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Belgrade Media Report 17 July 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 17 July 2020

LOCAL PRESS

Vucic: We aren’t negotiating here only with Pristina; Two principles have been agreed (Tanjug/RTS/B92)
We expect a lot from the EU (TV Pink)
Lajcak: Next high-level political meeting in September (Tanjug)
Zakharova: Solution for Kosovo and Metohija with UN consent and in Serbia’s interest (RTV/Tanjug/Beta)
Sapic: We talked about state issues, not about SPAS in the government (Tanjug/B92)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Citizens of countries of EU and Schengen zone able to enter B&H with negative Covid-19 test (BHT1)
Cvijanovic: Holding of elections does not suit SDS and SDA; Dodik: Elections will be held (ATV)
Sattler welcomes adoption of B&H budget; Izetbegovic: SDA is willing to accept certain HDZ B&H’s demands only to allow things to move forward; Dodik warns that SDA is not willing to accept all of SNSD’s demands, which implies removal of foreign judges from B&H CC (O kanal)
Trump signs Executive Order extending sanctions for those undermining implementation of Dayton Agreement (Dnevni avaz)
Dodik: Komsic openly interferes in Serbia’s internal matters (ATV)
Croatia

President gives Andrej Plenkovic mandate to form government (HRT)
PM joining other leaders for first face-to-face Brussels summit in months (HRT)
Montenegro

Trial of Joanikije postponed for September (RTCG)
Picula: Citizens must not allow political manipulations hidden behind religious mask (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia

SEC: Coalition ‘We Can’ gets 46 MP seats, VMRO-DPMNE-44, DUI-15 (MIA)
Mickoski: Most voters opted for change, VMRO is best placed to form the next coalition (Republika)
Spasovski: Elections confirm our European capacity, SEC to announce results (Republika)
US Embassy: Elections represent an important step for democracy (MIA)
North Macedonia’s early parliamentary elections well managed despite pandemic but legal instability remains a concern, international observers say (MIA)
Credible elections set ground for continued reforms: MEPs (MIA)
Albania

Gov’t “rips up” agreement with opposition (Tirana Times)
Proposals beyond 5 June agreement must be discussed at Political Council (ADN)
MEPs urge parliament to adopt 5 June agreement (Tirana Times)
Brussels warns Albanian parliament about constitution amendments (Tirana Times)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Serbia and Kosovo resume rocky road towards an accord (EurActiv/AFP)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: We aren’t negotiating here only with Pristina; Two principles have been agreed (Tanjug/RTS/B92)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stated on Thursday night in Brussels, after a meeting with Prime Minister of the Provisional Institutions of Pristina Avdullah Hoti and EU representatives, that the Serbian side prepared well for the meeting and represented Serbia’s interests in the best way. Addressing the press, Vucic said that the meeting was not easy and that it was about missing persons, internally displaced persons and the economy, announcing that talks on a technical level will continue on 22 July. Vucic added that he expects some other topics to be opened in the dialogue with Pristina from September, including the most difficult one – the issue of property, and said that he asked it to be in the form of establishment of a Community of Serb Municipalities while Pristina had some other idea. As he stated, there are 1.643 or 1.644 missing persons in Kosovo and Metohija, depending on the records kept by the two sides, of which 570 are Serbs and non-Albanians, and the rest are Albanians. “We were ready to accept any form of conversation,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We said that Serbia will never protect anyone, that we want it to be important to find the places where those people were buried because of their families and those who lost their loved ones. We said that we are ready to respond to every request of Albanians, that we are ready to work with them, with EU’s presence to show whether there is something in that place or not, but we asked for the same right for us,” he said. “Serbia is prepared to meet every demand from the Albanian side and we are ready to show whether there is anything in places which they think are mass grave sites, but we are demanding the same for us,” he said, adding that 570 of the 1.643 persons missing in Kosovo are Serbs and non-Albanians. Vucic said that he asked for that right because we did not have access to Lapusnik, Donjice, Djakovica, Kosare, Istok and some other locations, and that talks on the issue of missing persons would continue on Wednesday. “Albanians demanded that all military and police archives be opened. We said there were no problems with the issue of missing persons and internally displaced persons, but Serbia demanded that the so-called KLA archives be opened so that we could see where Serbs and other non-Albanians were killed. As soon as we mentioned that, the Albanian side strongly protested,” he said. Vucic said that two principles had been agreed upon: it was agreed that we would work with the Red Cross and accept their rules, and the other was that we would be open and express our political will to find the missing persons. The issue raised at the meeting is also about internally displaced persons, of whom, according to Vucic, there are 220.000, of which 177.000 are Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, and 16.000 are in various places in Kosovo and Metohija, and the rest are in central Serbia. “Kosovo and Metohija is the place in the world where people rarely return to. There has never been a war conflict where only 1.9 percent of the displaced persons returned to their homes in Kosovo,” he said, but expressed hope that appropriate solutions would be found. Vucic said that issues on the economy were also discussed, but that some came to talk about war reparations. “One of the issues was war reparations. I refused, I said there was no point in talking about it,” Vucic said. As he said, he proposed a trade agreement which, he added, “would not demean us and with which we would not show that we recognize Kosovo as a state because we aren’t”. “We have something to offer Pristina, I hope that they also have something to offer us. I believe that it can be a good job in creating an incomparably better political climate for our political cooperation in the future and everything else,” he said. However, Vucic said that they discussed speeding up the works on the Nis-Pristina highway with greater European participation. “It will be difficult, you all know for what reasons, because we are not negotiating here only with Pristina, but also with Brussels and with the most powerful countries of the European Union that have all recognized an independent Kosovo. I think we are well prepared for the meeting,” he said. He added that he would be in Brussels again in fifteen days, and that other issues would be on the table in September, such as property, and that he asked for the Community of Serb Municipalities to be discussed. “I am glad that we really came to talk, to make progress, and now let the Europeans assess how and in what way the other side approached it,” he said. We really fought in an honest, open, serious and responsible way for the interests of Serbia, Vucic said after the continuation of the dialogue in Brussels.

