Joksimovic, Fabrizi: Progress report, economic package at an important moment (Tanjug)
The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi presented on Tuesday to Serbian Minister for EU Integration Jadranka Joksimovic the annual report of the European Commission on Serbia’s progress for 2020, as well as the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans adopted by the European Commission. Joksimovic stressed that there is the necessary political will of the government to define the most important political issues from the EU accession process in the context of the broadest social consensus and that the new government will have a program course that will continue the accelerated reform process. She pointed out that the European values to which the Serbian society is mostly committed clearly show that the policy of European integration represents the umbrella policy of Serbia, which is coherently pursued by the government and the President. Such progress and determination of the citizens is the most important result of the process of Serbia’s accession to the EU so far and the achievement that the current government leaves as a legacy to the next one, she said. She added that the report states that Serbia has remained committed to the EU accession process and is implementing the necessary reforms. The speed of reforms in certain areas varies, which is expected, given their complexity, but it is important that there is no setback in any area. We will carefully analyze all criticisms and recommendations, and accelerate reforms where there are objective delays, Joksimovic pointed out. According to her, the report states progress in most areas and the achieved level of progress enables further opening of negotiation chapters, with the understanding that the application of the new methodology to the negotiation process in Serbia has not yet taken shape. During the meeting, Ambassador Fabrizi pointed out that this year the EU is coming with a comprehensive package which confirms the importance of the Western Balkans. In the annual report, Serbia will find clear and precise recommendations for addressing key reforms to move faster on the path to EU accession and make the country more economically competitive and environmentally sustainable. The report placed strong emphasis on deepening and accelerating reforms on political criteria and the rule of law. In particular, the implementation of the OSCE/ODIHR election recommendations and the continuation of inter-party dialogue, the implementation of a new media strategy, the constitutional reform of the judiciary, the transformation of public administration and the fight against corruption and organized crime. The report also notes positive developments in the economic sector as Serbia develops a fully functioning market economy and has reacted quickly to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) for the Western Balkans, worth more than nine billion euros in IPA grants and a guarantee instrument for the Western Balkans, which has the potential to mobilize up to 20 billion euros in investments, Serbia will find an unprecedented financial package to strengthen long-term socio -economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate economic convergence with the EU. This comprehensive package comes at an important time for Serbia, which is forming a new government. The report should serve as a guideline for accelerating policy reforms. The economic investment plan should support economic recovery and convergence with the EU. Together, they represent Serbia’s strong policy and financial tool for faster progress on the road to the EU. I am sure that Serbia will use this great opportunity. The officials agreed with the fact that Serbia has made significant economic progress in this reporting period and reacted to the COVID-19 crisis in a timely manner. As it was emphasized, the Enlargement Package and the Progress Report are arriving at the right time, because they will represent an important segment of the roadmap for further reforms for the new government of Serbia.
Varhelyi: Serbia can open one chapter this year, on competition policy (Beta)
In its negotiations with the European Union, Serbia can open one chapter by the end of the year – Chapter 8, on competition policy, European Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said in the evening on 6 October in Brussels. He also noted that respect for the rule of law will be at the core of the new negotiation strategy accepted by Serbia. Commissioner Varhelyi said this while explaining the annual reports and the economic package for the Western Balkans at a session of the European Parliament’s Foreign Policy Board, replying to a question by an MP whether major objections by some groups in the EP regarding the state of the rule of law and democracy in Serbia could hinder the country’s progress toward EU membership. During the debate Varhelyi dismissed the stance that the issue of Kosovo is a “frozen conflict,” stating that the EU does not see the Belgrade-Pristina relations as such, but, to the contrary, as a “dialogue directed at a lasting, peaceful solution,” and that he is a witness to Serbia and Kosovo’s full dedication, in which they should be assisted. “I myself am personally committed to that,” Varhelyi said and added that work is underway “to find many elements that will stimulate the process within the EU economic plan, because the best way for overcoming difficulties is to convince the people living there that they can go forward despite terrible things from the past.”
Djuric: Hoti not for dialogue, wants only recognition (Tanjug/RTV)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has assessed that Pristina is not interested in dialogue. “Avdulah Hoti’s blackmailing strategy, except for destroying the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, contains a message that Pristina is not interested in any kind of normalization, but that normalization for Pristina is only a means to extort recognition,” Djuric stated in the press release. “Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija will not be Hoti’s hostages, and we will continue to be persistent in attempts to resolve open issues at the negotiating table, but I have to tell the European partners that the situation that Hoti is bringing us into with his political insolence is becoming more and more absurd, so I sincerely worry about the future of the dialogue…,” said Djuric. “We will continue to insist on the implementation of the agreement on the Community of Serb Municipalities in Brussels and in any other place, because only this makes sense, and only this can pull out the dialogue out of the whirlpool of hypocrisy, lies, threats and blackmail that Hoti pushes it into every day,” concluded Djuric.
