (former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude) Juncker’s Commission, when 2025 was mentioned as a possible year for the admission of Serbia and Montenegro, but nobody mentions this anymore”, Grubjesic said. However, Grubjesic assessed that it is good the Zagreb video-conference took place, having in mind there were some ideas to postpone it or even cancel it.
Trifunovic: PSG made the decision to go to the polls (B92)
The leader of the Movement of Free Citizens, Sergej Trifunovic, said at the press conference that PSG had made the decision to participate on the elections. “I was in the DOS campaign and I realized that nothing can happen in a boycott, anyone who calls for civil disobedience cannot carry out that disobedience.” “We are aware that the conditions have not changed for the better,” Trifunovic said. According to him, the arguments for the boycott and the elections were equally valid. However, he states that he has been on the street for 30 years, fighting against many political options, but that he still does not trust the former opposition actors that were in power.
In the whole story before the epidemic, 52 percent of the PSG members were in favor of going to the polls, and 48 for the boycott, Trifunovic said adding that he then took the right to choose the boycott because it is important for the opposition to be united. However, things have changed recently. “The boycott is the agenda of those who failed to pass the census. It is legitimate. I came to collect the votes of distrustful voters of the former authorities from Djilas and Jeremic, about whom I still have a good opinion, because I think they are genuine fighters. However, none of them did not convince me what should happen after the boycott”, he explains. He said that he had previously refused money offered to them for taking part in the elections, and added: “I don’t know where the idea came from that I now took the money.”
SzS says boycott decision is final (N1)
The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) leader told N1 on Thursday that the organization’s decision to boycott the coming elections is final. “We decided at a SzS Presidency meeting three days ago to remain firm in the boycott because the conditions have not changed and are much worse than in April,” SzS chair Janko Veselinovic said, adding that another important reason not to change the decision is because of the ongoing pandemic. “Everyone from the authorities and opposition who calls voters to turn out for the 21 June elections is consciously risking their health,” he said. Asked about the possibility of the Movement of Free Citizens (PSG) changing its decision to boycott the elections, Veselinovic said that the SzS would not accuse anyone of being on Vucic’s payroll. “If their decision to run in the elections is final, it benefits the Vucic regime and will certainly not help overcome the crisis which the world and the European Union has recognized,” he said.
Another 95 cases, 2,453 recovered (RTS)
Until 3pm, there have been another 95 cases, in total 9,943 infected. There have been three more deaths, in total 209. There are 1,577 patients in hospitals, and 45 on respirators. A total of 2,453 people have recovered.
B&H CEC calls elections for 4 October (N1)
The Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Central Election Commission (CEC) held a session in Sarajevo on Thursday and on this occasion, members of the CEC adopted a decision on calling the local elections for 4 October. Representatives of the CEC warned that they are disabled to carry out preparations for the elections because the state budget was not adopted which can jeopardize the election process. The CEC set a 15-day-long deadline for authorities in B&H beginning from Thursday, to secure the money for financing of the elections. Aside from the decision on calling the elections, the CEC could not reach any decision regarding preparations for the elections. The B&H CEC changed the manner of voting of voters outside of B&H due to the Coronavirus pandemic and thus, introduced an online registration form instead of registration via post. Addressing a press conference following the session, President of the B&H CEC Vanja Bjelica Prutina said that after securing of the funds necessary for implementation of the elections, the CEC will adopt the instruction on deadlines and terms of election activities.
Member of the B&H CEC Irena Hadziabdic said that the law stipulates the obligation of other institutions to secure for the B&H CEC funds for implementation of the elections. Hadziabdic reminded that the Election Law stipulates a series of activities that have to be conducted within a period of 150 days and it also makes it possible to postpone the elections for one month. Members of the B&H CEC deem that it will be possible to conduct the preparation activities if the necessary funds are secured in the next 15 days, in line with the Election Law. The elections will be held for 64 municipal councilors, 56 municipal assemblies in Republika Srpska (RS), 120 heads of municipalities in B&H, seven city assemblies, 22 mayors, for 23 seats for national minorities and for the first time, the Mayor of Istocno Sarajevo should be directly elected.
Reactions of parties to CEC’s decision to call local elections (N1)
N1 carried reactions of political parties in B&H to Thursday’s decision of the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) to call the local elections for 4 October. According to the reporter, it seems that political parties are already ready for a pre-election campaign bearing in mind different messages and accusations coming from the main political rivals both in the FB&H and the RS on Thursday. SDA reacted by saying that it is unreal to adopt the state budget within the next 15 days, but they added that there is a chance that the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) reaches some decisions and secures the necessary money for implementation of the elections. Member of SDA Semsudin Mehmedovic stated that the decision of the CEC was expected. He argued that the CEC could not have reached any other decision than this one bearing in mind that the ruling of the ECHR for Mostar was not implemented and given the fact that the B&H Election Law was not changed in terms of a different approach to the elections. He said: “As for conditions for the elections, in terms of funds, I think that it is not real to adopt the budget of B&H – at least not within the short deadline that the CEC defined because a session of the (B&H) HoR is scheduled for 15 May and the budget is not on the agenda. The only option is that the CoM secures – with its acrobatics – the funds for implementation of the elections in October”. SDA also stated that SNSD wants the elections to finally ruin the opposition in the RS, especially after SNSD ruined SDS long-year-rule in Doboj and Bijeljina. SNSD reacted by saying that they are not afraid of the elections, but added that the issue of legitimacy of the appointment of members of the CEC must be solved, while the reporter noted that HDZ B&H has a quite similar stance on this issue. Member of SNSD Srdjan Mazalica said: “Primarily, SNSD is not afraid of the elections. SNSD is not running away from the elections, although the elections are the last thing about which we think about at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. We believe that the issue of illegal and illegitimate appointment of some members of the CEC should be solved first, because this problem can jeopardize holding of the elections in B&H”.
