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Belgrade Media Report 11 January 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 11 January 2019

LOCAL PRESS

• SNS discusses early elections (RTS/Beta/TV Prva)
• Serbia, Republika Srpska continue to strengthen relations (Tanjug)
• Vucic: Serbia always to be strong support to Republika Srpska (RTS/FoNet)
• Kocijancic: EU is working on a next high-level meeting between Belgrade and Pristina (Tanjug)
• Start of Serbia’s final negotiations with Eurasia Economic Union (Beta)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Zvizdic and Dzaferovic end their contacts with Croatian Ambassador to B&H Ivan Del Vechio due to fact that Del Vechio attended celebration of Day of RS (TV1)
• Cvijanovic’s cabinet reminds that RS was formed before war and that it brought its territorial integrity in B&H (RTRS)
• Preda meets Dzaferovic and Komsic in Sarajevo (BHT1)
• Dodik: Military neutrality is definitive stance of RS which has to be respected (RTRS)
Croatia
• Croatian Ambassador erred by attending Bosnian Serb celebration, says minister (Hina/HRT)
fYROM
• Zaev fails again, parliament session postponed (Republika)
• Gruevski calls on MPs to reject the Prespa treaty (Republika)
• Mickoski: We will get back what is ours (Republika)
Albania
• President Meta turns down PM’s candidate for foreign minister (ADN)
• Rama with Ambassadors: Albania supports Kosovo-Serbia dialogue (ADN)
• Meta: Independence, the territorial integrity of Kosovo are indisputable for Albania until the last second of my presidency (ADN)
• Tahiri evaluates Meta’s decision for Cakaj (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Name Dispute: Prespes ratification issue is front and center (New Europe)
• EPP’s Weber comes out on Macedonia name change deal (EurActiv)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

SNS discusses early elections (RTS/Beta/TV Prva)

 

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) on Wednesday addressed a possibility of an early vote. Serbian President Aleksanda Vucic gathered some 3,000 high-ranking officials to give them instructions for this year, Beta reported. Speaking to TV Prva, Nebojsa Stefanovic, a member of the SNS Presidency and Serbia’s Interior Minister, said Vucic told the meeting the decision on early elections was “neither easy nor should it be hasty,” and that the time was in favor of the party, but that “wider interests should be respected.” “We are always ready for elections, but we need to see what is good for Serbia at the moment,” Stefanovic said, adding the party was considering that. “When we form an opinion” about what’s in Serbia’s best interest, “we will make it public,” he said.

 

Serbia, Republika Srpska continue to strengthen relations (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and her Republika Srpska (RS) counterpart Radovan Viskovic said today that the overall relations between Serbia and RS are excellent and that both sides are committed to further strengthening cooperation in all fields. In her talks with Viskovic, who is on his first official visit to Belgrade, Brnabic said that the improvement of cooperation with RS is at the same time the strengthening of cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), in the interests of peace, stability and the best possible connection and prosperity of the entire region. Two key areas, in terms of projects, which are the most important for Serbia and RS at the moment are energy and infrastructure, the Serbian Prime Minister noted. Brnabic and Viskovic discussed the projects for the construction of hydroelectric power plants “Foca” and “Paunci”, which are planned with the Memorandum on cooperation in the field of energy and which are important for the electric power systems of Serbia and RS. The two officials also spoke about the planned infrastructure projects, first and foremost the completion of construction of the Ljubovija-Bratunac border crossing and the further construction of the highway in accordance with the regional linking agenda. The Prime Ministers also discussed a possible organization of a business forum, with the participation of businessmen from Serbia and RS. In the first half of the year, a joint session of the two governments is planned, the 10th in a row, to discuss joint projects. Since 2014 to date, Serbia has allocated approximately 22 million Euros for support and projects in RS. Brnabic underlined that Serbia will continue to back projects in RS whose goal is to boost the quality of life of all citizens.

 

Vucic: Serbia always to be strong support to Republika Srpska (RTS/FoNet)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told Republika Srpska (RS) Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic that Serbia will always provide strong support to the RS as a true friedn and reliable partner. “Serbia will always assist various infrastructure and other projects in the RS and joint efforts to maintain cultural and spiritual ties, while respecting the Dayton Agreement,” a statement from the President’s cabinet quoted Vucic as saying. Vucic said the most important thing is to preserve peace and stability in the RS and Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H).  The statement said they discussed specific joint infrastructure and energy projects and quoted Viskovic as saying that he expects a joint session of his cabinet and the Serbian government to be held soon.