Sattler: Past 16 months was the period of stagnation, different blockades and lack of progress in the area of reforms (BN TV)
The Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Johann Sattler handed over the European Commission (EC)’s 2020 Report on B&H to Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers Zoran Tegeltija in Sarajevo on Tuesday. Addressing a press conference, Sattler said that for B&H, the past 16 months was the period of stagnation, different blockades and lack of progress in the area of reforms. Sattler emphasized that he is the most disappointed with the part of the report that says B&H authorities did nothing to register any kind of progress when it comes to improvement of the sector of the rule of the law and there was no work on implementation of recommendations from the so-called Reinhard Priebe’s report. “This is the issue that witnessed resistance from the ranks of the judiciary itself. I will use this chance to call on all relevant actors to stop with obstructions of justice reform. I primarily have in mind the necessary changes to the law on the HJPC. I also mention that these legislative changes are necessarily related to approval of the next package of the macro-financial assistance. Two more laws need and must be adopted by the end of the year and those are the law on conflict of interest and the law on public procurements. When it comes to the sector of the fight against organized crime and corruption, only a small, insignificant progress was achieved in this area. We still have signs of presence of political clientelism at all levels of power. These are the issues that certainly directly influence citizens and their lives. Some minimum that can be really achieved by the end of this year would be establishment of the National Contact Point (NCP) with the EUROPOL. The lack of existence of the NCP for the EUROPOL has its direct consequences in terms of disabling flow and exchange of data and knowledge that may speed up the fight against organized crime and corruption”. Addressing a press conference, Tegeltija said that maybe the EC did not recognize all efforts in B&H that were present and sometimes, the EC did not have enough understanding for some processes that are ongoing not just in B&H but in the entire world and which were caused by the pandemic. In his opinion, the report mentioned two important things and one of them reads that the Western Balkans and thus B&H, remains the strategic interest of the EU and one of the key priorities of the current EC. According to Tegeltija, this says that Europe did not forget about this region. The second thing that Tegeltija finds important in the report is that B&H made several steps forward in the last couple of months in the process of the EU enlargement. He underlined: “Why this second thing is important for us? Because of the fact that we are working and that in the upcoming months, we can also meet a couple of more things and secure the candidacy status of B&H – not in line with our expectations but – in line with what we achieve”.
Varhelyi: B&H needs to make progress in areas of rule of law and restoring of trust of citizens to judicial system (BHT1)
European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Oliver Varhelyi underlined that B&H needs to make progress in areas of rule of law and restoring of trust of citizens to judicial system. “Integrity of judiciary requires urgent actions. Only implementation of key reforms can lead this country towards status of the EU candidate country”, explained Varhelyi. Talking about the migrant crisis B&H has been especially exposed to, European Parliament’s Special Rapporteur for B&H Paolo Rangel stated that the progress report did not pay necessary attention to the issue of illegal migrations in B&H. Rangel emphasized that the EU provided significant financial support to B&H in regards to migrations management, adding that this support is not sufficient. He added that B&H has to ensure more efficient coordination at all levels in regards to borders management, capacity for migrations management and functioning of asylum system. Varhelyi also said that the most important thing right now is for the upcoming elections to be conducted fairly, including the ones in Mostar. He added that this will be the real test of democracy and Mostar is a test B&H needs to pass. Varhelyi added that it is very clear what needs to happen in terms of the 14 priorities highlighted by the European Commission.
Dodik: I will keep opinion on 2020 Report on B&H to myself, I am not informed about it (FTV)
Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated on Tuesday that he was not informed about the details of the EU 2020 Report on B&H and the criticism of the EU. He added that he has his own opinion about the assessments made about B&H. Dodik said that this is the necessary procedure of the EU after all and its officials told B&H that it can apply for the EU candidate status next year and therefore he will keep his opinion to himself. He added that the work of B&H officials is assessed continuously and he suspects that this is necessary. Speaking about the EU’s package of assistance for the Western Balkans region, which amounts to EUR 9 billion, Dodik said the intention will be to implement infrastructural projects that will successfully connect the cities of this region. Dodik confirms that European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi will present the detailed plan next Friday. B&H proposed ten projects but Dodik points that not all of these projects will be green lighted. Dodik announced on Tuesday that Chairman and members of the Presidency of B&H Sefik Dzaferovic, Zeljko Komsic and Dodik will again visit Brussels on Friday where they are due to meet EU leaders.