Member of SDP B&H Elvir Karajbic stated that the political will of the ruling majority for calling the elections is obviously missing because the people would probably give them negative grade in the elections. Karajbic said: “However, there is a legal obligation to find funds and to secure funds in the election year for holding of the elections, because without this, the basic, civic right of every citizen in B&H will be undermined”. Representatives of SNSD wondered if the case is about obstructions by the B&H CEC that wants to make the B&H Parliament adopt the budget for 2020. SNSD representative in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Sanja Vulic assessed that this may be an attempt of politically eligible members of the B&H CEC to postpone the local elections. She reminded of the decision on temporary financing, which she believes is enough to respond to the needs of organizing the local elections. “The obvious blackmails against the B&H Parliament is another move by desperate people, because this President of the CEC obviously does not know what she is doing, except for listening to her leaders and instructors who come from the opposition and who are definitely not ready to be defeated again by SNSD and our coalition partners,” Vulic said. Representatives of HDZ B&H also warned that the B&H CEC cannot violate the laws or regulations or function in favor of certain policies or political parties. SBB B&H led by Fahrudin Radoncic deem that the entire election process is undermined, corrupt and compromised. Representatives of this party reminded that results of the last general elections in 2018 have not been entirely implemented yet, so they are even considering whether to boycott the local elections in 2020. SBB B&H representative in the FB&H House of Representatives (HoR) Adis Arapovic said that the party bodies will take a stance on whether it is worth it to participate in the elections at all, warning that electoral fraud could be approved in that way.
Mostar again to be bystander during 2020 local elections (BHT1)
The Central Election Commission (CEC) of B&H, which held a session on Thursday, adopted a decision to call local elections which should be held on 4 October. The current situation suggests that 100,474 citizens of Mostar who are eligible to vote will not be voting in the local elections. According to the ruling in the case of Our Party representative Irma Baralija vs. B&H rendered by the European Court of Human Rights, a solution must be found in this regard. Head of the B&H CEC, Vanja Bjelica Prutina said that the state has to amend the Election Law to permit holding of elections in Mostar within six months since the ruling was made final. She emphasized that should the state fail to do this, the Court noted that the B&H Constitutional Court (CC) has the power to set up interim arrangements. Baralija said that the deadline issued by the Court expires in August, and that she is hopeful that the B&H CC will issue an order to the B&H CEC to find an interim solution and that elections in Mostar will be held by the beginning of 2021. Hrvatska republikanska stranka (Croat Republican Party) representative Slaven Raguz said: “HDZ and SDA have the capacity to make an agreement in the Parliament, and in the House of Peoples. But they will not come to an agreement. The ball will be thrown in the court of the B&H CC, which will pronounce itself not competent, and then the B&H CEC will render some temporary permanent solutions”. Constitutional Law expert Nurko Pobric said that he is not certain that the B&H CEC would be able to do this, and that he believes that this would be unconstitutional. “I am hopeful that the B&H CC will issue the bare minimum of rules based on which elections can be held in the City of Mostar,” Pobric said. Law expert Nerina Cevra said that she feels that foreign pressure is essential to secure that this verdict is implemented correctly, both of international judges in the B&H CC as well as the international community in B&H. Legal experts concluded that this issue could possibly be resolved if the B&H CC issues an interim solution based on which elections can be called, at which the City Council can be elected, which would then render permanent solutions during its mandate.
Inzko: I received explicit support from US Administration (Dnevni avaz)
In an exclusive statement to the daily, High Representative Valentin Inzko expressed satisfaction with the support that the Report on B&H received in the UN Security Council. Daily reminded that Inzko presented his report about the situation in B&H in the period from October last year to mid-April this year. “I am very content by the support that my report received in the UN Security Council, including the explicit support of the Administration of US President Donald Trump. This, I hope, finally puts the end to all current, notorious comments” said Inzko. He stressed that he is especially pleased by the fact that UN SC members, recognized the importance of presence of international judges in Constitutional Court of B&H. “Their premature departure would allow certain political factors, whose goal is abolition of the current organization, to gain political control over the court, which is in no way in interest of B&H and that was confirmed and recognized in Security Council”, added Inzko. He stressed that he is deeply convinced that it is very important for reconciliation between the peoples in B&H, to face the past in the right way. “This is possible only if we recognize all the sufferings and gather in mourning and if war crimes verdicts are no longer denied and if glorification of war criminals, in any way, would stop”, said Inzko. Daily reminded that Inzko’s report was fiercely criticized by representative of Russia in UN SC, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya, who accused Inzko of “demonizing Serbs” and how he sticks to arguments based on the verdicts from The Hague. Nebenzya also said that the RS is preparing new report about events in Srebrenica, which according to him, will reveal what truly happened in Srebrenica, and the author comments that with this Russian Ambassador brought in question all evidence of The Hague Tribunal and facts about genocide in Srebrenica. Author comments that biggest part of Inzko’s Report was dedicated to “obstructions from the RS” and attacks from the RS towards the OHR and Constitutional Court of B&H.
Nebenzya: Inzko is looking for fabricated reasons to justify outdated protectorate over independent and sovereign state, OHR should be closed down (Nezavisne)
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya criticized the report High Representative (HR) Valentin Inzko presented to the United Nations Security Council. Nebenzya said that the report criticizes Serbs and portrays them as culprits, which is not the real situation in B&H. According to Nebenzya, Inzko ignores the fact that the majority of problems in B&H is a result of the lack of agreement between representatives of three peoples. He underlined that the Office of the High Representative should be encouraging leaders to find solutions, instead of assigning blame. “We have carefully listened to Mr. Inzko and we are sorry that his report has not changed for the better. Serbs are being criticized for everything that is happening in B&H, and that has become a standard. Serbs are being blamed for all the challenges, and that is why this report does not represent the balance of the situation,” Nebenzya said. He underlined that Inzko is looking for fabricated reasons to justify an outdated protectorate over independent and sovereign state. “We are calling on the UN and the Peace Implementation Council to close down the OHR”, Nebenzya said. Russian Ambassador to the UN also said that citizens of B&H deserve to be in charge of their own fate. “We do not accept the conclusion about the slowdown of progress, or presented conditions for closure of the OHR. From our point of view, situation in B&H is stable and does not pose a threat to international stability” Nebenzya said. He underlined that there is no consensus in B&H about Euro-Atlantic integration, which is why Inzko should not be promoting the Euro-Atlantic membership of B&H. Nebenzya reminded that the Presidency of B&H is in charge of defining the country’s foreign policy, and underlined that there needs to be consensus in B&H about those issues.