 

We expect a lot from the EU (TV Pink)

 

President Vucic said on Thursday night that he had talked with European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi about significantly higher amounts from IPA funds, as well as about the significant influence of Serbia and the region in the investment cycle, which he said would be decided in September. “We expect a lot from the European Union,” Vucic told TV Pink and thanked Varhelyi for being a sincere friend of Serbia. “He does everything in his power to help our country. You know I don’t say that often, but he is a great friend of Serbia, whether because he is Hungarian or for other reasons… I think he is an exceptional man,” Vucic said. The President said that he would have two more dinners in Brussels tonight, with the two prime ministers, so he would return to Belgrade in the morning, where, he says, he expects to continue consultations on the formation of the government of Serbia. All those who say that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is meaningless, should then go before the citizens and say that their strategy is to close the country, because without dialogue, Serbia has nothing to talk about with France or Germany, President Aleksandar Vucic noted tonight. Asked on TV Pink whether the Belgrade-Pristina meeting and dialogue makes sense, given that some opposition leaders say it is meaningless, he replied in an ironic tone: “Everything is meaningless. It is best to close the country, to never do anything, to overthrow the assembly, and to come to power without elections. That would be ideal.” The President pointed out that Serbia has nothing to talk about with France or Germany, if it does not have a dialogue with Pristina. “If they don’t want that, then only let them tell the citizens that they would close the country, in which no one would invest anymore,” Vucic added. As he says, he is not interested in marginal political parties and meaningless attitudes. “My job is to work in the interest of the citizens, to fight for the people in Serbia, and not to say how we repeated some slogans here, so that someone would be happy… I will not flatter anyone,” Vucic concluded.

 

Lajcak: Next high-level political meeting in September (Tanjug)

 

EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak said that at the first “physical” meeting within the resumption of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue they discussed the issue of missing, displaced persons and economy. “I am satisfied that following the initial exchange of positions both leaders agreed to work intensively at the expert level already next week in Brussels,” said Lajcak said after the meeting. He said that the missing persons issue is important for reconciliation. “This is a very symbolic problem in the context of reconciliation and an actual problem for the families living with uncertainty,” he said. He underlined that it is crucial to work with the International Red Cross on resolving the remaining cases and closing this issue. When it comes to the second topic, the economy, he says it is one of the EU pillars and it is important for the daily lives of the population. “Intensifying economic cooperation means full using of economic potentials of Kosovo and Serbia, creating new jobs and improving living conditions,” said Lajcak. He announced the next high-level political meeting for the beginning of September.

Zakharova: Solution for Kosovo and Metohija with UN consent and in Serbia’s interest (RTV/Tanjug/Beta)

 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Moscow supports Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Kosovo problem. She told a regular press briefing that Moscow believes that the EU will do its job as mediator conscientiously and will invest effort towards the implementation of agreements reached by Belgrade and Pristina the key one being the Community of Serb Municipalities which she said the authorities in Pristina are “sabotaging”. “That is how we view the 12 July video conference and today’s meeting in Brussels,” she said. “We advocate that Belgrade and Pristina reach a solution that will be functional and mutually acceptable, in accordance with UNSCR 1244. This solution should primarily be in accordance with international law. It must receive the consent of the UN Security Council and it needs to consider, most of all, the interests of the people of Serbia,” concluded Zakharova.

 

Sapic: We talked about state issues, not about SPAS in the government (Tanjug/B92)

 

After talks with the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the leader of SPAS, Aleksandar Sapic, stated that he expects them to meet again in the next two weeks. According to Sapic, Vucic informed him about state issues, such as Kosovo and Metohija and the situation regarding the coronavirus, without specifically talking about Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) entering the government. “I think the main thing will be whether we will agree on strategic state issues. If there is an agreement on that, we can talk about joining the government. If we cannot set common denominators, I will not be part of that government,” Sapic said, answering the question of what will be crucial for SPAS to be part of the future government. When asked if Vucic invited him to the government, Sapic answered that they did not discuss it and reiterated that Vucic informed him more about the economic situation, the fight against the coronavirus, but also about the situation with Kosovo and Metohija, i.e. negotiations that await Serbia. “I can tell you that we have a very difficult period ahead of us in the coming months, politically difficult. I think there are big challenges facing Serbia, and whether I will be part of the government or not will be shown by time and some next meetings. We have not talked about it now,” Sapic said. This, he says, was the first contact in which the president of SNS and SPAS could see what they have in common and what distinguishes them. Accordingly, there was no topic on either side about the conditions for entering the government, he added. Sapic assessed the conversation with Vucic as “private”, and when asked to clarify, he reiterated that it was “a private conversation between two adults on serious topics” and added that when he considers that he should present details to the public, he will do so. The president of SPAS, who received the most votes in New Belgrade, says that he did not discuss the municipality with the president of Serbia today, that is, as he specified, “they did not discuss any topic concerning political calculations.” “Today’s meeting ended with program issues, that is, the president informed me about things that I cannot get through the media and my opinion on that,” Sapic concluded.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Citizens of countries of EU and Schengen zone able to enter B&H with negative Covid-19 test (BHT1)

 

Citizens of EU member countries and Schengen-area countries are able to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) territory as of Thursday, July 16. The passengers need to provide a negative PCR coronavirus test upon entry that was conducted no more than 48 hours ago. Representative of the B&H Border Police Jasminka Mujic said abovementioned citizens are required to abide by all issued measures and instructions of competent bodies. Minister of Health of the Una-Sana Canton Nermina Cemalovic said that negative tests provide certain security that the persons entering the country are not infected. Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic deems that all wishing to enter B&H should be permitted to do so providing they get tested prior to their arrival. She said that it does pose a small risk, but is one which is worth it as otherwise businesses which rely solely on tourism will be forced to close. BHT1 remind that Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin nationals arriving to B&H do not need to provide a negative PCR test upon arrival. B&H nationals have to provide a negative PCR test upon entering Croatia and have to have a valid reason for entry. A serological test is sufficient for entering Montenegro.