B&H Presidency members Dodik and Komsic discuss mutual relations, B&H’s paths towards EU and NATO with members of Swedish delegation (RTRS)
During Tuesday’s meeting between members of the B&H Presidency, Milorad Dodik and Zeljko Komsic respectively, with the delegation of Sweden, the officials discussed bilateral relations between the two countries and B&H’s position on its EU path. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Dodik said that he hopes Sweden will continue to support B&H’s path towards the EU, but he also reiterated his stance and informed the Swedish delegation that there is no unanimous support within B&H when it comes to the country’s path towards the NATO. Dodik reminds that Sweden is not a member of the Alliance. “That confirms the fact that B&H too has a right to make its own choice and that B&H cannot be forced or that it should be forced to any kind of decisions that are not followed by consensus within B&H,” Dodik told the reporters. Dodik also emphasized that B&H will never reach a consensus on recognition of Kosovo. He hopes that this fact will be accepted by other two members of the B&H Presidency. He points that Republika Srpska (RS) will never agree on such a decision but said that B&H could try and relax the relations with Kosovo, through strengthening of the economic cooperation. He said this could be done through B&H’s participation in ‘Mini Schengen’ initiative. “I am glad that the other two members of the Presidency, with delay, accepted that proposal that B&H becomes a member of the ‘Mini Schengen,” Dodik stated. Dodik and Komsic also discussed Sweden’s Chairmanship of the OSCE with members of the delegation. Due to the fact that several new ‘hot spots’ have been opened, like Belarus and the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Dodik informed the Swedish delegation about B&H’s neutral stance. Dodik said that B&H supports a stance that implies non-interfering into the conflict. Dodik also said that he did not have an insight into the report on B&H’s progress to the EU, which Head of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H Johann Sattler handed over to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers (CoM) of B&H Zoran Tegeltija on Tuesday. “There was some progress such as the famous story about Mostar where one could not hold the most ordinary thing – local elections – for twelve years. Now, one is presenting that as a great success and if it is a success for them, it is a success for me too. Certainly, some other things, such as the war crimes strategy, appointment of the joint commission of the European Parliament and the B&H Parliament and some other issues that are on the agenda,” Dodik said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Linde says significant progress must be made in all 14 priorities before B&H is granted status of candidate (Dnevni avaz)
In an interview to the daily, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Ann Linde, who is currently visiting B&H, said that it is necessary to lower political tensions and promote reconciliation. “We welcome progress that was made on the path towards the European Union (EU). There is still lots of hard work left to do on that path. Some priorities demand an urgent action, starting with judicial reform to migrations management”, Linde noted. Speaking about the expectation of B&H authorities that B&H will be granted the status of EU candidate next year already, Linde reminded that significant progress has to be made in all 14 key priorities which the European Commission defined in order for this to happen. Linde also reminded that Sweden is one of the main donors for B&H and noted that reforms backed by Sweden assist in creation of right preconditions for the country to become a candidate eventually. “Even now those reforms help construct a better state for everyone. I welcome joint commitment which the political leadership in B&H expressed on the way to European integration. Furthermore, I welcome progress made in the past month – primarily the Agreement on holding of elections in Mostar for the first time in 12 years. It is important, of course, to hold elections in the entire country in the way that would contribute to unity and cooperation”, Linde noted. Linde concluded by saying that Sweden will remain partner in B&H’s reform efforts and its goal is to adopt a new strategy on development cooperation that would include all Western Balkans countries and will focus on economic development and integration in the EU, strengthening of democracy as well as better ambient and climate.
Dzaferovic: B&H is on road to EU membership and it strives to join NATO; Only unreasonable ones are against initiatives like mini Schengen (N1)
Chairman of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic ended his two-day visit to Albania on Tuesday. There he met with several Albanian officials and spoke about bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as about ways for improvement of their cooperation. They stated that this cooperation can be brought to a higher level, especially due to the fact that B&H and Albania have no open issues. Dzaferovic met on Tuesday in Tirana with Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj. The two discussed projects that are being implemented because Tirana and Sarajevo have been twin cities since 1996, which implies an intercity partnership between the two cities with the aim of cultural and economic exchange. Veliaj also presented Dzaferovic with the Key of the City of Tirana. “The goal of this visit is to strengthen cooperation between the two countries because we have all the conditions for the best cooperation, but it is not yet at the level it could be. It is time to open a new page and move forward politically, economically and culturally in the bilateral, regional and Euro-Atlantic spheres. After all these meetings, I believe that this will happen,” said Dzaferovic. He also met speaker of the Albanian parliament Gramoz Ruci on Tuesday and they discussed cooperation and exchanged views on the current political situation in Albania. In a statement given for Fena news agency about effects of the official visit to Albania, Dzaferovic said that the existing cooperation between the two countries does not match with the possibilities that are way bigger. In this regard, Dzaferovic mentioned that Albanian officials assured him that they will work on this issue in a way more active way. He added that Albania is a member state of the NATO and that the country aims to join the EU, adding that B&H is on the road to the EU membership and it strives to join the NATO and thus, he and Albanian officials agreed to cooperate on this field. Dzaferovic also underlined the visit to the Bosniak community in Albania as special part of this visit. In an interview for BHT1, Dzaferovic stated that the main goal of his visit was to motivate improvement of bilateral cooperation between the two countries, because it was neglected in the previous period, especially its economic segment. He added that there are many areas in which B&H and Albania can achieve cooperation beneficial for both sides. Dzaferovic explained that after he informed his hosts about decision of B&H to open its embassy in Tirana, he was also informed Albania will open its embassy in B&H. He emphasized importance of improvement of diplomatic cooperation between two countries. During the meeting with Dzaferovic, President and Prime Minister of Albania talked about strengthening of cooperation between the Western Balkans countries and mentioned mini Schengen initiative in this context. Dzaferovic stated that B&H should support and participate in all regional initiatives beneficial for it. He reminded that B&H is already part of several such initiatives, including SEECP, CEFTA, and Berlin Process. Dzaferovic added that the initiative mini Schengen is aimed to implement four freedoms the EU is grounded on – freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services – in the best possible way. He stressed that it is important for such an initiative to be led by the EU and to enable all participant countries to preserve their sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chair of B&H Presidency stressed that only unreasonable people are against such initiatives, because their aim is to improve quality of life of all residents of the Western Balkans countries.