RS government’s report to UN SC (ATV)
The RS government has submitted its 23rd report to the UN Security Council (UN SC). The report reads that the B&H Constitutional Court (CC), where foreign and Bosniak judges are dominant together, represents a threat to the constitutional order of B&H and must be reformed if B&H wants to be a country with the rule of law. “Instead of doing its job, the B&H Constitutional Court persistently supports unconstitutional centralization of B&H, which is also advocated by the High Representative. The B&H Constitutional Court persistently uses the cases launched by Bosniak officials, which are unfounded in the Constitution, to additionally narrow the autonomy that was given to the RS by the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA),” reads the report. “The B&H Constitutional Court has forbidden the flag, the anthem and the coat of arms of the RS and it has forbidden the RS to celebrate the day when it came into existence. None of its decisions can be explained by the text of the Constitution in any way. With his decisions and force, over the period of so many years, the High Representative has significantly undermined the autonomy of the entities, contrary to the B&H Constitution and his strictly limited mandate referred to in the Annex 10 of the DPA,” reads the report. The report also reminds of the decision of the B&H Constitutional Court on agricultural land in the RS, which was supported by Bosniak officials “who even find the name of the RS disputable”. “Constant attacks on the identity of the RS, as well as the autonomy of the RS granted by the DPA, are even more offensive as they are conducted in cooperation with foreign judges – who are not even citizens or residents of B&H, who do not even speak the languages of B&H, who consider themselves to be platonic guardians who should not bother with the real text of the Constitution they swore to respect, and who actually follow the mandate of the non-appointed foreign diplomat who still tends to give himself dictatorship powers over B&H,” reads the report. For as long as there are foreign judges at the B&H Constitutional Court, this institution will be facing the lack of legitimacy, the report warns, referring to the “obvious alliance between foreign and Bosniak judges misusing the Constitution and attacking the identity and the autonomy of the RS granted by the Constitution”. All of this is a well-known goal of SDA, i.e. to completely destroy the RS, with the help of the High Representative and foreign judges who do not report to anyone and do not respect the B&H Constitution, according to the report. The report also underlines that the B&H Constitution gives the entities “significant autonomy” as an element of the formula of stability and democratic governance in the country with deep ethnic divisions.
IMF does not understand what the problem is with distribution of money (Nezavisne)
The IMF has recently approved loan for B&H (a total of EUR 333 million in emergency assistance for B&H under the Rapid Financing Instrument, which represents 100 percent of the country’s Special Drawing Rights quota), but the money is sitting in bank accounts because there is no internal agreement on distribution of those funds. Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Mission in B&H Martin Petri noted that from the IMF’s point of view, the situation is rather unusual – especially as the IMF operated under the impression that authorities in B&H urgently need those funds. “It is an unfortunate situation that the money is sitting unused in bank account”, Petri said. He added that cooperation between the IMF and authorities in B&H was “very good” during the talks on this program, which is why the current situation comes as even bigger surprise. Head of the IMF Mission in B&H agreed with the journalist, who compared the situation with an average family taking loan from a commercial bank, and then suddenly start arguing about what to do with the money. “I think that it is a good analogy. Just like when you take loan from the bank, this family would face interest rates and other expenses. The same applies to governments: they have to pay interest rates, and at the same time they are not using the money. So, this money does not have the effect it is supposed to have,” Petri explained. He added that the current situation might affect country’s future arrangements with the IMF. “The IMF has approved money after authorities in B&H explained that the money will be immediately put to use. That, unfortunately, did not happen. And like in any other long-term relationship, the way money is used will be a factor in future allocations,” said Petri. Head of the IMF Mission in B&H said that the IMF wants to see how the situation will be resolved, but they have no insight into what it is the reason for authorities’ failure to use the money. “We are in contact with authorities. Of course, there are different opinions. From our point of view, it is difficult for us to understand what exactly the reason for delay is,” said Petri. “I do not understand what the problem is. It seems to us that the issue should be easy to resolve,” he added. Daily noted that one side claims the procedure was respected the same way as before, while the other side claims that this is the first time, things are being done in this particular way. Petri replied by saying that IMF’s procedures were respected, albeit with delay, while procedures on the side of B&H are technical details IMF has never had the need to get involved in. Commenting on IMF’s most recent country report on B&H, Petri said that B&H reacted to coronavirus crisis in a relatively rapid manner, compared to some other countries, and started dealing with the impact of epidemic. He reminded that the IMF expects B&H economy to decline by five percent in 2020, but noted that right now it seems the crisis might last even longer than initially expected – meaning that GDP growth in 2020 and even 2021 might have to be revised once again. “However, recovery will happen, sooner or later. We believe that additional allocation of funds into healthcare and social sector is the biggest priority. Authorities should help both companies and citizens to get through the crisis,” said Petri. He noted that authorities in B&H have certain funds at their disposal to use while waiting for an agreement on distribution of IMF’s money. “However, authorities asked for our money because it is cheaper, so the longer one has to wait for our money, the more expensive things will get”, said Petri, adding that the situation is not yet critical, but it might deteriorate in the future. At the end of the interview, author asked Petri to say if the IMF can ask for the money to be returned if the country fails to use it any time soon; Petri replied that the money now belongs to authorities in B&H, and the IMF hopes it will be put to use as soon as possible. “It is important for the authorities to start jointly resolving this crisis. IMF is here to help the country. Of course, like in any other situation, those who are asking for help have to want to be helped. Citizens expect solutions and easing of situation, and that is why it would be important to get down to work,” concluded Petri.
Softic: We are still waiting for CoM decision (Dnevni avaz)
Governor of the B&H Central Bank Senad Softic told the daily that the B&H Council of Ministers has not yet reached a decision on drawing of funds from the IMF in the amount of EUR 330 million. Daily noted that a guarantee for the credit arrived to B&H CB last week and this is one of the conditions for the credit funds to become operative. However, Softic said that B&H CB, as a fiscal agent for B&H sent an urgency towards the IMF for the promissory note, which should have been delivered earlier, as was the case with earlier credit arrangements with the IMF. Softic told the daily that it is also necessary for the CoM to reach a decision on distribution of funds, which means that B&H CB cannot distribute funds without this decision.