 

Cvijanovic: Holding of elections does not suit SDS and SDA; Dodik: Elections will be held (ATV)

 

Republika Srpska (RS) President and SNSD Vice-President Zeljka Cvijanovic stated that she expects local elections in B&H to be held in October as provided by the law, without any kind of manipulations or postponements. Cvijanovic claims that holding of the elections does not suit SDS and SDA and that this is why these two parties, via their cadres in the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC), are seeking excuses for the postponement of the date of the elections. Cvijanovic stressed that moving the date of the elections from October 4 to November 15 is classic adjusting and adapting to political needs, adding that the law clearly states when the elections should take place. “I believe that SDS and SDA are the ones whom elections do not suit. I have heard certain statements that the CEC does not know what the situation will be in the fall. What does the CEC care about what the situation will be like, it is their job to carry out the procedure, and when you get into a certain situation and see what the situation is like, then you eventually move it (elections) for health reasons. I expect the elections to take place on time, as provided by the law, without any manipulations or postponements.” Serb member of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik claims that elections will be held. Dodik told ATV that the only question is whether the elections will be held in accordance with the law or not. Dodik added that appointment of new members of the B&H CEC was not in accordance with the law and that the problem is that the international community, which constantly calls for the rule of law, is now violating that same thing. “We are disputing the Commission. That is quite logical, because it was not appointed in accordance with the law, but we must also accept and fulfill all the obligations related to the elections provided by the law. We act as if the elections will be held in the first week of October, because what the Commission postponed for November, it violated the law, because the law does not allow it,” Dodik said. Leader of DEMOS and Speaker of the RS National Assembly Nedeljko Cubrilovic is convinced that there should be no new postponement of the elections. Cubrilovic stressed that he believes Wednesday’s adoption of the budget of B&H for 2020 in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) is an encouraging fact when it comes to holding the elections although. According to Cubrilovic, the previous postponement of the elections was unnecessary and illegal. Cubrilovic stressed that one knew that the budget would be adopted and that there would be money for implementation of the elections. “In our opinion, there was no reason to postpone (the elections) for 15 November and now I believe that 15 November will be the final date,” Cubrilovic underlined. Members of the B&H CEC again on Thursday warned that election activities have been called into question due to the fact that the money for holding of the elections has not been secured yet. However, the RS officials recall that the budget of B&H institutions was not adopted on time in 2012 either, but that elections were then held regularly.

 

Sattler welcomes adoption of B&H budget; Izetbegovic: SDA is willing to accept certain HDZ B&H’s demands only to allow things to move forward; Dodik warns that SDA is not willing to accept all of SNSD’s demands, which implies removal of foreign judges from B&H CC (O kanal)

 

Head of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H and EU Special Representative (EUSR) Johann Sattler welcomed adoption of the budget of B&H institutions for 2020, which took place at the session of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) on Wednesday, as a very important step. Sattler underlined: “I sincerely hope that the House of Peoples (HoP) will follow these steps next week and ensure that the budget is adopted. That will enable the Central Election Commission (CEC) of B&H to organize this year’s elections.” SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic pointed out that SDA is not setting any conditions to HDZ B&H and that, as a matter of fact, this party is willing to accept certain HDZ B&H’s demands only to allow the things to move forward. SNSD leader Milorad Dodik warned that SDA is not willing to accept all of SNSD’s demands, which implies removal of foreign judges from the structure of the B&H Constitutional Court (CC). SDS leader Mirko Sarovic assessed that the authorities in B&H need to change, because the current ones face crises due to lack of maturity. Representative of the Association ‘Zasto Ne’ (‘Why Not’) and ‘Istinomjer’ (‘Truth-o-meter’) Denis Carkadzic assessed that a standstill comes as no surprise, given that there are no functional coalitions in the B&H authorities. Carkadzic expressed an opinion that neither HDZ B&H nor SNSD are honest in their commitment to implementation of the program of reforms. “In any way, B&H will continue its path towards NATO”, Carkadzic stressed. He concluded that the executive authorities in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be appointed, as long as HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic insists on adoption of HDZ B&H’s amendments to the Election Law of B&H.

 

Trump signs Executive Order extending sanctions for those undermining implementation of Dayton Agreement (Dnevni avaz)

 

The White House stated that the US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order extending sanctions against the people who undermine implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Daily noted that this executive order was signed on June 26, but the public took no notice of it because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the statement explained that with this national emergency towards countries of the Western Balkans is extended. The statement further noted that the decision is reached in line with the International Emergency Economic Powers Act “due to US necessity to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. The Notice explained that this threat to national security in the Western Balkans besides obstructions of implementation of the Dayton Agreement also refers to acting of persons involved in assisting or sponsoring the extremist violence in North Macedonia. “National emergency is declared also because of the persons obstructing the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 in regards to Kosovo. The President subsequently amended that order in Executive Order 13304 of 28 May 2003, to take additional steps with respect to acts obstructing implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement of acts of extremist violence and obstructionist activity, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.  For this reason, the national emergency declared on 26 June 2001, and the measures adopted on that date and thereafter to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond 26 June, 2020.  Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to the Western Balkans declared in Executive Order 13219”. With this daily reads Trump extended the duration of ‘black list’ for the Western Balkans which includes many familiar names, including of Milorad Dodik. Article concluded that Dodik was blacklisted during the mandate of Barack Obama and he hoped that Trump’s administration will lift these sanctions immediately, but his expectations proved to be groundless. List includes KaradzicSeseljPlavsicKrajisnikAlispahicCengic and others.