Milanovic meets with Croat representatives from Serbia, says is willing to visit them (Hina)
President Zoran Milanovic met on Monday with a delegation of Croats from Serbia who informed him of their activities in protecting and promoting the rights of Croats in that country, the conditions in which they operate and the problems they encounter. According to a press release, President Milanovic received the president of the Croatian National Council (HNV), Jasna Vojnic, the council’s vice president for Subotica, Ladislav Suknovic, and the president of the Democratic Alliance of Croats in Vojvodine (DSHV) Tomislav Zigmanov. “HNV and DSHV representatives informed President Milanovic of their work in the past and activities to protect and promote the rights of Croats in Serbia as well as the conditions in which they operate and the problems they encounter,” the press release said. Milanovic supported their work and underlined that he expects the standards that Croatia applies in promoting the rights of national minorities to be equally applied to the Croat national minority in Serbia. The President expressed his readiness to visit Croats who live in Serbia and in that way confirm Croatia’s care for the Croat community in that neighboring country. Milanovic said that respecting minority rights was and will remain an important criterion on the journey to EU membership.
Here’s who will be running departments in a new govt (CdM)
The three former opposition blocs that won the recent parliamentary elections – For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and Black on White – agreed on who will be running major government departments, CdM has learned from well-informed sources. The National Police and the National Security Agency will be run by an official from the civic movement United Reform Action, URA, while his/her deputies will be officials of the Democratic Front. An official from the Democrats will be running the tourism sector, so the new tourism minister will most likely be Dragan Krapovic, the head of the Democrats’ Board in Budva. According to CdM, the Agency for Control over the Army and Police will be set up and run by an official from the Democratic Front. The Democratic Front will run the government department of finance as well. Leader of the New Serbian Democracy, Andrija Mandic, is likely to take over the foreign affairs department.
Djeka: We won’t join the government comprising Democratic Front (Mne.ul-info.com)
Leader of the Albanian bloc ‘Unanimously’ and MP Fatmit Djeka has said that his coalition won’t join the government that includes the Democratic Front, DF. “Our coalition announced a long time ago that it would support the minority government of Montenegro, which would be run by the civic URA movement and the Democrats. We don’t want to take part in it along with the Democratic Front, as its major constituent.” Therefore, he added, the coalition ‘Unanimously’ hasn’t negotiated on possible ways for joining such a government. “If the prime minister-designate calls us for talks, which is a common democratic practice, we’ll tell him the same,” he concluded.
Knezevic: Abazovic told he’d vote for withdrawal of the Freedom of Religion Law (Pobjeda)
One of the leaders of the Democratic Front, DF, Milan Knezevic reiterated that Dritan Abazovic expressed readiness to withdraw the Freedom of Religion Law at the meeting held on Monday. “Abazovic clearly stated that he was ready to vote for withdrawal of the Freedom of Religion Law,” Knezevic was adamant. He didn’t want to comment on the possible outcomes of Abazovic’s statement and just noted that he was satisfied with the details of their talks on Monday.
Popa: Lack of dialogue and mistrust among political actors recognized (CdM)
The Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro Oana Kristina Popa has noted that the EC Report on Montenegro contained a number of recommendations and guidelines that all relevant political actors should meet and work together in order to make quick progress in key EU accession reforms. She told the press today that faster progress of Montenegro on the road to EU or closing a chapter have not been the only aims, but rather the fact that any successfully implemented reform would mean a better life for the people of Montenegro. As regards political criteria, Popa said that the lack of dialogue and mistrust among political actors were recognized. “A comprehensive revision of the electoral framework hasn’t been conducted yet. The elections resulted in an unprecedented change of the ruling majority composition. Now is the time for the new parliament to affirm a broad international consensus and demonstrate commitment to Montenegro’s reform agenda,” she noted. The rule of law is a key measure for Montenegro’s progress. In this regard, the Report recognizes limited progress in Chapter 24. “Last year’s recommendations regarding the judiciary were only partially addressed, while challenges related to the independence, professionalism, efficiency and accountability still exist,” Popa added. She praised the adoption of the Same-sex Law, as Montenegro was the first country in Europe to do it. However, Montenegro hasn’t recorded progress with regard to the freedom of expression for years in a row although a range of revised media laws were passed. “It has been overshadowed by arrests and proceedings against editors of on-line portals and citizens for content they posted or shared online during 2020,” Popa underlined.