Tegeltija meets with Viskovic and Novalic, says it is important to define measures to mitigate consequences of coronavirus pandemic at all levels (ATV/RTRS)
Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Zoran Tegeltija held a meeting with RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic and FB&H Prime Minister Fadil Novalic in Sarajevo on Thursday. On this occasion, Tegeltija said that it is very important that the authorities at all levels in B&H define a set of measures to mitigate the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, in line with their competences. He explained that this is very important having in mind how serious the consequences are, as well as uncertainty of all parameters related to the coronavirus pandemic. He also stressed the importance of ensuring efficient coordination in the process of defining socioeconomic measures, through activities of the recently formed group for socioeconomic response to the coronavirus pandemic. The officials discussed the current healthcare, epidemiological and economic situation in B&H and they agreed on several urgent measures that the CoM is supposed to discuss at the beginning of the next week. The urgent measures refer to adoption of a new decision on preferential treatment as an urgent response and help for the economy in B&H that will be valid for at least a year. The officials also agreed that the CoM will discuss changes to the decision on special conditions for entering of foreigners to B&H that will approve entrance for the purpose of realization of business activities with domestic companies. Tegeltija and the entity PMs agreed that they will work in an accelerated way on the joint performance towards international, financial institutions in order to secure favorable financial funds and launch a big investment cycle in B&H.
Azerbaijan donates more than half a million Euros for the fight against coronavirus epidemic in B&H (Nezavisne)
Statement issued on Thursday by the Ministry of Security of B&H reads that Azerbaijan donated a total of 538,910 Euros for the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in B&H. The money was paid to the Ministry’s subaccount opened specifically for this purpose. The Ministry of Security thanked the government and the people of Azerbaijan for their generous donation and assistance to B&H in alleviating the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
US Embassy, USAID hand over valuable donations (Dnevni avaz)
Members of the Civil Military Support Element (CMSE) at the US Embassy to B&H, with presence of NATO HQ officials handed over the protection equipment for fighting COVID-19 to the members of B&H Armed Forces and civilian organizations in responsibility zone of Fourth Infantry Brigade of B&H AF the handover ceremony took place in ‘Bozan Simovic’ military base in Capljina. USAID Director Nancy Eslick on Thursday handed over the food packages and packages with hygiene products for families in social need in Foca municipalities in the RS and in the FB&H. “USAID is providing more than financial means, we secure technical assistance, training, construction of healthcare systems and medicines,” said Eslick.
B&H’s coronavirus death toll nears 100, 42 new patients reported (N1)
B&H has recorded another 42 cases of infection with the novel coronavirus, 17 in the FB&H and 25 in the RS, the healthcare authorities of both regions confirmed in their daily press conferences. RS has seen eight new fatalities caused by the virus, which brings the country’s death toll to 98. According to official daily updates by the Civil Affairs Ministry, the country has so far confirmed 2,070 Covid-19 patients. FB&H health authorities performed 577 lab tests and confirmed 17 new infected patients, who come from the central Zenica-Doboj Canton and the northwestern Una-Sana Canton. The total number of patients in this part of B&H has now reached 983, with 535 of those who have recovered and 34 deaths. Authorities in the FB&H announced on Friday they would consider the mitigation of another set of coronavirus restriction measures that were introduced in the previous months and likely allow the opening of kindergartens, dental clinics, bars, public transportation and other services under strict regulations. As for RS, its authorities reported eight new deaths caused by Covid-19, which brings the death toll in this half of Bosnia only to 61. Of 507 tested persons, 25 new Covid-19 patients were confirmed in RS, most of them coming from Banja Luka, the region’s administrative center. So far, RS authorities confirmed 1,068 cases, 409 have recovered and 61 died. Alen Seranic, the RS Health Minister, confirmed that the authorities are preparing to cancel the state of emergency in the region. Brcko District has so far confirmed 19 patients and three deaths.
Vucic wants Schengen agreement with Hungary, Croatia and Bulgaria (Jutarnji list)
Commenting on the EU-Western Balkans Summit, Jutarnji list reads that leaders from the Western Balkans did not like what they heard on Wednesday and that they did not like what was written in the Zagreb statement. According to Jutarnji list, no newspaper in Belgrade mentioned the summit on their front pages, instead they carried Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who said he is happy is demonstrated Serbia’s seriousness. Daily also reads that Vucic made an interesting proposal, namely that it is important to open the borders in the Balkans through some sort of Schengen agreement, by which Serbian citizens would be able to go to Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and some other countries without passport. Daily went on to say there have not been any special comments about the summit in B&H either, with Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Sefik Dzaferovic saying he is encouraged with the messages he heard, especially messages coming from the EU.
Region is disappointed with EU’s policy, but commend Croatia’s behavior (Vecernji list)
Commenting on the EU-Western Balkans Summit, Vecernji list reads that the initial disappointment and anger with the EU’s policy towards the Western Balkans at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic has been softened by adoption of the final declaration at the summit. Daily notes that everyone has noticed that the final document does not explicitly mention the (EU) enlargement, instead it ‘only’ speaks of confirmation of the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which will especially disappoint North Macedonia and Albania who were wishing to get date of start of accession negotiations. Still, continues the daily, the EU leaders’ encouraging messages, and especially the hefty financial aid for the fight against Coronavirus pandemic, should be the reason good enough to silence the Eurosceptics in the region, at least for now. As for B&H, daily notes that the country is hoping to get the status of EU candidate by end of the year, although the country is aware everything is down them, and not down to the EU, because B&H has not done anything on implementation of 14 priorities from the EC’s Opinion.