 

Kocijancic: EU is working on a next high-level meeting between Belgrade and Pristina (Tanjug)

 

EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic stated that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is led by Federica Mogherini, and that United States is a partner with which the Union closely cooperates on the number of issues. Kocijancic said that EU is working on a next meeting in the context of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on the highest level, but added that the situation is “frozen” after the imposition of tariffs on the goods from Serbia. Kocijancic once again reminded that Mogherini urged Pristina to revoke the tariffs and added that EU expects that Belgrade and Pristine “return to the dialogue quickly given its importance”. “The EU expects from Serbia and Kosovo to commit themselves and to speed up the dialogue, having in mind the direct link between the full normalization of relations and concrete perspectives for their aspirations in EU and concrete benefits for the citizens”, she stated. She said that the reaching of comprehensive legally binding agreement for the full normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade requires a climate that contributes to the “good neighborly relations, where the past agreements are respected and where the actions and the statements are in accordance with the interests and strategic goals for the region”.

 

Start of Serbia’s final negotiations with Eurasia Economic Union (Beta)

 

The final negotiations on the signing of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, consisting of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, which is to be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Serbia, began in Belgrade on 10 January. Beta learned at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications that a good portion of the text had been harmonized during the earlier rounds of talks and that it remained for experts to reach agreement on six tariff groups.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Zvizdic and Dzaferovic end their contacts with Croatian Ambassador to B&H Ivan Del Vechio due to fact that Del Vechio attended celebration of Day of RS (TV1)

 

Outgoing Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic has decided to interrupt his communication with Croatian Ambassador to B&H Ivan Del Vechio due to the fact that Del Vechio attended the celebration of the Day of RS in Banja Luka. Zvizdic stated that he is appalled with Del Vechio’s presence at the celebration of “unconstitutional Day of the RS.” Zvizdic noted that Del Vechio was the only diplomat from the EU who was in Banja Luka on Wednesday on the occasion of the Day of the RS. “This is a diplomatic scandal and an ill-intentioned act which leaves no room for discussion. With this, you have made any form of our further personal contact and cooperation impossible,” Zvizdic stated. Meanwhile, member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic said that presence of Del Vechio and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic at the celebration of the Day of the RS is not in the interest of neither citizens of B&H nor in the interest of the Croat people whose interests they want to represent. “They are actually trying to enslave them in order to justify the failed anti Euro-Atlantic policy. Given that Ambassador Del Vechio attended marking of unconstitutional Day of the RS, there is the question of whether Croatia is taking part in the celebration of crimes against its own citizens?”

Bosniak member of B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic stated that competent Croatian authorities will decide about their reaction to this case, adding that he will launch some discussions and procedures regarding this issue within the Presidency of B&H. “I do not know what will be reaction of the Presidency. However, I know what will be my reaction. Mr. Ambassador’s act has excluded him from all future contacts with me” emphasized Dzaferovic.

Meanwhile, B&H Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak said that he has no intention to interrupt cooperation with Del Vechio due to Croatian Ambassador’s abovementioned activities.

 

Cvijanovic’s cabinet reminds that RS was formed before war and that it brought its territorial integrity in B&H (RTRS)

 

RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic’s Cabinet reacted to malicious and incorrect information published by some media in B&H concerning marking of the RS Day. The statement reads that the RS Day is being marked in line with the Law on the RS Day, adding that this law is legal, legitimate and in force. It also reads that Bosniak political representatives have been attempting again to dispute the Law on the RS Day before the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H. RS President’s Cabinet added that abovementioned Bosniak politicians do not dispute validity of this law. Abovementioned statement further reads that the RS institutions and people in the RS have been rejecting attempts of Bosniak politicians to twist historical facts. It reminds that the RS was established on January 9, 1992 and that it brought its territorial integrity and legal subjectivity to B&H. The statement also reads that this fact was confirmed by international legal authorities, including Venice Commission. It concludes that the RS Day is one of key elements of identity of the RS and its citizens.