 

Dodik: Komsic openly interferes in Serbia’s internal matters (ATV)

 

Serb member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik commented the statement of Croat member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic who said that Kosovo is a state. Dodik stressed that it is completely inappropriate for Komsic to even comment the situation in a neighboring country, especially now when a dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been restored. Asked to comment Komsic’s statement that Kosovo is the state, that this story is over and that one is only waiting for Belgrade to accept this fact, Dodik said that Komsic’s statement represents open interference in internal matters of another country, adding that this statement is insulting to all Serbs in B&H and Komsic should be aware of that. “If I were to use same logic as he does, I could say that Republika Srpska is a state and only Sarajevo needs to accept this fact now and things will get easier. However, imagine if that sentence was stated by someone from the Serbian leadership?! It is certain that such statements, such as Komsic’s, do not contribute to peace, stability and good relations in the region.” Dodik said that this statement insults all Serbs in B&H. Komsic responded to Dodik again stating that he is not a kind of a politician who would insult anyone, especially not entire people. “You could never and will never hear this from me. I understand emotions of big, perhaps even the biggest part of Serb people towards the issue of Kosovo. However, my stance on this is based on facts that Serbian leadership and Serb politicians in B&H are the best aware of, despite of the high emotions,” said Komsic.

 

President gives Andrej Plenkovic mandate to form government (HRT)

 

The President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, has given the mandate to form a new government to Andrej Plenkovic. Parliament will be constituted in the middle of next week, after which the government with 16 ministries should be confirmed. “The elections are clear, I congratulated him and I wish him all the best,” said President Zoran Milanovic after entrusting Andrej Plenkovic with the mandate to form the new government. “We are already in fairly complicated times that we haven’t seen until now, and I hope that this year will end as it must already end with an economic drop, but that the next year will be a year of growth. I want to believe in this,” said the President. The government that Andrej Plenkovic will lead for the next four years will be smaller by 4 ministries. “There will be 16 of them. As far as agencies are concerned there will be the Interior, Croatian Veterans, Finance, Defense, Agriculture, Regional Development and EU Funds, Foreign and European Affairs, Maritime, Transport and Infrastructure. We will join the Justice and Administration Ministries, and we will join the Ministry of Construction and Spatial Planning with the Ministry of State Property, we will also join the Ministry of Labor and the Pension System with the Ministry of Social Policy. The Ministry of Health will remain as it is and the Ministry of Culture will have Media added to its name. We will have a Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Ministry of Science and Education remains as it is, and finally the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development,” said Plenkovic. Plenkovic added that the government will also have 4 deputy prime ministers – current deputies Bozinovic and Maric, new deputy Medved and Mr. Milosevic. Current and future Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that the names of new ministers would be officially announced on Monday after a meeting of the Croatian Democratic Union’s central bodies.

 

PM joining other leaders for first face-to-face Brussels summit in months (HRT)

 

Prime Minister-designate Andrej Plenkovic is in Brussels where EU leaders are due to meet for a special summit to try to carve out what could be a more than 1-trillion-euro budget for the next seven years and a 750 billion euro coronavirus recovery fund. A day ahead of the summit, there was still no consensus on any of the disputed points of the seven-year-budget. There was also no consensus on the precise amounts of the two financial instruments. European Council President Charles Michel is proposing a sever year budget of more than 1 trillion euros and a 750 billion Euro recovery fund, 500 billion of which would be distributed in the form of grants. However, it is not the amounts that are most contentious, it is the matter of how they will be distributed and how the burden will be carried. The so-called Frugal Four – the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, and Denmark – want a tighter budget and a smaller recovery fund, which they insist should be repaid. They also want assurances that the money will be spent on economic recovery not on paying off debts that existed before the pandemic. Southern European countries argue that they deserve a fair shake at catching up to their more developed neighbors. “The most important message for us is one that gives us some sense of predictability, as much as possible. We need criteria that will be taken into account the parameters that are really important, so that we can see how Covid-19 as affected us and why we need additional funds,” said Plenkovic. It was certain, however, that Croatia will have access to significantly more funding than before, he added. Friday’s summit will be the first time EU leaders will meet face-to-face since February. Very few people are feeling optimistic that the 27 leaders will be able to reach a deal.

 

Trial of Joanikije postponed for September (RTCG)

 

The hearing of the main trial of the bishop of Budva-Niksic, Joanikije, and eight Serbian Orthodox Church priests, accused of violating health measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, has been postponed again. The next one is scheduled for 4 September at nine o’clock. This is the decision of Judge Igor Djurickovic, after the proposal of the priests’ lawyer Sava Kostic to postpone the hearing due to the current coronavirus situation. Kostic said earlier that the courtroom does not provide prescribed measures of physical distance, and that health should be taken into account in the current situation. After the hearing was postponed, Kostic told reporters that the judge showed understanding and postponed the hearing to September 4, by which time the epidemiological situation should improve. “I believe that the judge would have made such a decision without my proposal, because the president of the Supreme Court, Vesna Medenica, sent a letter to the presidents of the courts due to the worsening of the epidemiological situation,” Kostic said. The decision was expected so as not to create a new cluster in court. “The virus does not choose. With this delay, nothing will be lost, but something could be gained, and that is to reduce the number of potentially infected, I believe that there will be no new cases due to this gathering, so I ask the citizens to disperse as soon as possible,” Kostic said.

 

Picula: Citizens must not allow political manipulations hidden behind religious mask (Pobjeda)

 

It is very hard to imagine that any candidate country is satisfied with the negotiations. However, I believe that the co called “enlargement fatigue” phase has to transform into the new activism. What will be the enlargement dynamics like, that will greatly depend on the candidates, says in the interview for Pobjeda Tonino Picula, EP Rapporteur for Montenegro.