Croatia: Territorial claims in EU unthinkable (Hina)
Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman on Thursday commented on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s Facebook post of a Great Hungary map which includes a part of Croatia, saying the two countries had excellent relations and that territorial claims were unthinkable in the EU. “Generally, any territorial claims in the European Union are unthinkable as all states recognized each other” Grlic Radman said, adding that “the border between Hungary and Croatia has always been known.” “The existence of historical maps which can be bought in an antique store, and not sought in a closet, doesn’t reflect reality and, in a way, they divert attention from real life topics, which is building a future together.” The minister was referring to Croatian President Zoran Milanovic‘s condemnation of Orban’s post in which he said that “Closets in most European countries keep similar contents hidden”, calling on young people not to share such posts on social media. Grlic Radman said Croatia and Hungary had excellent relations, as evidenced by the protection of each other’s minorities and tourism, adding that Hungary had been among the first to recognize Croatia and that more than 50 Hungarians were killed in the Homeland War. Orban has been extending best wishes to Hungarian students ahead of school leaving exams for several days now on his Facebook page and on Wednesday, before a history exam, he published a historical map of Hungary that includes portions of Croatian territory. This map is frequently used in Hungary’s popular culture, notably at rallies of the far right, and can also be seen on Hungarian cars during the summer in Croatia. The map refers to the Kingdom of Hungary before the signing of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, whereby Hungarians lost about two thirds of their territory. For that reason, they consider the peace treaty a national tragedy. Orban posted the map in the past as well and during a previous term in office he declared June 4, the anniversary of the treaty, a day of national unity, according to Reuters.
His latest Facebook post, shared almost 1,000 times, has been criticized by many inhabitants of Romania as the Great Hungary map includes a portion of its territory too.
Defense Minister Krsticevic resigns following second aircraft crash in three months (HRT)
Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic resigned on Thursday evening after a Croatian Air Force training plane crashed earlier in the day near Zadar, killing the pilot and co-pilot. The plane was a ZLIN military training aircraft, manned by two members of the Croatian Air Force, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement. In a brief statement at the Zemunik air base on Thursday evening Krsticevic said: “It is our duty to be with the families to offer them all the help and support they need. I would like to offer my condolences to all the members of the Croatian Air Force and the Croatian Army. This is a huge loss for the Croatian military. On this day, I submit my resignation from the post of deputy prime minister and defense minister.” Krsticevic told reporters that he had not informed the prime minister of his decision. The two airmen who perished have been identified as Marko Novkovic and Luka Jagetic. “Losing a Croatian solider is difficult. It is difficult for any defense minister and military commander,” Krsticevic said. Two members of the military were killed three months ago in a helicopter crash, Krsticevic added.
The plane crashed around 4 pm close to the village of Biljani Donji near Zadar, during a routine training flight. The military is looking into the cause of the crash. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and other officials have expressed their condolences to the families of the two airmen.
Croatia to re-open railway lines and domestic air travel on Monday (Hina)
Passenger rail transport will resume in Croatia on Monday, 11 May, as part of the third stage in easing restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus epidemic, the state-owned railways HZ announced on Thursday. The announcement means than some 400 passenger train lines will resume normal operations on Monday, 50 days after all passenger railway lines had been suspended on 22 March due to sweeping travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders issued nationwide. The ban did not apply to cargo trains, which have been operating without interruption throughout the crisis. Other forms of public transport are still either restricted of greatly reduced but are expected to slowly recover in the coming weeks. Domestic air travel will also re-launch on 11 May, with flag carrier Croatia Airlines set to introduce two flights a day from capital Zagreb to major cities of Split and Dubrovnik. International air travel is expected to take a longer time to recover, and currently the only passenger route still served from Zagreb Airport is Croatia Airlines’ one daily flight to Frankfurt, a major European hub. Ferry lines served by the state-owned company Jadrolinija – essential for connecting islands with cities on the Adriatic coast – kept operating throughout the crisis, albeit with reduced frequency. Internal travel bans limiting inter-city and inter-city travel are still in place, although authorities have issued nearly a million QR codes to Croatians cleared to move around the country.
In Croatia, 36 newly infected, a total of 2161 (N1)
Currently, there is a total of 2.161 cases of coronavirus infection in Croatia, and 1.689 people have recovered. A total of 86 people died. “In the past 24 hours in the Republic of Croatia, we have 36 newly infected people, a total of 2.161,” said the Minister of Health, Vili Beros, at a conference of the National Civil Protection Headquarters. He called on the public to adhere to protection measures and social distance.
Return of 13,389 citizens to Montenegro (RTCG)
Since the formation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) Operational Headquarters, that is from 17 March, 13,389 Montenegrin nationals have returned to Montenegro the Head of Staff Dragan Pejanovic told RTCG. He explains that 1,902 citizens arrived through the Podgorica Airport while 11,487 entered at land border crossings. 2,342 of them arrived by passenger motor vehicle, and 9,145 by truck. According to Pejanovic, 21,481 foreign citizens left Montenegro as of 17 March. He said that Montenegrin citizens came from almost all EU countries and continents. “If all the measures had not been respected and if the Headquarters had not worked the way it did, we would not have had such results,” Pejanovic said. All flights for our citizens, as Pejanovic points out, were free of charge.
Institute for Public Health reports no new cases of COVID-19 (CDM)
The Institute for Public Health reports no new coronavirus cases this morning. Number of recovered cases is 266, whereas number of active cases is 50. Total number of infections in Montenegro amounts to 324. No patients are under hospital treatment. Around 1,179 citizens are under watch. Number of active cases in municipalities:
Herceg Novi: 1
Bijelo Polje: 1
Constitutional Court: Pendarovski’s first state of emergency decision won’t be appraised (MIA)
The Constitutional Court won’t appraise the constitutionality of the first decision of President Stevo Pendarovski, reached on 18 March, to declare state of emergency nationwide. Constitutional justices on Wednesday concluded that the initiative to appraise the constitutionality and legality of the decision was ‘groundless’ because it was no longer in force and the state of emergency it referred to was over. On 16 April, President Pendarovski decided to extend the state of emergency for another 30 days. An initiative on discussing the constitutionality and legality of the 16 April decision has been also submitted to the Constitutional Court.