 

Preda meets Dzaferovic and Komsic in Sarajevo (BHT1)

 

European Parliament (EP) Rapporteur for B&H and Romanian MEP Cristian Dan Preda is paying a two-day official visit to B&H. He met with newly-elected representatives of B&H authorities in Sarajevo on Thursday. Dan Preda first met B&H Presidency members Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic. At the joint press conference after the meeting, Dan Preda said that answering the follow-up questions from the European Commission’s (EC) Questionnaire lasts too long and B&H should send answers as soon as possible in order to consider granting the EU candidate status for B&H. He also stressed that B&H-EU Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee that is supposed to ensure joint work on the EU path of B&H has not been formed yet, as well as that formation of authorities in B&H has to be completed as soon as possible.

 

Dodik: Military neutrality is definitive stance of RS which has to be respected (RTRS)

 

Chairman of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik rejected invitation of US State Secretary Michael Pompeo calling on the Presidency of B&H to adopt B&H’s first Annual National Program related to NATO accession of B&H. Other two members of the Presidency commended Pompeo’s invitation. Reporter reminded that in his letter sent to the Presidency of B&H, Pompeo underlined that he is aware about concern within B&H Presidency that improvement of cooperation with NATO could affect relations with neighboring countries. He also emphasized that although Serbia is not NATO member country and never expressed willingness to become part of this alliance, cooperation of this country with NATO is at high level. Reporter commented that it seems Pompeo also knows B&H citizens are committed to cooperation with allies, adding that he forgets that these very allies shelled Serb people and destroyed Serb property during last war. Dodik stressed that “they” have to get used that Republika Srpska (RS)’ stance regarding this issue is final, i.e. that the RS insists on military neutrality and opposes joining any military alliance.  RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic reminded that registering of military property with state of B&H was one of conditions for activation of NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for B&H. She added that the fact NATO decided not to insist on fulfilling of this condition anymore is evidence that this is political process. Cvijanovic reminded that the RS clearly insists on military neutrality.

 

Croatian Ambassador erred by attending Bosnian Serb celebration, says minister (Hina/HRT)

 

The Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Ministry had not been informed of the decision by the Croatian Ambassador to B&H to attend the celebration of RS Day, Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric told HRT on Thursday, adding that Ambassador Del Vechio had made a wrong call. Croatia has never taken part in the celebration of that day and this is how it should have been this time as well, Pejcinovic Buric said. Ambassador Del Vechio understood that this was a visit by the chairman of the B&H presidency, the minister said. Pejcinovic Buric dismissed speculation that Del Vechio traveled to Banja Luka following instructions from Zagreb.

Croatia’s policy regarding the RS has not changed and his presence at the celebration “is a big surprise;” notably in light of the fact that during his term as ambassador he had never attended this ceremony, the minister said. “He should not have been there on that day,” Pejcinovic Buric said. The Ambassador has been recalled for consultations to Zagreb, the Minister said adding that a decision regarding further steps would be made. She added that the ambassadors’ term had ended anyway. HDZ B&H president Dragan Covic’s decision to attend the ceremony was “an autonomous decision of the president of the largest Bosnian Croat political party and we in Croatia have absolutely no influence on it or have any intention to decide on the matter,” Pejcinovic Buric said commenting on the Covic’s decision to attend the ceremony in Banja Luka.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said that she was not informed about Del Vechio’s decision to go to Banja Luka. The Croatian President’s Cabinet stated that Grabar-Kitarovic strongly condemns the fact that Lisica was awarded with a medal. Del Vechio, on the other hand, stressed that he was in Banja Luka on Wednesday, but that he did not attend the parade and solemn academy held on the occasion of the Day of the RS.

 

Zaev fails again, parliament session postponed (Republika)

 

For a second day in a row, the parliament session where the four amendments that rename Macedonia into North Macedonia was postponed. It is now scheduled to resume on Friday at noon. The decision follows a day in which Prime Minister Zoran Zaev acknowledged he still doesn’t have the necessary two thirds majority in parliament, which according to him is 80 votes (many legal experts say it should be 81).