Elections in MNE are scheduled for 30 August, in a very difficult moment for Montenegro, not only because of the epidemic but also because of the political ambitions of the Serbian Orthodox Church which has been jeopardizing Montenegro’s stability by organizing political protests. What’s your comment on that?

Picula: The forthcoming elections will be a very important test for Montenegro. The factors you cited could indeed be serious challenges in the election process. But these factors are not the only ones. As you know, one of the key recommendations of my Report on Western Balkan (WB) enlargement is strengthening independence of media and rule of law, as well as democratic procedures. The increase in the number of infections in MNE concerns me. Elections must be held with strict adherence to adequate epidemic measures. As far as Montenegro-religious communities relations are concerned, I would like to remind you of June last year and the fact that Venice Commission adopted positive opinion on the proposal for the Law on Freedom of Religion. I would take this opportunity to call on Montenegrin citizens not to let themselves be drawn into the whirl of political conflicts in which religion is just a motive under mask.

We have opened the last negotiating chapter, but the most important part of work is yet to come. Is this proof that the enlargement process will have satisfactory dynamics for candidate countries?

Picula: As rapporteur of the EP, I am very glad that Montenegro finally opened the last negotiating chapter. That really is a signal that the enlargement process will continue and that the EU realized the importance of positive actions in its neighborhood. Despite the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis which will mark this and even years to come, this comes in the last phase of the Croatia’s presidency over the EU Council. I believe the dynamics will continue with opening inter-government conferences with North Macedonia and Albania. We should not forget German support for enlargement. Soon, Slovenia will take over the presidency. I think that’s great chance for Montenegro. This pandemic has shown that big, global, health crisis requires joint actions and cooperation. By helping poor countries, economically stronger countries contribute to global well-being and protection of public health. It’s important that the EU realized that on time and ensured more than €3,3 billion in money and medical material for WB countries. It is very hard to imagine that any candidate country is satisfied with the negotiations. However, I believe that the co called “enlargement fatigue” phase has to transform into the new activism. What will be the enlargement dynamics like, that will greatly depend on the candidates.

Serbia’s President said that actors form the region were involved in protests in Serbia and then Serbian tabloids accused Montenegro of being involved. Montenegrin officials denied such claims. How can region go forward with such irresponsible behavior of specific leaders?

Picula: Unfortunately, Croatia is the target of similar, unfounded accusations aimed at spreading disinformation, especially through tabloids. I was also attacked by Prime Minister Brnabic with a set of incoherent accusations. That only confirms that the regime in crisis looks for legitimacy in making up enemies. In such serious and difficult social and economic crisis, it is necessary to demonstrate state capabilities, cooperation and openness.

There’s ample evidence that Russia has its part in all tensions in the region… Do you see Russian influence in protests in Belgrade or is that really citizens’ dissatisfaction with the country’s response to the epidemic?

Picula: My impression is that protests really started as justified dissatisfaction of Serbia’s citizens. But when Belgrade tabloids published headlines accusing Russian agents of riots, I linked that to possible warning for Mr. Vucic to keep the positions in the lead-up to his travel to the West. The problem of the influence of Russian and pro-Russian, the so-called proxy political agents is definitely present in the EU. From fake news and disinformation campaigns during election process in the EU member states, to financing campaigns of right-wing populist candidates, that influence is visible and registered.

What’s your comment on the fact that there are still those who deny the genocide in Srebrenica?

Picula: There are several lines of tragedy in that event, as it’s distant past. There are families of more than 8.000 of victims. It is really a bitter cynicism to claim that systemic killing of 8,000 people with the aim of eradicating them from a territory did not happen at all. That tells that there’s still a lot to be done in the fight for the truth. Without truly facing the past as it happened, it is difficult to build future. The role of certain authoritarian regimes in the entire story is shameful. I emphasized clearly in my address during plenary session last week that it is our duty to defend truth and not allow the crime to triumph. We owe that to the victims in Srebrenica, Ovcare and other mass scaffolds.

 

SEC: Coalition ‘We Can’ gets 46 MP seats, VMRO-DPMNE-44, DUI-15 (MIA)

 

The State Election Commission (SEC) announced Thursday the unofficial final results of the early parliamentary elections. SDSM-led coalition “We Can” has won 46 MP seats, the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition-44 MP seats, Democratic Union for Integration (DUI)-15, Alliance for Albanians/Alternativa (AA/A)-12, Levica-2 and Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA)-1.

In the first election district, Coalition “We Can” got 8 MP seats, VMRO-DPMNE-7, DUI-2, AA/A-2 and Levica-1. In the second election district, VMRO-DPMNE and “We Can” won 7 MP seats each, while DUI and AA/A-3 each. In the third election district, VMRO-DPMNE got 10 MP seats, “We Can”-9 and Levica-1. In the fourth election district, VMRO-DPMNE and “We Can” split 10 MP seats each. In the fifth election district, VMRO-DPMNE and “We Can” got 8 MP seats each, DUI-3 and AA/A-1. In the sixth election district, DUI won 7 MP seats, AA/A/-6, “We Can”-4, VMRO-DPMNE-2 and DPA-1. SEC President Oliver Derkovski said 942,334 citizens exercised their right to vote. “The SDSM-led coalition scooped 327,329 votes or 46 MP seats, VMRO-DPMNE and its coalition won 315,344 votes or 44 seats, DUI-104,587 votes or 15 seats, AA/A-81,827 votes or 12 seats, Levica-37,551 votes or 2 seats, and DPA-13,891 votes or 1 seat. Derkovski said the SEC website, which has been down for 24 hours, was attacked by hackers but there was no damage done, only a delay of the election result tabulation. Parties can submit a complaint to SEC within 48 hours from the end of the voting process and SEC is set to decide on the complaint within 48 hours upon receipt. An appeal can be submitted against the SEC decision to the Administrative Court within 24 hours, while the Court is obliged to decide within 48 hours upon receipt. SEC can cancel the vote in a polling station in certain cases regulated by the Electoral Code. Parties can file an appeal to the Administrative Court within 24 hours upon receiving the decision and the Court is obliged to decide on the appeal within 72 hours. The repeated vote in the polling station takes place 14 days after the initial vote.