Key findings of the 2020 Report on North Macedonia (MIA)
North Macedonia continued to implement EU-related reforms throughout the reporting period. Efforts continued to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, including by activating existing checks and balances and through discussions and debates in key policy and legislative issues.
North Macedonia achieves progress, we can and should be satisfied from EC assessment said Deputy PM for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov on Tuesday. “The report is an objective, comprehensive and real analysis of the situation and the achieved progress but also a reference point that will dictate reforms within the European agenda. The second period covered in the report has been full of challenges that affected the tempo of reforms amid the pandemic that is still here, we had a caretaker government and a non-functional Parliament for a while. Despite all of this, North Macedonia has made progress and we can and should be satisfied from the European Commission assessment,” said Dimitrov. Reforms should be implemented not only to appease the EU or bring the EU here, but also to bring North Macedonia into the EU. Adoption of legislation that meets European standards must continue, the administrative capacity must deliver, and institutions must be functional. The rule of law is the beginning and the end of the accession process and will remain in our focus throughout the entire process, said EU Ambassador David Geer on Tuesday.
EC report unveiled: Albania ready for Intergovernmental Conference, here are the issues that remain problematic (Radio Tirana/Report TV)
The European Commission published the progress report on Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia, to see if the conditions for holding the First Intergovernmental Conference are met. In the progress report published by Report TV, the European Commission estimates that Albania is ready to hold the first intergovernmental conference, while the absence of the Constitutional Court, the Media Law and the political climate are seen as problematic. Regarding the 5 June agreement between the political parties, it is considered a positive step.
The political environment continued to be marked by intense polarization. The opposition decided to boycott the local elections of June 30, 2019. These were held while the President had issued a decision to postpone the vote to October. Parliament launched an impeachment proceeding against the President, which ended in July 2020. The country’s political stalemate saw no opening in January 2020, when the ruling majority and parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition reached an agreement to advance electoral reform by creating a platform to conclude technical and political talks. An agreement was finally reached on 5 June 2020. Amendments to the Electoral Code were adopted by Parliament on 23 July 2020, in line with the 5 June 2020 agreement and the implementation of OSCE / ODIHR recommendations. In addition, Parliament adopted on July 30th some amendments to the Constitution regarding the electoral system. These changes, which are not related to the implementation of the OSCE / ODIHR recommendations, required further changes to the electoral code which were discussed between the parties in the Political Council, but no compromise was reached before Parliament voted on them on 5 October. Despite the positive outcome of the agreement reached on 5 June 2020, the political dialogue in the country needs to be improved, especially on electoral reform and its implementation.
On 30 June 2019, Albania held local elections in a strongly polarized political environment. After giving up the bloc of parliamentary seats in February 2019 and months of street protests, the opposition decided to boycott the elections. On 8 June, due to security threats, the President decreed the cancellation of his previous decree setting the election date and announced 13 October as the new date. The President’s decree was ignored by the ruling majority and election administration bodies. As the extra-parliamentary opposition tried to delegitimize the election, the international community warned that violence during the election process would be considered unacceptable. Mayoral candidates from the ruling Socialist Party (SP) ran unopposed in 31 of the 61 municipalities, of which the SP won 60 (the remainder was won by a small SP-backed party). Following the election, Parliament launched an indictment against the President for the unconstitutionality of his decision to annul the election date. Parliament’s ad hoc commission of inquiry concluded that while the President had exceeded his constitutional powers, the violation did not provide sufficient grounds for blaming the President. Parliament approved the finding of the ad hoc committee of inquiry on 27 July 2020.
The relevant ad hoc parliamentary committee is still in process
In the final report from its election observation mission, the OSCE / ODIHR noted that, although the June elections were conducted without major problems, they were held with little care in the interests of voters, as voters did not have a full election of alternative policies. He further recommended: a comprehensive dialogue between political parties to carry out electoral reform; measures to eliminate misuse of state resources; de-politicization of the civil service, including the establishment of independent election commissioners; ensuring the independence and impartiality of the Central Election Commission and the judiciary; prompt and transparent investigation of allegations of election violations. On 14 January 2020, the ruling majority and representatives of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition reached a progress agreement to advance the long-running electoral reform. The agreement set up a Political Council, an inter-party platform composed of two co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee representing the ruling parliamentary majority and the opposition, and two representatives of the extra-parliamentary opposition, to guide the reform on a consensual basis by implementing the recommendations. OSCE / ODIHR outstanding issues, providing transparent funding to political parties and election campaigns. The target date to reach a consensus within this framework was set at 30 June 2020. After lengthy negotiations, on 5 June 2020, the Political Council reached a progress agreement to gradually introduce a politicized electoral administration, in line with the recommendation.