 

Gruevski calls on MPs to reject the Prespa treaty (Republika)

 

Nikola Gruevski called on the members of parliament to reject Zaev’s proposal to rename Macedonia into North Macedonia. The former Prime Minister and VMRO leader, who is now a political emigre in Budapest, says that he has supported Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession, but only with a reasonable deal on the name, “and this is not it”. We are in the final hours before the vote in which the parliament will amend the Constitution and will alter our name, identity and history. Once these changes are approved in the Macedonian parliament, Greece will certainly jump at the historic opportunity to complete the deal which represents complete triumph for them, and a national catastrophe for us. This is a deal which they couldn’t even dream about two years ago, Gruevski writes on his Facebook post. He reminds the Macedonian nation that it is now clear that a deal with Greece was not possible without a complete betrayal of Macedonian national interests, which was unacceptable to him. Gruevski adds that it is also clear that the political crisis that started in 2015 was engineered only to get the country to this point, to accept a total defeat in the name talks. You now realize that all that was happening in the last four years was put in motion to get us to this type of deal. All the fabricated materials against me, the artificially drummed up negative image of VMRO-DPMNE, the unprecedented levels of propaganda. The moves to prevent us from forming a government in 2016, the unlawful appointment of a new speaker of the parliament, the trials of hundreds of politicians and their associates, the detentions, arrests, and then sudden orders to release people from prison, fabricated charges against me personally and a long line of others which ultimately broke our legal system, the basic code of conduct and the fundamental moral values in Macedonia. A side effect of all this was that the deluge of people leaving the country is now five times larger than before, Gruevski writes. According to Gruevski, the “harmful” treaty signed with Bulgaria and the “unconstitutional” law on the use of the Albanian language that followed the formation of Zaev’s government in 2017 were only an introduction into the main affair – “a name change by a puppet government”. I was and I remain a great supporter of having Macedonia join NATO and EU. Our place is there, in an alliance with America. And I supported having a reasonable compromise on the name in order to achieve that goal. This concept, with this deal we now have, is dead. The majority of the people do not accept this treaty. We saw that in the outcome of the referendum. But the puppet government is determined to go against the will of the people, and will not stop at arresting, expelling or killing anybody who stands in its way. The people are out and protesting, but the decision is in the hands of the members of parliament. This is not a night when the representatives of the majority will sleep well. This is the final night where they can think, rethink, and decide to put the national ahead of the partisan or personal interest. I know it’s not easy for you. Trust me, I would know. Gruevski writes. He assures the members of parliament that a better deal is possible, if they reject the one put forward by Zaev. These are historic decisions. Yes, a better and more equal agreement is possible. We need to have faith, courage, to reject the blackmails, to put in will and time and to achieve both: a reasonable compromise/fair deal and to join NATO and EU. Don’t forget that you are about to put a black mark on the 140 years long bloody struggle for the Macedonian national issue. The blood that was spilled deserves that our national issue is resolved, but in favor of the Macedonians. Or, resolved, but not at our cost. It is in your hands now. It is up to you, Gruevski concludes.

 

Mickoski: We will get back what is ours (Republika)

 

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski again attended the protest in front of the parliament and said that “Northern” would not be my homeland, only Macedonia is. He told the assembled supporters that VMRO-DPMNE will fight to stop the Prespa deal and, if it fails now, to eventually get back “what is ours”. You can’t erase our name by pushing a button or by signing a piece of paper. The name is the sinew connecting what we are and what we’ll continue to be. Their goal is to break us, to force us accept everything else that is coming, Mickoski said, warning of further concessions along the way if the amendments to rename Macedonia are approved in parliament. Zoran Zaev has been trying to secure the 81 votes for two days now, and another attempt is scheduled for Friday. According to Mickoski, Zaev’s government is banking on success in the name change as an only way for them to remain in power. Witness their work in the past two years. Their results are nowhere to be seen. We are dealing with amateurs, with people who are greedy for power. Not a day goes by without a new scandal, a murder, an armed attack, an unresolved incident. The people live in fear and poverty. We have to stop them, we will defeat them, first at the presidential elections and then we will send them permanently to the dark recess of history at the next general elections, Mickoski told the protesters gathered in the snow and bitter cold, awaiting the latest on the developments in the Parliament building across the street. Mickoski listed the number of instances when Zaev publicly swore, on his children even, that he will not push for a change in the Constitution and will not allow any new name to be used domestically, replacing the Republic of Macedonia. He is a person who kept our brothers and sisters in prison for over a year in politically constructed cases. He will remain remembered as a man willing to sell the name of his own country. They’re losing control, this machine left over from the criminal days of the 1990ies. Zaev swore in what is dearest to him that he will not amend the Constitution. It only shows you what kind of crooks they are, men of no honor, no dignity, Mickoski said about the constant raids and arrests of VMRO-DPMNE officials and supporters. The VMRO leader said that his opposition to the forced name change is not driven by animosity toward the European Union, but by love for Macedonia. It is only natural that Europe is where Macedonia will turn to. It is a goal we need to move toward in realistic steps. But we get further and further away from Europe with every day this person is in power. The Government is trying to create the impression that the choice is between going forward or backwards, but the choice is actually between Zaev’s career and the future of Macedonia. Given this choice, we choose Macedonia. The proposed treaty is bad and as the leader of VMRO-DPMNE I personally promise you we will do everything in our power to stop it. I can’t promise you we will succeed, but I promise you I will do everything to do so together with you and so that we can get back what is ours and what somebody is now shamelessly trying to sell, Mickoski said.