 

Mickoski: Most voters opted for change, VMRO is best placed to form the next coalition (Republika)

 

In his first remarks after the elections, VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski said that his party has won more votes and seats than SDSM (putting SDSM coalition partner BESA aside) and that the mood of the public is undeniably pro-opposition. Mickoski said that he is beginning the coalition building process with different parties, after the voters delivered a narrowly divided parliament, and that he is confident that VMRO is best placed for a stable coalition. The people opted for change. They know that the reality they live in is unbearable. The results show that the opposition won more votes that the ruling majority, Mickoski said. He pointed to VMRO wins in the capital Skopje and most of its largest municipalities, in Veles, Stip, Ohrid, Kavadarci, Negotino, Prilep and many other cities and municipalities across the country. This result was achieved in difficult circumstances, under strong pressure and many irregularities. The Government engaged in massive bribery. The website of the State Electoral Commission remains down. We are receiving numerous reports of suspicious vote counting. We don’t want to make that the main issue of our campaign because our citizens deserve the Renewal we offer. We acted honestly and with principles. The alternative would be to go with Zaev and prolong the agony, Mickoski said. Asked about the request from the DUI party that the next Prime Minister is an ethnic Albanian, Mickoski said that he will not negotiate under blackmail. On the proposal from SDSM party leader Zoran Zaev that VMRO and SDSM support each other in some sort of a minority Government, Mickoski replied that he will “not form a coalition with people suspected of crimes”.

 

Spasovski: Elections confirm our European capacity, SEC to announce results (Republika)

 

Interim Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski urged the State Election Commission to announce the voting results because the citizens expect this. Spasovski told a press conference that citizens and the state demonstrated European capacity at yesterday’s elections and that the voter turnout was high taking into account the Covid-19 situation. According to him, now comes a period of forming fully functional institutions that would take care of the people’s health and continue the process of European integration. The people’s will must be turned into legitimate institutions as soon as possible. I expect SEC to provide its contribution in the process, citizens expect the results, the Commission is obliged to come out and announce them, said Spasovski.

 

US Embassy: Elections represent an important step for democracy (MIA)

 

As the first general elections held in North Macedonia since joining NATO and being invited to commence EU accession negotiations earlier this year, these elections represent an important step for democracy, says the United States Embassy to Skopje in a statement regarding the parliamentary elections. “We want to recognize the tremendous efforts of the local election officials, who ensured that, despite the ongoing pandemic, elections were organized with every effort to protect the health of both the voters and the polling center staff and observers” reads the statement of the Embassy. The Embassy also expresses its appreciation to ODIHR for its preliminary findings on the parliamentary elections.

 

North Macedonia’s early parliamentary elections well managed despite pandemic but legal instability remains a concern, international observers say (MIA)

 

The early parliamentary elections in North Macedonia were generally well run and candidates could campaign freely, but legal stability was undermined by significant revisions to the legal framework and subsequent government decrees, international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a statement on Thursday. “This is a very challenging time to be holding elections, and we recognize the authorities’ efforts to adapt to the new circumstances” said Laima Andrikiene, head of ODIHR’s special election assessment mission. “However, there are unsolved issues with the electoral law and process that often led to last-minute political agreements. This needs to be given serious attention by the authorities well ahead of the next elections.” Some 1.8 million people were eligible to vote in yesterday’s early parliamentary elections, which were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The election administration completed its work within all the legal deadlines, despite complications caused after the electoral process was suspended. Election day itself went smoothly despite some technical challenges with the reporting of results. However, longstanding structural issues in compiling the voter register remain unaddressed. The legal framework was changed substantially shortly before the elections were announced, which goes against international good practice. Continuing inconsistencies and ambiguous formulations undermine legal certainty, and still need substantial revision. Candidates had the opportunity to genuinely compete and deliver their messages, although the campaign was characterized by negative rhetoric at the expense of policy discussions on content. Media coverage of the elections generally lacked a critical assessment of platforms, and rules on paid political advertisements favored the three largest parties. ODIHR’s Special Election Assessment Mission (SEAM) to North Macedonia took up its work on 19 June and will end on 23 July. The SEAM focused on issues identified by ODIHR’s needs assessment mission in order to assess the extent to which the elections were held in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as with national legislation.

 

Credible elections set ground for continued reforms: MEPs (MIA)

 

European Parliament’s standing rapporteur for North Macedonia Ilhan Kyuchyuk and the Chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the EU-North Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee Andreas Schieder have welcomed the orderly and impartial conduct of competitive elections held under the challenging circumstances of Covid-19. “A considerable turnout despite of the pandemic shows a high level of civic engagement in deciding the future of the country. Voters and political forces alike have demonstrated a political maturity, setting an important milestone for further democratic consolidation in the country” say the MEPs. They add that the soon-to-be-formed parliament and the government will play a key role in building consensus and driving the reform process forward. “We look forward towards a formation of a solid stable majority that can take a political responsibility for the European future of the country. Such a coalition should rally around a strong, inclusive, reformist consensus and inter-ethnic cooperation. It is essential that following the formation of the governing bodies, the parliamentary majority and the opposition work hand in hand for the future of the country. Now more than ever, a consensus on the EU agenda, based on the inclusive societal dialogue, will play a key role. Therefore, we encourage the new government to continue the pro-European and reform oriented course of the last years,” note Kyuchyuk and Schieder. They urge the EU Member States to swiftly agree on the negotiating framework, to be followed by the scheduling of the first intergovernmental conference that will kick-start the accession talks still this year. The accession negotiations will be an additional driving force for strengthening the rule of law in fundamental areas, such as human rights, media freedom and the fight against corruption. “The European Parliament is committed to a continued engagement with the Sobranie, building upon the previous sessions of the Jean Monnet Dialogue, and with the government, which should demonstrate its continued commitment to the rule of law reforms and effectively address economic, social, healthcare and environmental challenges,” say the MEPs. They also we urge the authorities to take note of the preliminary conclusions on the electoral process issued by a special election assessment mission (SEAM) of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and look forward to a timely implementation of recommendations of its forthcoming final report, expected by an early autumn.