Varhelyi in the European Commission: Albania has met the conditions for the First Intergovernmental Conference (Radio Tirana)
Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi stated that Albania has progressed towards the objectives of opening membership talks with the European Union and is ready for the first intergovernmental conference. Commissioner Varhelyi made these comments as he presented today the 2020 Enlargement Package and the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. The European Commission is expected to pave the way for Albania for the first membership conference, as, according to its periodic report, it has met the conditions for this. Albania is assessed in the European Commission Report as having made good progress in key reforms. The report says that Albania is moderately prepared with public administration reform, where tangible achievements need to be further strengthened. Albania’s judicial system is also estimated to be moderately prepared, where a comprehensive and complete reform has continued. The new institutions for the self-government of the judiciary have gone through the process of filling vacancies in the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. According to the report, the temporary reassessment of judges and prosecutors, known as vetting, has progressed steadily, yielding tangible results, as over 286 cases were handled and 62% of them resulted in resignations and dismissals for unjustified assets. The European Commission assessed that corruption remains widespread and is a serious concern, but progress has been made in the fight against corruption and that Albania has a certain level of preparation in the fight against it. Authorities, the report said, strengthened operational, coordination and monitoring capacities in the fight against corruption. However, the report adds that the number of investigations remains high, but the final sentences against senior officials remain limited to date. The European Commission assessed that Albania has an average level of preparation in the fight against organized crime and has made good progress in strengthening the fight against it, thanks to cooperation with EU member states. The report says that even this year Albania opposed the production and trafficking of cannabis with a strong and continuous commitment. But Albania must continue its efforts to increase prosecutions and criminal convictions, as well as fight money laundering and confiscate assets from crimes and other unjustified assets, the report said.
Regarding property, the European Commission called for rapid progress in property registration. But property rights concerns have also been raised by citizens of the Greek minority in the southern coastal region. The European Commission also devotes a separate chapter to freedom of expression, noting that last December parliament approved a series of amendments to the media law. The changes are deemed not in line with international standards and principles of media freedom and raise concerns about increased censorship and self-censorship, and about potential obstacles to freedom of expression in the country. The commission added that representatives of the ruling majority promised to follow the Venice Commission Opinion, and the draft media bill is being reviewed. The report also has a section devoted to the political climate and the need for dialogue between the parties. The political situation is assessed as tense and the need for dialogue and understanding is underlined.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Key findings of the 2020 Report on Serbia (European External Action Service, 6 October 2020)
The parliamentary, provincial and municipal elections in Serbia initially foreseen for April were postponed following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and held on 21 June 2020. While contestants were able to campaign and fundamental freedoms were respected, voter choice was limited by the governing party’s overwhelming advantage and the promotion of government policies by most major media outlets, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR). Numerous recommendations previously made by ODIHR remain unaddressed. It is crucial that the Serbian authorities address long-standing electoral shortcomings through a transparent and inclusive dialogue with political parties and other relevant stakeholders well ahead of the next elections. A number of opposition parties boycotted the elections. The newly constituted Serbian parliament is marked by the overwhelming majority of the ruling coalition and the absence of a viable opposition, a situation which is not conducive to political pluralism in the country. During the previous legislature, some steps were taken to address shortcomings in the work of the parliament with the reduction of urgent procedures and previous practices of filibustering. Several opposition parties continued their boycott of parliamentary sessions. Inflammatory language against political opponents and representatives of other institutions expressing diverging political views was used during parliamentary debate. The effectiveness, independence and transparency of the parliament, including the role and prerogatives of the parliamentary opposition, need to be strengthened to ensure the necessary checks and balances indispensable in a democratic parliament. The new parliament and political forces should continue to engage in the inter-party dialogue led by the European Parliament, with a view to improving parliamentary standards and forging broad cross-party and societal consensus on EU-related reforms, which is vital for the country’s progress on its EU path.
Serbia is moderately prepared in the area of public administration reform. No progress was made overall as the excessive number of acting senior manager positions was not sizeably reduced. Lack of transparency and respect of the merit-based recruitment procedure for senior civil service positions is an issue of increasingly serious concern. The effective implementation of the law on the planning system needs to be ensured through a strong quality control of the Public Policy Secretariat.
Serbia’s judicial system has some level of preparation. No progress was made over the reporting period. The constitutional reform on the judiciary was put on hold until after the 2020 parliamentary elections. This delay has repercussions on the adoption of related judicial legislation that is needed to increase safeguards for judicial independence. The scope for continued political influence over the judiciary under the current legislation is a serious concern. Serbia continued its efforts to reduce old enforcement cases and harmonise court practice.
Serbia has some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. Limited progress was made over the reporting period. Operational steps have been taken to strengthen the mandate and to ensure the independence of the Anti-Corruption Agency, as well as to enhance its capacities with a view to implementing the law on the prevention of corruption upon its entry into force in September 2020. The changes brought by the law on the organisation and jurisdiction of government authorities in suppression of organised crime, terrorism and corruption, in force since March 2018, produced some results in terms of finalised cases. Overall, corruption remains an issue of concern. There is still no effective prevention coordination mechanism in place. The number of finalised high-level corruption cases has decreased compared with the previous years. Serbia needs to increase its efforts and step up the prevention and repression of corruption.