 

President Meta turns down PM’s candidate for foreign minister (ADN)

 

The President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta has officially rejected the Prime Minister’s nomination for Foreign Minister, Gent Cakaj. Meta has listed a number of reasons why Cakaj is not a suitable candidate to lead the Foreign Ministry. Meta argues that Albania is ahead of important developments in the international arena, while the issue of Kosovo’s borders demands that the head of the foreign ministry be a man of great diplomatic experience. The arguments of President Ilir Meta: The position of the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs is one of the most important posts in the cabinet, even more so now when the country is part of the OSCE Troika and in less than a year is preparing to take its lead, an historic step and a responsibility that transcends the borders of Albania and our region. Meanwhile, the days, weeks and months ahead are crucial as Albania is expecting the vital decision for opening accession negotiations with the European Union in June 2019. Progress of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue with the aim of strengthening the European perspective of both states is one of the most important developments of our region as well. In the absence of time to experiment and demonstrate the capabilities of the proposed minister in the face of the current major challenges to the country and its national interests, I believe that the leadership of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs needs a tried and efficient individual with full knowledge of state, national and administrative responsibilities, aware of the great and decisive impact it will have on foreign policy, especially in the coming months, but also during the OSCE chairmanship of Albania, which is a historic responsibility for our country. The profile of Mr. Genti Cakaj, nominated for the post of Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, has a clear lack of political, diplomatic, administrative, state-level experience in each element and overall. During his duties as deputy minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Gent Cakaj has proved with evidence, with facts and attitudes that not only he lacks the proven experience in the field of foreign policy but that his public stances regarding the core issues of regional politics are unacceptable. His public statements in the context of the so-called border correction debate between Kosovo and Serbia, and wider in the Western Balkans, are in complete contradiction with the current government’s foreign policy program and its elaboration by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Supporting, sponsoring, or even the lack of reaction towards theses for territorial exchange / border correction in the region is a destructive approach that threatens the peace and security of the region and inconsistent with the commitments and obligations of Albania as a NATO member country, which undermines the credibility of our country as a stability factor in the region. On the other hand, from the information administered on the verification of the security and purity of figure, the President of the Republic informs the Prime Minister that Mr. Genc Cakaj has shown a significant lack of responsibility in the exercise of the Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs duty, neglecting the implementation of the law and sub-legal acts that guarantee the safe circulation of classified information classified as state secret. According the official information administered by the MEPJ, the CISD and other law enforcement agencies, turns out that Mr. Gent Cakaj, for a continuous period of 7 months has clearly neglected the implementation of the above legal and sub legal acts that, according to the provisions of the law, constitute criminal offenses and are punishable under the legislation in force. Mr. Cakaj, failing to complete the application form and failing to comply with the relevant Security Certificates for the period 7 June 2018 to 3 January 2019, not only has put at risk the information classified as state secret, or NATO and EU secret, but on the other hand he has manifestly exposed his disobedience in the face of a clear legal obligation. For these and other arguments, Gent Cakaj does not meet the conditions, does not create credibility and does not provide the necessary guarantees for the objectivity and the required exigency of the Minister of European Affairs and Foreign Affairs, which is of crucial importance, explains the President.

 

Rama with Ambassadors: Albania supports Kosovo-Serbia dialogue (ADN)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, during a reception with the diplomatic corps accredited in Albania, stated this Thursday afternoon that President Ilir Meta refused to decree Gent Cakaj as the new Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs violating the Albanian Constitution. According to Rama, Albania supports the dialogue and encourages the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, which is guaranteed by the US and the EU. “The meeting is being done not as always, but now because last year’s end was very intense. You came here today and found a new government, but a similar Albania, and with the same actions of the President of the Republic. He declined to decree the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. I could not predict this fact. I did not choose Gent Cakaj either as a Kosovo citizen or as a newcomer. He has not preached border changes in the Balkans. I want to make it clear that Albania supports dialogue and encourages agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, which is guaranteed by US and EU,” said Rama. He added that Albania aims to increase communication in the region, especially with Kosovo and other countries.