 

Gov’t “rips up” agreement with opposition (Tirana Times)

 

The agreement on the electoral reform which took place on 5 June, mediated by the U., the EU and the UK, has been broken, as the Socialist Party officially agreed to an open-list system. The draft was approved on Tuesday and will now be passed to the plenary session of the Albanian parliament, where 94 votes are needed for the Constitutional amendments. The SP and the parliamentary opposition agreed to an open-list system, which stipulates that the voters will be able to choose 2/3 of the deputies in the parties’ list, while 1/3 will be decided by the political parties based on gender representation. Through this agreement, clauses 1 and 2 in articles 64 and 68 of the Albanian Constitution will be amended in order to provide open lists, but will make it impossible from now on to enter the elections with pre-electoral coalitions. The current system favors coalitions by giving more value to the votes of small parties under the umbrella of a large party. However, in the current political system, avoiding coalitions seems to suit the Socialist Party better.

 

“Unilateral constitutional changes”

The government’s decision to support the open list system was strongly opposed by the non-parliamentary opposition. The Democratic Party stated that “the attempt to break the 5 June Agreement, achieved with the full support and mediation of the US-EU strategic partners, is the sole responsibility of Edi Rama.” According to the statement, “any dirty game to secretly and unilaterally change the Constitution seriously threatens the political and social stability of the country.” The opposition clarifies that “it fully stands for the return to legal changes, without any change of the 5 June Agreement, as the minimum basis for creating a normalized environment for the elections in Albania.” Furthermore, the general secretary of the Democratic Party, Gazment Bardhi says that with the unilateral constitutional changes, Edi Rama wants to change the agreement and force the parties to compete as he pleases, with a joint list and not as he himself gave his consent in the June 5 agreement. President Ilir Meta responded in the same line of thought as the parliamentary opposition, stating that the majority’s initiative unilaterally breaks the agreement. He stressed that the current parliament has no legitimacy to make constitutional changes, while adding that the initiative itself was undertaken in violation of the Constitution, during a period of natural disaster, a time when acts are not allowed to change the basic law of the state. Moreover, Meta said that the proposals contradict the constitution, as Article 96 recognizes the pre-election coalitions. This way, Meta will not recognize the amendments, if approved by the parliament. “As a guarantor of the Constitution and the unity of the people, I call on everyone to be accountable and reflective, and at the same time I will exercise all my constitutional responsibilities to curb, paralyze and at the same time devalue such an unprecedented action in three decades of pluralism. Such a unilateral act will not be recognized by the Institution of the President of the Republic,” declared Meta.

 

International community pressure

Additionally, the international community has continuously called Prime Minister Edi Rama not to amend the June 5th agreement. Therefore, this may mark his first serious clash with the internationals since he took over the government in 2013. Both EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi and the OSCE have been clear about not changing the rules of the game, as one of the 15 EU conditions states that amendments on the electoral reform need to be consensual.

“Other reforms related to the electoral system, outside the OSCE / ODIHR recommendations, should be approved no less than a year before the elections and require appropriate consultation, as recommended by the OSCE,” he wrote in a Twitter post last week. Furthermore, Ambassador Yuri Kim has stressed that the 5 June agreement between the government and the opposition is closed and therefore each party is expected to follow through with it.

 

The Bundestag warning

The deputy chairman of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, Johann Wadephul, stated that parliament should approve the Electoral Reform according to the agreement agreed on 5 June

In response to the breaking of the agreement, deputy chairman of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, Johann Wadephul claimed that if parliament approves the changes, it would be a serious violation of the 5 June agreement and would undermine the whole reform, stressing that the German parliament will not approve the first intergovernmental conference. “Now we are hearing about decisions in Parliament, to change the June 5 agreements and the constitution, banning the formation of electoral coalitions by the parties before the elections. Both of these changes, if approved by parliament, would be a serious violation of the 5 June and 14 January agreements.” He stated that “the German parliament will not approve the first intergovernmental conference and the opening of membership negotiations, until the 5 June agreement is approved by parliament without any amendments and without constitutional changes that undermine this agreement.” Wadephul added that the adoption of the changes would call into question Albania’s prospects in the European Union. “This would put the Albanian parliament and the ruling majority, including the Prime Minister, against the decision of all the heads of state and government of the European Union, taken in March this year, and would particularly question Albania’s prospects in the European Union.”

 

Proposals beyond 5 June agreement must be discussed at Political Council (ADN)

 

The Democratic Party has openly stated that any other thing beyond the agreed changes involved in the 5 June agreement on Electoral Reform should go through the Political Council. In a press statement, the Secretary General of the Democratic Party Gazment Bardhi said that all parties that participated in the Political Council are bound by the agreements of 14 January and 5 June, therefore any discussion should be submitted to the Political Council. Bardhi thus expresses the readiness of the opposition to sit down again at the table of the Political Council to discuss any issue that is not included in the 5 June Agreement, following the constitutional changes that ban pre-election coalitions and open partially the electoral lists approved at Legislative Council and the Legal Affairs Committee. “If the Socialist Party is really interested in reopening the discussion on other issues related to electoral reform, it is obliged by the January 14 Agreement and the 5 June Agreement to submit them for consensual discussions and decision-making in the Political Council. Any such discussion, according to the Agreement, cannot delay or hinder the codification of the 5 June Agreement,” highlighted Bardhi.