Xhaferi: SEC to start preparations for elections once state of emergency expires (MIA)
Parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi says he has been invited by the President’s Office to take part at the May 12 leaders’ meeting, adding that the State Election Commission (SEC) should begin preparations for the elections once the state of emergency expires. “SEC is obliged to proceed from the point where it stopped. The Voters’ List will have to be additionally updated” Speaker Xhaferi told. The Speaker says he is not obligated to respond to the initiative filed by 35 MPs for reconvening of the dissolved Parliament for the purpose of endorsing the decisions to declare a state of emergency taken by President Stevo Pendarovski. “It is my right as Parliament Speaker to schedule a session or not. They can press criminal charges if they think I have abused the office,” says Xhaferi. According to him, the MPs’ mandate ended more than a month prior to the state of emergency and the Parliament cannot make decisions anymore. “By deciding to schedule a session of a Parliament that has voted to return its mandate I am violating the Constitution, committing a crime of abuse of office. Once 108 MPs voted in favor of the dissolution, the Parliament has no right to decide, regardless of what happens, be it earthquake, fire, epidemic, pandemic. It is about the Constitution. I have neither the personal nor the institutional right to reconvene it,” clarifies Xhaferi.
Zaev: June most appropriate for elections, we need credible and functional institutions (MIA/Alsat TV)
We need to reach a democratic agreement and there will be no better period for elections than June, provided the coronavirus crisis has fully subdued, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told Alsat TV on Thursday. Regarding preparations for the elections, he says the decree reads 21 days after the end of the state of emergency, which is the reason for the leaders’ meeting. “The first condition is that the coronavirus crisis is subdued, then OSCE/ODIHR monitoring and updating of the Voters List,” says Zaev. Another reason for sooner elections is the fact there is no Parliament, but also a caretaker government instead of a political one. “We are a parliamentary democracy and yet there is no Parliament, we are a parliamentary political democracy and a political government should assume the responsibility. Citizens do not have who to turn to,” notes Zaev. He adds that the economy is very important, which is already in crisis, but would additionally be restricted in time of elections.
Election hasn’t been discussed by infectious diseases committee, says Filipche (MIA)
The Committee for Infectious Diseases hasn’t discussed election and the election process in general, Venko Filipche said Thursday, urging politics not to interfere in the work of the body. “Protection of public health is top priority in terms of designing the measures according to the number of confirmed cases, contact tracing, etc,” the Minister of Health said Thursday at a news conference when asked whether the prospect of election in the country was being considered after the political stakeholders have been pushing for election in the summer. According to Filipche, measures and recommendations are taken solely based on findings and data on new coronavirus patients. “In the past several weeks and months, (the Committee) has been fully professional, always working in the interest of public health, never in the interest of politics. It will continue doing so in the future,” he noted.
Zaev expects Bulgaria to continue to be North Macedonia’s sincere friend (MIA)
SDSM leader Zoran Zaev expects Bulgaria to continue to be North Macedonia’s sincere friend and believes the issue of Goce Delchev will be solved in the spirit of the shared history, with both the Macedonian and the Bulgarian people standing proud. Zaev told a press conference that the incumbent government has demonstrated its friendliness unlike the previous one, which thrived on quarreling and problems with neighbors. “We found solutions for open issues that resulted in friendship with our neighbors,” said Zaev while commenting on yesterday’s statement by Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov who said “we have articulated our conditions for North Macedonia’s EU accession” and “they should not set impossible conditions”. Zaev said the narrative was “provoked” by the opposition in Skopje, creating a tension that should be overcome through reason, responsibility and friendship, and in the spirit of the Friendship Treaty. “I also expect the Bulgarian side to continue to foster friendly relations with our country, our peoples are close and friendly, the governments are close, and I believe we will continue to cooperate in the future. I am aware that we are stuck on the history chapters and I believe that the issue of Goce Delchev will be solved in the spirit of the shared history, with both the Macedonian and the Bulgarian people standing proud,” said Zaev. He expressed satisfaction there is no dilemma regarding the Macedonian language and the Macedonian people. “This is not a new reality. Back in 1999, (ex-PM) Ljubcho Georgievski signed an agreement in the Macedonian language, in accordance with the Constitution. The novelty is that we concluded agreements in the Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet, signed by Zaev and Borissov. A contemporary political entity and a contemporary European government cannot deny an identity. Our identity is part of our United Nations ID and recognized by the entire world,” noted Zaev.
FM Dimitrov calls Croatia’s EU presidency ‘substantial’ for North Macedonia (MIA)
Perhaps Croatia’s Presidency with the EU Council can be called ‘virtual’ from logistical point of view, but for us it was surely substantial from political point of view and for that we are extremely grateful to our Croatian friends, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said. On Thursday, he took part in an online event “Balkans in a New Era – An Overview of the Croatian Presidency”, organized by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, a Brussels-based think tank of the European People’s Party (EPP). “Regarding yesterday’s EU-Western Balkans Summit, the fact that it was held amid such circumstances as well as the EU’s current and future support to tackle the health and socio-economic consequences from the pandemic is more than a clear signal about the importance and the future place of the Western Balkans in the European Union,” the Foreign Ministry said in a press release. According to FM Dimitrov, the sense of togetherness and solidarity created during the pandemic crisis between the EU and the Western Balkans should be maintained in a post-pandemic future and used to finally complete the EU project, which is of mutual interest. In addition to Dimitrov, Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman and MEP David McAllister, who is also chairman of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, took part in the online event with Patrick Voller, EPP’s Secretary of External Relations as its moderator, said the press release.
Government acknowledges all democratic stakeholders for country’s progress in Freedom House report (MIA)
The government will continue to strongly cooperate with all stakeholders and create an environment for continual enhancement of democracy and freedoms in our country, said the government on occasion of the latest Freedom House report “Nations in Transit”, which notes significant democratic progress in North Macedonia, especially in the electoral process and independent media ratings. The government acknowledges all citizens, organizations, communities, media and institutions, which used their democratic capacities and activities that ensure the country’s democratic progress and encourage an even greater engagement in the future. According to the report, the electoral process rating improved to reflect the well-organized presidential election, which featured fewer irregularities than previous elections, while independent media rating improved to reflect the gradual growth of objective and credible reporting. The report notes the solution to a seemingly intractable problem, notably the US-led mediation effort that resolved the decades-old ‘name’ dispute between Greece and North Macedonia, and allowed the latter to pursue membership in the European Union and NATO.