 

Meta: Independence, the territorial integrity of Kosovo are indisputable for Albania until the last second of my presidency (ADN)

 

President of the Republic, Ilir Meta, has reacted on Thursday afternoon after numerous people considered the decision to not decree Gent Cakaj as the new Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, not proper regarding the relations with Kosovo. According to the Head of the State, the independence and territorial integrity of Kosovo will be indisputable for as long as he holds the duty of the President. “Independence, the territorial integrity of Kosovo and the decision of the International Court of Justice are indisputable for the Republic of Albania until the last second of my presidency,” said Meta.

 

Tahiri evaluates Meta’s decision for Cakaj (ADN)

 

Former vice prime minister of Kosovo Edita Tahiri evaluated the decision of the Albanian President, Ilir Meta to turn down the candidacy of Gent Cakaj for the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs. According to Tahiri, Meta’s decision is visionary and protects the borders of Kosovo. Tahiri underlines was not decreed a person that was pro border changes in Kosovo.

“I welcome the national and visionary decision of the President of Albania in defense of the borders of Kosovo. He did not decree a candidate for Foreign Minister who was pro-border changes,” reacted Tahiri.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Name Dispute: Prespes ratification issue is front and center (New Europe, by Alec Mally, 11 January 2019)

 

Foreign pressure increasing on Skopje and now Athens to ratify the Prespes Agreement quickly

Like the slowly ticking time bomb it actually represents for the Greek political world, the Prespes Agreement ratification procedure rolls almost inexorably towards completion in Skopje.  The deal signed by Greece and Macedonia/FYROM last June was a western-supported attempt to close the so-called “Name Dispute” between the two neighbours, frozen in place for over 28 years. As the final phase of the ratification approaches in Skopje, all political parties in Greece are preparing for the long-anticipated debate and tempestuous ratification vote which many expect to fracture the current ruling coalition in Greece, with still more hoping for immediate elections instead of waiting until the fall of 2019 when the current government’s term expires. Key decisions in the coming days and weeks will finalize the Greek political timeline for 2019.

 

Ratification work in Skopje moves into the final stretch

Before the Christmas holidays, the Macedonia/FYROM parliamentary speaker had estimated the entire ratification procedure would be completed by January 15, 2019, and his projections are proving fairly accurate.  Debate on the final phase of the ratification process – approving the constitutional amendments required under the Prespes Agreement — began January 9, after being delayed by protestors outside parliament, and debate should last until January 11.  The anti-Prespes Agreement protesters say their demonstration was aimed at what they called “the greatest national treachery.” A crucial vote remains, which constitutes the last true hurdle for the deal in Skopje, requiring a two-thirds majority or 80 MPs.   Most analysts assume the nine opposition and independent MPs which crossed the line in late 2018 to vote once before in support of the amendments, sometimes under threat of prosecution by the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, will repeat their previous actions, but this is not guaranteed and there are reports that last-minute problems emerged January 10 in rounding up a few needed votes for passage of the amendments. The governments of the key western powers supporting the Prespes Agreement have remained curiously silent about the tactics and pressures Zaev’s government has applied to secure the votes of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE MPs that broke ranks with their parties, some of whom now expect amnesty for actions taken before the Zaev government came to power in 2017. All of this marks a remarkable turnaround for Zaev and the country’s Euro-Atlantic trajectory after the September 30, 2018 referendum on changing the country’s name fell well short of the 50% target set for that consultative referendum to be considered successful, despite the overwhelming “Yes” vote by those who participated.

 

Despite deadlines, Greek political developments remain confused

Decisions taken in the coming days and weeks should help analysts and political parties flesh out the Greek political timeline for 2019, in large part hostage to the handling of ratification of the Prespes Agreement.  In advance of new developments, what we do know now is that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has repeatedly stated he will serve out his full four-year term in office meaning national elections will be held no earlier than September-October 2019. Since the Prespes Agreement was signed in June 2018, the Greek political world has reviewed ad nauseum potential scenarios for early elections in March 2019 triggered by a meltdown of the ratification of the Prespes Agreement or possibly in May, tied to the Euro elections and Greek municipal elections. The coalition government of SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, in power since January 2015, is widely expected to come close to fracturing over the parliamentary ratification process for the Prespes Agreement.  The exact timing of ratification procedures in Athens is still unknown but it is clear to all that since Macedonia/FYROM is close to finalizing its obligations, the work and pressure will shift to Athens, turning the country from a basic “pre-election mode” political rumour mill to a true pressure cooker. Related to this, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reportedly sent a letter early in January to both Skopje and Athens, expressing hope that the deal will be approved in both parliaments by February 15 in order that Macedonia/FYROM can join the alliance without further delay.