In the fight against organised crime, Serbia has some level of preparation with limited progress over the reporting period related notably to structural reforms and interagency cooperation. Serbia is stepping up its cooperation with Europol. Overall, Serbia has yet to establish a convincing track record of effective investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in serious and organised crime cases, leading to an increased amount of confiscated assets. Serbia needs to increase its efforts in dismantling large and internationally active criminal organisations.
The legislative and institutional framework for upholding fundamental rights is broadly in place. However, its consistent and efficient implementation still needs to be ensured. Human rights institutions need to be strengthened and their independence guaranteed, including via the allocation of the necessary financial and human resources. Serbia has adopted a new media strategy, which was drafted in a transparent and inclusive manner and identifies the main challenges related to media freedom in Serbia. However, implementation of the new strategy has not yet started and no progress was made yet on the ground to improve the overall environment for freedom of expression. As identified in the media strategy, cases of threats, intimidation and violence against journalists are still a source of serious concern. Transparency of media ownership and of allocation of public funds, especially at local level, has yet to be established. ODIHR found that most TV channels with national coverage and newspapers promoted government policy during the electoral campaign. It also found that the few media outlets which offered alternative views had limited outreach and provided no effective counterbalance, which compromised the diversity of political views available through traditional media, through which most voters receive information.
Serbia continued to significantly contribute to the management of the mixed migration flows towards the EU by playing an active and constructive role and cooperating effectively with its neighbours and EU Member States. It also continued to effectively implement the integrated border management strategy and its action plan.
On the economic criteria, Serbia made some progress and is moderately prepared/at a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the pace of GDP growth picked up as domestic demand strengthened. External imbalances widened but their financing remained healthy due to high inflows of foreign direct investment. Price pressures remained subdued and inflation expectations contained. By reducing the budgetary deficit and maintaining a prudent fiscal stance, Serbia has significantly improved debt sustainability. Labour market performance has improved, with the lowest unemployment rates in the last decade; however, this was also due to large-scale emigration. The COVID-19 crisis is however projected to strongly deteriorate the economic outlook in 2020, in particular as regards GDP growth, public finances and employment. While some progress has been made in the reforms of the tax administration and the privatisation of state-owned banks, other structural reforms of public administration and state owned enterprises advanced slowly. Weaknesses in the budgetary framework need to be addressed. There has been no progress in strengthening the fiscal rules. The state retains a strong footprint in the economy and the private sector is hampered by weaknesses in the rule of law. Serbia made some progress and is moderately prepared to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. The structure of the economy improved further and economic integration with the EU remained high. However, despite some progress, the quality and relevance of education and training does not fully meet labour market needs. Investment has continued to increase but, after years of underinvestment, remains insufficient to address serious infrastructure needs. Serbia needs to apply the same rules for prioritising, selecting and monitoring all capital investments regardless of the type of investment or the source of financing, including those under intergovernmental agreements. All investment decisions need to follow EU standards on public procurement, state aid, environmental impact assessments and cost-benefit analysis. Although the cost of borrowing for small and medium-sized enterprises has declined recently, they still face a number of challenges, including a volatile business environment and unfair competition. Serbia overall remained committed to bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and neighbouring EU Member States and an active participant in regional cooperation. Relations with Montenegro have been marked by tensions, including concerning the 30 August parliamentary elections in Montenegro. Serbia demonstrated its commitments to provide a renewed impetus to regional cooperation and enhanced regional ownership at the summits in Novi Sad, Ohrid and Tirana. It is important that regional initiatives include all partners in the Western Balkans and are based on EU rules, building on commitments previously taken in the framework of CEFTA, the Regional Economic Area (REA) or the Transport Community Treaty.
Regarding the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, the EU-facilitated dialogue resumed with high-level meetings on 12 and 16 July, and 7 September 2020. A number of expert level meetings took place in Brussels. Serbia needs to make further substantial efforts and contribute to reaching a comprehensive legally binding agreement with Kosovo. Such an agreement is urgent and crucial so that Kosovo and Serbia can advance on their respective European paths.