In North Macedonia 14 new infections, 20 recovered, 1 deceased (Libertas)
In the past 24 hours, 14 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, in addition the patient from Tetovo died at the age of 61. Today, the Institute of Public Health registers 20 patients who have recovered, in Skopje and Bitola 1 patient each, in Kumanovo 9, Prilep 2, Veles 7, informs the Ministry of Health. In the past 24 hours, 242 tests have been performed, and 14 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in: Skopje-5, Prilep-2, Tetovo-1 and Veles-6. According to this, the total number of cases diagnosed in our country since the beginning of the epidemic is 1.586, the number of patients who have recovered is 1.099, the number of deaths is 90, and currently the number of active cases in the country is 397. The last distribution by cities is:
Skopje – 531, active 130
Kumanovo – 404, active 61
Debar – 51, active 0
Stip-35, active 2
Prilep –169, active 62
Tetovo – 96, active 42
Struga – 67, active 16
Veles – 101, active 46
Bitola –22, active 3
Ohrid-15, active 9
Kavadarci – 5, active 1
Gostivar -17, active 3
Gevgelija – 4, active 0
Strumica – 2, active 0
Kriva Palanka – 6, active 2
Radovish – 4, active 0
Krushevo – 3, active 0
Kocani – 31, active 5
Probistip – 2, active 0
Kicevo – 2, active 1
Negotino-9, active 7 (7 infected persons are residents of Demir Kapija)
Demir Hisar – 1, active 0
Makedonski Brod – 2, active 1
Pehchevo- 2, active 2
Delchevo-1, active 1
Valandovo -1, active 1
Vinica – 2, active 1
Kratovo-1, active 1
New measures in Albania announced, lockdown not over for six cities (ADN)
Prime Minister Edi Rama has announced the new easing of measures taken to fight coronavirus. Rama says that starting from Monday in the red areas, that include six Albanian cities, part of which are the cities of Shkodra, Kurbin, Kruja, Durres, Tirana and Fier, the measures will remain in force, and that their streets will be full of roadblocks to prevent movement of vehicles.
“Starting next Monday, only in the Red Zones, the municipalities of Shkodra, Kurbin, Kruja, Durres, Tirana, Tirana and Fier, movement restrictions will remain the same. These areas will be armored with roadblocks, and entry and exit of unauthorized vehicles will not be allowed. The rest of the country will be considered green zone and intercity traffic by private vehicle within this whole area will be allowed until 21.00 pm. For these cities, only the rules that prohibit the gathering of more than five people, cultural and sports activities of any kind, and closure of public transport will remain in force. This weekend, just like last weekend, only vehicles authorized for work will be allowed to circulate throughout the country, and pedestrians will go out in two time periods: This weekend until 09.30 pensioners can leave homes, and from 10.30 to 17.30 parents with children up to 14 years of age can go out. If the situation continues to stabilize, this will be the last weekend with a curfew for girls and boys over the age of 14,” said PM Rama. Prime Minister Edi Rama has announced the new easing of measures taken to fight coronavirus. Rama says that starting from Monday in the red areas, that include six Albanian cities, part of which are the cities of Shkodra, Kurbin, Kruja, Durres, Tirana and Fier, the measures will remain in force, and that their streets will be full of roadblocks to prevent movement of vehicles. “Starting next Monday, only in the Red Zones, the municipalities of Shkodra, Kurbin, Kruja, Durres, Tirana, Tirana and Fier, movement restrictions will remain the same. These areas will be armored with roadblocks, and entry and exit of unauthorized vehicles will not be allowed. The rest of the country will be considered green zone and intercity traffic by private vehicle within this whole area will be allowed until 21.00 pm. For these cities, only the rules that prohibit the gathering of more than five people, cultural and sports activities of any kind, and closure of public transport will remain in force. This weekend, just like last weekend, only vehicles authorized for work will be allowed to circulate throughout the country, and pedestrians will go out in two time periods: This weekend until 09.30 pensioners can leave homes, and from 10.30 to 17.30 parents with children up to 14 years of age can go out. If the situation continues to stabilize, this will be the last weekend with a curfew for girls and boys over the age of 14,” said PM Rama.
Travel restrictions in Albania to be eased from 18 May (ADN)
Prime Minister Edi Rama on Thursday said that after 18 May, the government will announce plans to relax restrictions on air and land transport, presenting a new challenge to the citizens who will enter the country and will have to respect the rules of self-isolation. PM Rama went on to say that any easing of measures will be done in consultations with the Technical Committee of Experts. “After 18 May, there will be further easing of restrictions on air and land transport. It represents a new challenge to the citizens who will enter the country and will have to respect the rules of home self-isolation” Rama said. “There are many Albanian citizens who have been left stranded for a long time now,” he added.
In Albania 8 new coronavirus cases (ADN)
Ministry of Health reported only 8 new coronavirus cases during the last 24 hours, showing that the pace of the novel coronavirus pandemic is slowing down. Albania now registers 850 infections in total, 620 who have recovered and 199 who are active patients. 31 patients died.
Over the recent days, Albania has reported double-figures of daily cases, but the number of new cases fell under ten again this Friday. In addition, the Ministry also informed on the number of hospitalized patients, stating that there are only 30 patients in two COVID-19 hospitals and only 5 of them are in intensive care. “In the last 24 hours, 238 citizens suspected of being affected by COVID-19 were tested, with 8 whom resulted positive: 3 in Tirana, 2 in Kruja, 1 in Shkodra, 1 in Fieri and 1 in Kamza” announced Institute of Public Health expert, Eugena Tomini. The geographical distribution of active cases is as follows:
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
‘Coronavirus Diplomacy’ Won’t Change Serbia’s Path (US News and World Report, by Aleksandar Vucic, 7 May 2020)
Despite accepting aid from China to fight the coronavirus, the president of Serbia writes that his country is committed to a pro-Western foreign policy.