 

Independent Greeks fading into insignificance

President of the ANEL party, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, has himself repeated every possible election scenario since the Prespes deal was signed, making his party’s objection to a compromise over the Name Dispute obvious.  What remains unclear is how many of his small party’s seven deputies will vote with him against ratification of the deal, how many will vote with SYRIZA as a few have hinted, and finally whether ANEL as a party will support its SYRIZA coalition partner in a no-confidence vote which opposition New Democracy, widely favoured to win the next national elections in most polls, is expected to launch but cannot currently win without support from ANEL and most other opposition parties. Current polls show that the ANEL party itself will likely fail to win sufficient votes in the next elections to qualify for seats in Parliament (3% is needed) unless something changes the current calculus which has ANEL rapidly careening towards political oblivion. Although Kammenos has strenuously denied he is planning this on several occasions, some claim ANEL will vote against the government if there is a no-confidence motion introduced, as ANEL MP Kostas Katsikis said on January 10.  Katsikis was quoted on the Greek Parliament’s television channel stating “Panos Kammenos has said it, we’re leaving. What does that mean? We stop being the government coalition partner, there is no majority, we do not give a confidence vote.”

 

SYRIZA maintains that Prespes ratification is a safe bet

Tsipras, and SYRIZA spokesmen, in general, deny this state of affairs exists, or even that the possibility described above might unfold.   The SYRIZA-supported scenario, repeated constantly in many formats since last summer, is that ANEL’s announced plans to vote against Prespes ratification will be offset by an equivalent number of votes in favour of Prespes from small parties and a sliver of independent deputies.   From time to time different comments from Skopje, mostly in regard to the “Macedonian” nationality question as covered in the Prespes Agreement, have generated calls from some of these potential “swing voter” MPs to revise the agreement’s reference to the nationality issue.  Accordingly, a victory for SYRIZA and its possible allies in the ratification vote remains a very open question. In a prime-time television interview on January 9, Tsipras indicated the Prespes Agreement could come up for ratification in Athens as early as January but gave no specifics.  In anticipation of a delayed but extremely critical meeting on January 11 with coalition partner Kammenos, Tsipras said “I believe that he will maintain his confidence in the government, and this is what I will ask of him on Friday.”  Some analysts expect a Kammenos resignation to be announced, but most have adopted a wait-and-see attitude in view of his frequent policy reversals.  When Tsipras was asked what he would do if the coalition arrangement with ANEL fractures, Tsipras said “we’ll standoff in Parliament; I will ask for a vote of confidence… My partner will not facilitate the plans of (political) adversaries.”

 

Angela Merkel’s Athens stop seen as pressure

The January 10-11 Athens stop by German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being widely interpreted as overt pressure on the country’s political class to deliver a positive vote on the Prespes Agreement.  The German media have focused on comments from senior officials in Berlin just before the Merkel visit that now characterize Tsipras as a “pragmatist” for his actions in regard to the Prespes Agreement and especially on the Greek economy, and accordingly view him as worthy of direct engagement. Cynics note that Merkel ultimately gave Greece – and Tsipras – nothing more than what any set of Eurogroup technocrats would have routinely done for Athens on technical debt reprofiling earlier in 2018 and are attempting to portray Tsipras as little more than Berlin’s and even Washington’s lapdog in the Balkans, grateful for whatever scraps are thrown his way.  In remarks last October, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras actually accused Tsipras of trading away the Macedonian nationality issue in the Prespes Agreement for a six-month or one-year deferment in the already-legislated and creditor demanded pension cuts that ultimately did not take effect on January 1, which most believe would have devastated SYRIZA in this year’s election cycle.  In the final months of 2018, Berlin sat quietly on the sidelines instead of pressing for these cuts in the Eurogroup, which had been labelled as essential structural reforms for most of 2018 by IMF technocrats and some in Brussels. Sure enough, the Prespes Agreement ratification issue was front and centre in the Tsipras-Merkel press conference on January 10.  Merkel stated that Prespes “creates clarity” and will be beneficial not only to Greece and Macedonia/FYROM but also for the whole of the European Union.  Merkel was asked about the alleged trade-off between the Prespes deal and the cancellation of the 2019 pension cuts Greece’s creditors had previously insisted on.  Being sure to refer to Skopje’s new name of “North Macedonia,” Merkel denied the alleged tradeoff existed and expressed surprise the question had been put to her.  Merkel also said she planned to discuss the Name Dispute with New Democracy President Kyriakos Mitsotakis at their upcoming meeting but did not expect to reverse his strong opposition to the agreement in its current form.