As regards its ability to assume the obligations of membership, Serbia stepped up its work to align legislation with the EU acquis in the economic and internal market chapters. The country made good progress in economic areas such as company law, intellectual property law, competition and financial services. However, limited progress was made on public procurement. Even though Serbia aligned significant parts of its public procurement legislation with the acquis, a law on special procedures for linear infrastructure projects, adopted in February 2020, allows exemption of infrastructure projects of “special importance” for Serbia from the application of public procurement rules and, thus, allows for the circumvention of EU rules and standards. Especially the implementation of intergovernmental agreements concluded with third countries do not seem to be systematically in line with the principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination, transparency and competition and neither fully consistent with the relevant EU acquis and national legislation. Environment and climate change need to receive adequate political attention, translating into better coordination, stronger institutions, more financing and mainstreaming across all sectors of the economy. Advancing on a green energy transition, away from coal, needs to become a priority, and a part of Serbia redoubling its efforts to fight air pollution. Regarding transport, Serbia continued with rail reforms. Transport investment decisions need to ensure best value for money. Adequate financial and human resources and sound strategic frameworks will be crucial for the pace of reforms, including in particular the appointment of a head of Serbia’s EU negotiating team. Serbia continued to develop intense relations and strategic partnerships with a number of countries worldwide, including Russia, China and the US. Cooperation with China increased during the COVID-19 crisis and was marked by pro-China and EU skeptical rhetoric by high-ranking state officials. Frequent high-level contacts and regular bilateral visits with Russia were maintained as well as military technical cooperation, including joint military drills and arms trade arrangements. The President of Serbia pledged to move the Serbian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by July 2021. Serbia aligned with 60% of the EU CFSP positions in 2019 and needs to step up its efforts in order to progressively align its foreign and security policy with that of the European Union in the period up to accession.
June 2003: The EU-Western Balkans Thessaloniki Summit confirms the EU perspective for the Western Balkans.
April 2008: The EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement is signed.
December 2009: Visa-free travel to Schengen area for citizens of Serbia; Serbia presents its application for membership of the EU.
March 2011: The EU-facilitated dialogue for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is launched.
October 2011: The European Commission issues its Opinion on Serbia’s application for EU membership.
March 2012: The European Council grants candidate status to Serbia.
April 2013: The European Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia.
September 2013: The Stabilisation and Association Agreement enters into force; the analytical examination of the acquis (“screening”) starts.
December 2013: The Council adopts the negotiating framework.
21 January 2014: The accession negotiations are formally opened at the first inter-governmental conference.
December 2015: Chapter 35 dealing with normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, is opened.
July 2016: ‘Rule of Law’ chapters 23 and 24 are opened.
February 2018: The European Commission adopts its strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’.
May 2018: The EU-Western Balkans Sofia Summit confirms the European perspective of the region and sets out a number of concrete actions to strengthen cooperation in the areas of connectivity, security and the rule of law.
February 2020: Revised methodology, presented by the Commission, to drive forward the enlargement process with a stronger political steer and in a more credible, predictable, dynamic way.
May 2020: EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit.
October 2020: Commission proposes Economic & Investment Plan to support and bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU.
As of October 2020, 18 out of 35 chapters have been opened, two of which are provisionally closed.
Montenegro has recorded limited progress in justice system (RFE, 6 October 2020)
The European Commission’s (EC) 2020 Report on Montenegro says that the reporting period was marked by tensions and mistrust between political actors and low level of trust in the electoral framework. As for the area of justice, Montenegro has made limited progress and last year’s recommendations on the judiciary have been implemented partially. Challenges remain, especially in terms of the independence, professionalism, efficiency and accountability of the justice system. The report suggests that, according to preliminary findings of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the elections were competitive and were managed transparently and efficiently, but took place in an environment highly polarized over issues of church, and national identity.
The role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro’s politics
The campaign was peaceful despite the frequent confrontational tone. Contestants were able to convey their messages, but OSCE/ODIHR expressed a number of concerns in relation to an undue advantage for the ruling party and unbalanced media coverage. The elections resulted in an unprecedented change of the ruling majority composition. The new parliament should find a broad cross-party and societal consensus and demonstrate in practice its commitment to Montenegro’s EU reform agenda, which is vital for the country’s progress on its EU path.
The EC Report reminds that in 2019 and the first half of 2020, the parliament could not ensure the necessary two-thirds majority for important appointments of judges, that is, key functions in the justice system are being performed by acting prosecutors, whereas the term of office of the supreme state prosecutor expired in October 2019 and his successor still hasn’t been appointed.
There were no new developments in the political and judicial follow-up of the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes that took place in 2012 (the ‘audio recordings affair’). Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation in the fight against corruption, and it made limited progress on last year’s recommendations which were only partially addressed. The Agency for Prevention of Corruption, now under new management, has continued to strengthen its capacities, but there’re still challenges related to its independence, priority-setting, selective approach and quality of decisions. Montenegro has some level of preparedness/is moderately prepared when it comes to the fight against organized crime. However, the EC document suggests that Montenegro still needs to address some fundamental and systemic shortcomings in its criminal justice system, including the way organized crime cases are being handled in courts. An uncompromising fight against corruption and organized crime is one of the key points of the Agreement signed by the leaders of the three blocks. On fundamental rights, Montenegro made some progress. The legislative and institutional framework in the area of fundamental rights is now largely in place. The EC continued: “During the reporting period, Montenegro hasn’t achieved progress in the area of freedom of expression.” Although progress has been made in the media legislation, this has been overshadowed by arrests and proceedings against portal editors and citizens for content posted or shared online during 2020. Previous important cases of attacks remain unsolved, including the murder of the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Dan in 2004 and the shooting of an investigative journalist back in 2018. Concerns about the editorial independence and professional standards of the public broadcaster RTCG still exist.