 

MEPs urge parliament to adopt 5 June agreement (Tirana Times)

 

In a joint statement, three MEPs urged the parliament of Albania to swiftly adopt the 5 June Agreement on Electoral Reform, reminding that without it, there will be no progress on electoral reform. The statement was released by the Foreign Affairs Committee Chair David McAllister (EPP), the standing Rapporteur for Albania Isabel Santos (S&D) and the Chair of the Parliament´s Delegation for Albania Manolis Kefalogiannis (EPP). “We expect that the parliamentary majority will adopt the necessary changes without undermining the consensus reached between the government and the opposition on 5 June. Any modification of the Agreement without reaching a consensus with all political parties could jeopardize convening the first conference for membership negotiations, and therefore slow down the European integration process,” the statement reads. Each country is free to set and improve its electoral system according to the national context and consensus. However, best international practices recommend that any changes to the electoral system should be conducted in a comprehensive and transparent manner starting at least one year before the next planned elections, the MEPs stressed. “We believe that Albania will respect these recommendations and will work further towards achieving sustainable results in the key reform areas,” the MEPs stated. The European Parliament is committed to support Albania on its European integration path and is ready to work with the Albanian Parliament in facilitating dialogue and building consensus on the crucial reforms in the areas of democracy, rule of law and accountability that are necessary for the country’s EU future, MEPs concluded.

 

Brussels warns Albanian parliament about constitution amendments (Tirana Times)

 

EU Commission Spokesperson, Ana Pisonero, urged Albanian leaders to refrain from breaking off the electoral reform agreement reached on 5 June. In a Twitter post, Pisonero emphasized the importance of fulfilling the OSCE/ODHIR recommendations and added that any amendments should not violate the 5 June agreement between the government and the opposition. “It is crucial that the 5 June agreement on electoral reform in Albania is preserved, given the necessity to fulfill OSCE/ODHIR recommendations, a condition set by the Council last March prior to first IGC. Any additional legislative changes should not jeopardize this primary goal,” Pisonero wrote.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Serbia and Kosovo resume rocky road towards an accord (EurActiv/AFP, 17 July 2020)

 

Former war foes Serbia and Kosovo restarted talks in Brussels on Thursday (16 July) as the EU urged them to compromise to normalise their strained relationship. More than two decades after clashing in war, the Balkan neighbours are still haunted by unresolved tensions that threaten instability in their corner of southeastern Europe. After a virtual meeting organised by EU officials last weekend, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s new Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti came to talk face-to-face in Brussels on Thursday. EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell hailed the fact the two leaders were talking for the second time in a week as a sign of their commitment to the process. “Today I expect a constructive discussion on their first element of our talks, which will contribute to the comprehensive normalisation of the relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” Borrell, who is chairing the talks with EU special representative Miroslav Lajcak, said in a video statement. “I encourage both sides to approach today’s talks in the sprit of compromise and pragmatism and with the European future for their people in Kosovo and Serbia in their minds.”

 

Little progress in the past

The overarching dispute is territorial: Belgrade refuses to recognise the independence that its former province, home mainly to ethnic Albanians, proclaimed in 2008. Kosovo’s statehood has been backed by around 100 countries, including the United States and all but five member states of the European Union. But Serbia’s core allies Russia and China deny it, effectively shutting Kosovo out of the United Nations. The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade to normalise their relationship, but little progress has been made, with a raft of agreements concluded in 2013 yet to be fully implemented. The latest round of negotiations broke down in 2018 after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tats. While Kosovo is determined to gain full recognition of its sovereignty, Serbia is under pressure to resolve the issue in order to move forward in its bid to join the EU. A final accord will need to resolve numerous thorny disputes, including the status of Serb-populated parts of Kosovo, war reparations, and the future of Serbian Orthodox religious sites, among many others. Both governments also face combustible political situations at home, where any concession to the other side is highly unpopular. Hoti heads a weak government in Kosovo that “does not enjoy domestic support and is not considered a personality who can lead the process”, said Pristina political analyst Imer Mushkolaj. On the other hand, Vucic is more powerful than ever after his party won a landslide victory in a June parliamentary vote boycotted by Serbia’s main opposition. Yet this total control is in fact a “weak spot” because it comes with “absolute responsibility,” said Serbian political analyst Aleksandar Popov. “It is going to be tough for Vucic to convince foreign partners that he cannot pass something in parliament,” Popov told AFP. The issue is highly sensitive in Serbia, especially among nationalists who consider Kosovo the cradle of their culture and religious heritage.

 

‘Complicated and difficult’

Kosovo is clear that the goal of the talks is “mutual recognition”. But Vucic speaks only vaguely about the need to “accept the reality” of Kosovo, which Belgrade effectively lost control over after the 1998-99 war. “As far as the situation regarding Kosovo is concerned, it is complicated and difficult for us,” Vucic said ahead of the talks. “I am trying to get what I can for Serbia and to lose only the inevitable minimum.” There is also the question of how the negotiations will go without Kosovo’s traditional interlocutor: President Hashim Thaci. He is out of the game after being accused by special prosecutors in The Hague of war crimes dating back to the conflict with Serbia. The fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces claimed some 13,000 lives, mainly Kosovo Albanians. But the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), of which Thaci was a leader, was accused of reprisals on Serbs and fellow Albanians during and after the conflict.

The war ended when a NATO bombing campaign forced Serb troops to withdraw, putting Kosovo under UN administration.

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