 

EPP’s Weber comes out on Macedonia name change deal (EurActiv, by Alexandra Brzozowski, Gerardo Fortuna and Sarantis Michalopoulos, 10 January 2019)

 

Manfred Weber, the Spitzenkandidat of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), ended months of silence on the ongoing efforts to resolve the Greece-Macedonia name row with a couple of pithy comments on Tuesday (9 January) that appear to support the deal. “Everybody knows that [the name dispute] has to be solved in order to give Macedonia a positive economic and European future,” Weber, who will lead the EPP’s European election campaign, told EURACTIV.com. Weber had not taken a position on the issue for months, despite growing pressure from other political groups in the EU Parliament to do so. Last June, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras reached a breakthrough deal on a 25-year long name dispute and agreed on the name ‘North Macedonia’. The deal will open the door for FYROM’s NATO membership, currently blocked by Athens due to the name dispute, to be concluded. Lawmakers in Skopje began the final debate yesterday on the constitutional reforms needed to change the name of the country. For its part, Athens has promised to lift its veto on Skopje’s bid to join NATO and the EU. The final name change deal is due to be voted in the Greek parliament in March. New Democracy, the sister party of the EPP in Greece, and the main opposition party to the governing leftist Syriza party, has vowed to block the deal in parliament. Asked to comment on New Democracy’s stance on the issue, Weber replied diplomatically that it was the Greek government’s responsibility to negotiate and finalise the deal, implying that no support from the opposition was needed for that. “First of all, they have a government to negotiate the deal… and is responsible… But again, the opposition is formally not needed for accepting now the compromise. So, it’s the role of opposition to show an alternative, that is the role of an opposition, and Kyriakos is not opposing to the principle idea to find a compromise,” Weber said. The EU and the United States have expressed their support for the name-change deal, which is opposed by Russia. Moscow suspects that Washington is pushing the name-change agreement to expand NATO’s influence in the region.

 

New Democracy will accept a ‘ratified’ deal

In an interview with EURACTIV, Elmar Brok, an influential German Christian-Democrat MEP, said New Democracy had told the EPP that it would accept a “ratified” name change deal.

He added that the issue has been discussed in the EPP. “Therefore, it is also good in these talks, New Democracy declares that it will accept the ratified treaty when it becomes part of a government.” “New Democracy, when it comes to power, will then accept and implement a ratified treaty. Because New Democracy has not said that if it is ratified it will not accept it,” Brok added. It is unclear however if the formula “accepting a ratified deal” includes not making obstacles to the ratification. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Athens on 10-11 January, with the name change deal high on the agenda, according to Brok. “The government has to negotiate the deal, so the government must seek a majority. Apart from the name deal, I believe that Merkel supports New Democracy on all other essential issues such as how to run economic and monetary policy and all the rest,” Brok added.

 

No room for a ‘new Gruevski’

In an interview with the Open TV channel, Tsipras said all parties and lawmakers would take their “historical responsibility toward a historic deal”. “The deal leaves no room for a new nationalist in the future, a new Gruevski,” Tsipras said, referring to Macedonia’s former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who took a hardline stance on the name dispute when he was in power. Meanwhile, Syriza’s conservative junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party, have vowed to leave the government if the deal comes for approval in the Greek parliament. Syriza believes that its coalition partner will not back a motion of no confidence, which it expects to be tabled by New Democracy. “I am quite sure that the country will not move into such processes […] my partner will not choose to facilitate my political opponents’ plans. But democracy has no deadlocks and I believe I will win a confidence motion,” Tsipras added. Syriza and Independent Greeks will hold a crucial meeting on the issue on 11 January.

 

 

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