SINCE THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic was declared, China, Europe, and the United States have provided assistance to many countries around the world as part of their “coronavirus diplomacy.” But some of these countries, such as Serbia, have been unfairly questioned over their willingness to request and receive support from a variety of partners. In mid-March, the European Union abruptly put in place obstacles to the export of certain medical equipment to non-EU countries. As a formal candidate for EU accession, but not yet a full member, Serbia would now find it harder to work with its European neighbors to access supplies essential for saving the lives of its citizens. At the same time, China began to offer Serbia these critical supplies and other forms of coronavirus assistance. China’s capacity to provide the aid was logical, since it was emerging from the crisis just as the spread of coronavirus was intensifying across Europe and the United States. As the rate of infection slowed in China, this freed up surplus equipment and medical expertise that could now be deployed elsewhere around the world. Indeed, Serbia welcomed this support. In addition to vital supplies such as ventilators and personal protective equipment, China has also sent Serbia a team of medical experts from Wuhan with several months of on-the-ground experience battling the deadly virus. Because China was the global epicenter of coronavirus months before Europe and the United States, no other country, including Serbia’s European and American partners, has accumulated this experience and the consequent lessons about suppressing the disease. We are profoundly thankful to President Xi Jinping for his engagement. But, despite these advantages, China is certainly not the only country to have helped Serbia in this time of crisis. While Brussels unfortunately maintained hurdles to the export of medical supplies to Serbia and our neighbors in the Western Balkans, the EU is now providing valuable support to Serbia and the region. Its aid stands at $41 million in immediate assistance for the Western Balkans to tackle the health emergency and the reallocation of $406 million to mitigate the economic fallout of coronavirus, including $85 million for Serbia alone.In financial terms, the EU is the single largest donor to Serbia’s anti-coronavirus efforts since the pandemic was declared, but Brussels has been helping Serbia prepare for coronavirus even before the global spread of the COVID-19 disease. During the past 20 years, the EU provided more than $490 million in grants and loans to Serbia’s health system, which includes the delivery of over 250 emergency medical vehicles, half of which possess life-saving ventilators. Similarly, the United States has provided more than $1 billion in overall assistance to Serbia in the past two decades and, even as they have become ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic, our American friends delivered 6,000 coronavirus tests to Serbia. We value this support, especially bearing in mind the immense coronavirus challenges that the United States itself is facing. In the context of the crisis, Serbia has tried to return this gesture of support with its own gestures, such as transporting Americans in Serbia back to the U.S. at our own expense, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged in a letter of gratitude. Moreover, to show solidarity with the American people as they confront coronavirus, Serbia lit Belgrade’s most recognizable landmarks in the colors of the American flag. We lit these same landmarks for Italy, Spain, France, China, and a number of other partners that have supported Serbia during the coronavirus pandemic or provided relevant assistance in the past. This is a deeply personal crisis for all of our societies. I have lost my closest childhood friend to coronavirus and my oldest son has contracted the illness. What needs to be better understood and more readily accepted is that, when it comes to saving the lives of their citizens, Serbia and other countries that require external assistance to defeat coronavirus should not be expected to turn down, discriminate against, or temper their appreciation for legitimate forms of support based on its origins, regardless of whether it comes from the U.S., China, Europe or elsewhere. Such aid-shaming in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis is unjust. The leaders of these countries were elected to safeguard the health, security, and prosperity of their people, and this, rather than international politics, is our priority. While Serbia is grateful to all the countries that have helped us manage the consequences of coronavirus, these acts of support and humanitarianism will not affect its overall trajectory. To the delight of some and disappointment of others, Serbia’s strategic objective was, is and will remain full membership in the EU and to become an even more dynamic stakeholder in the community of European nations.
Against all odds, the COVID-19 pandemic cemented EU ties with the Western Balkans (EWB, by Olivér Várhelyi, 6 May 2020)
In May, the Croatian capital Zagreb was due to host the European Union – Western Balkans summit where the leaders were among others meant to endorse an economic and investment plan for the region. This plan is one of the three strands of the new approach the European Commission developed for the region, to complement the first two: the revised methodology for EU enlargement, which the Commission put forward in February to bring credibility back to one of the most important EU policies, and the decision to open the accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, endorsed by the EU leaders in March, together with the revised methodology.
COVID-19 pandemic did not throw this carefully laid out plan around: it did not change our aim, ambition nor determination. This could have easily happened: the pandemic hit the European Union and whole continent hard and caused an unthinkable loss of life. The Commission took extraordinary measures to support and assist the Member States in addressing the crisis, to save lives, protect health systems and mitigate the socio-economic impact. But at the same time the Commission was clear that the pandemic can only be defeated with global action and by working with partners. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the Western Balkans, a region at the heart of Europe and entirely surrounded by the EU Member States. The Western Balkans was the first region where this thinking also became action. After initial difficult first days, the Commission took concrete measures already in the second part of March to provide support to all the partners in the region – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. The measures covered support for immediate needs as well as economic recovery, and financially they are now unparalleled with €3.3 billion of grants and loans. This unprecedented solidarity did not end there: given its European perspective, the EU is treating the Western Balkans as privileged partners by granting them access to many initiatives and instruments for the Member States. We invited the governments to join the EU’s procurement agreement for medical equipment, exempted the region from the export authorisation, while the green lanes to facilitate transport of goods were extended to the borders with the region and within it. The region is associated to relevant EU health bodies and negotiating countries will be able to benefit from the EU’s solidarity fund. At the same time, the EU appreciated the support it got from the Western Balkans partners with medical personnel and equipment. The Zagreb Summit is now going ahead as a video meeting, but it is going ahead. We entered this crisis together and we should come out of it together. We will support the region’s economic recovery that will at the same time bring the partners closer to the EU. Our economies are closely integrated, and the economic and investment plan now due in the second part of this year will be even more important. Its aim will be to spur the long-term recovery, modernise the economies, boost growth, support the reforms needed on the EU path, and hence start closing the development gap and bringing the benefits to the people faster. The plan will focus on connectivity, in particular in transport and energy, and on economy that works for people, also through digital and green transformation. In the coming weeks and months, the region can inspire this plan by putting forward concrete plans and ideas, and by working together closely. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations will indeed be key for the economic recovery. So will the continuation of the reforms, which means not just adopting legislation, but actual implementation of measures taken. Focus on the rule of law, functioning of democratic institutions and public administration needs to continue. Together we will overcome this crisis and come out of it stronger: the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed clearly that the future of the Western Balkans is in the European Union. We have made important steps this year despite the pandemic and we need to continue to build on them for a truly united European continent.