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Belgrade Media Report 11 March 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Monday 11 March 2019
LOCAL PRESS

• Unity of state, church about Kosovo and Metohija important (Tanjug/RTS)
• Brnabic: Platform indicates that Pristina is obstructing agreement (Tanjug)
• Joksimovic: Chapter 35 to leave out monitoring of talks with Pristina (Tanjug)
• Stefanovic: Platform aimed at expelling Serbs (TV Pink/Beta)
• Djilas urges Vucic to resign (Beta)
• Fabrizi: EU won’t comment on stances of others, including of US (Tanjug/B92)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik: Pristina platform – list of wishes and maximalist requirements (Srna)
• Spiric: B&H choose between the European path and conflict until self-destruction (Srna)
• Foreign officials in Bosnia call the Visegrad event “disturbing” and “appalling” (N1)
Croatia
• Conservative MPs angered by Austrian Catholic Church’s decision (HRT)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Mickoski – Zaev meeting: VMRO will not accept sham elections (Republika)
• Special Prosecutor Janeva: Some may save themselves (Nezavisen vesnik)
Albania
• Basha to discuss plans for the 16 March protest (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Meleșcanu: EU also benefits from the enlargement process in the Western Balkans (European Western Balkans)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Unity of state, church about Kosovo and Metohija important (Tanjug/RTS)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic spoke on Sunday with Serbian Patriarch Irinej and the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) on the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. After the meeting in the Patriarchate, Vucic said that he had presented to the Patriarch the contents of the Pristina platform and explained the difficulty of the situation for Serbia. We brought to the Patriarch the text of the platform adopted by the Kosovo Albanians for stopping the dialogue with Belgrade and all their actions – from failing to implement the Brussels Agreement, through taxes, to a platform that is actually an indicator of how some people want to provoke a crisis and a problem, not their resolution, Vucic said. He told the Patriarch that he no longer expects any reaction from the international community, since every day Kosovo Albanians have a new action. We are always ready for talks, but they must be guided by those who also want them, said Vucic, adding that it is necessary to abolish taxes first for the continuation of the dialogue. In difficult circumstances, we will continue to accelerate the development of Serbia, but we will not leave on the lurch or state or our people in Kosovo at any moment, Vucic said. Patriarch Irinej said that it is important that the state and the church share the same opinion on the problem and how to react in the situation regarding Kosovo and Metohija. He assessed that, unfortunately, the situation in our country, especially in Kosovo, is becoming increasingly difficult and complicated day by day, and that such meetings are very important and necessary for the SPC to be familiar with the problems in order to have its own position and in order to find the best solutions.

 

Brnabic: Platform indicates that Pristina is obstructing agreement (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic assessed on Friday in a meeting with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale that the platform was the latest in a series of moves from Pristina that undoubtedly indicates that political leaders there are doing everything to obstruct the agreement of the Serbs and Albanians. Brnabic said that the non-implementation of the Brussels Agreement, the introduction of a 100% tax, the formation of an army of the so-called Kosovo and the adoption of the platform are the moves that have the same goal, which is the end of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and the radicalization of relations. She added that through a responsible policy, Belgrade showed that the dialogue is the only instrument for reaching a compromise solution and a long-term normalization of the relations between the Serbs and Albanians. We are always committed to peace and dialogue, but Pristina and all of our partners must know that there are red lines that we will never cross, Brnabic pointed out, adding that Belgrade’s rational behavior should not be interpreted as a weakness but as a commitment to finding a compromise. The US official said that the US will continue to insist on the abolition of Pristina’s taxes, in order to open the way for the continuation of the dialogue on the normalization of relations. He expressed his gratitude to Belgrade for not taking reciprocal measures and added that for the US the agreement between the Serbs and Albanians would be reached, in order to ensure stability in the region and enable faster economic development. According to Hale, such an agreement must be acceptable both for Belgrade and Pristina. Brnabic expressed her gratitude to the US official for support and pointed out that Serbia wants to improve relations with the US at all levels.

 

Joksimovic: Chapter 35 to leave out monitoring of talks with Pristina (Tanjug)

 

If the EU, as the mediator and guarantor, accepts Pristina’s present treatment of the dialogue and the Brussels agreement, we expect the European Commission to empty Chapter 35, which monitors the implementation of the Brussels agreement, from this additional content, and for it to remain, just like for other countries, linked to the so-called ‘other issues’, Serbian Minister for EU integration Jadranka Joksimovic said. “With the present content, in that case it can no longer be effectively monitored and thus in any way conditioned by the continuation of our negotiating process on accession and opening of other chapters,” Joksimovic responded to Tanjug’s question as to how Pristina’s platform influences Serbia’s negotiating process with the EU. She says that, after such platform, which undoubtedly negates the Brussels agreement, there is not to monitor, considering that one of the parties, that is Pristina, had clearly said that it doesn’t respect and doesn’t intend to implement the Brussels agreement.

 

Stefanovic: Platform aimed at expelling Serbs (TV Pink/Beta)

 

The adoption of the platform for dialogue proved that Pristina’s main goal is to expel the Serbs from the territory of Kosovo, said Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic. Stefanovic told TV Pink that the EU is “essentially uninterested” in solving the Kosovo issue. “I am so mad at the EU, they must understand the seriousness of the situation,” he added. He also said he was “not naive” in expecting the EU would be fair towards Belgrade but that they at least had to fake being fair. Speaking of a new request of Pristina for Kosovo’s membership in the Interpol, Stefanovic noted that he launched a diplomatic offensive and that talks with interior ministers and embassies are ongoing. Nothing has changed from the last year’s conference in Dubai when Kosovo’s membership application was rejected, added Stefanovic.

 

Djilas urges Vucic to resign (Beta)

 

One of the leaders of the opposition Alliance for Serbia (SzS) Dragan Djilas said in an open letter to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic that he should resign. Djilas said that, during negotiations with Pristina, Vucic had destroyed Serbia’s position, and that he should let someone more intelligent, able and honest to take his place. The opposition leader suggested that Vucic’s policy was a threat to the survival of Serbs. He asked Vucic to explain why the talks in Brussels

had turned from technical negotiations into talks on Kosovo’s status and Serbia’s borders.

Djilas also said he wanted to know “How is it possible” that Vucic had met all of the requirements of the Brussels agreement, and the Kosovo side none? “Who gives everything in negotiations without getting anything in return?” Djilas also said he wanted to know if it was possible that Vucic had actually approved with his signature that northern Kosovo police be integrated with Kosovo’s, that the judicial authorities be integrated with Kosovo’s legal system and that municipal elections in the north be organized under Kosovo laws, without the Serbian side getting anything in return. The opposition leader accused the Serbian President of violating the Serbian constitution during talks on Kosovo, and “keeping Ramush Haradinaj in power.”

 

Fabrizi: EU won’t comment on stances of others, including of US (Tanjug/B92)

 

The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi did not wish to comment on the positions of other parties, including the US stance on Kosovo. He only reiterated that Brussels is committed to reaching an agreement that will be legally binding, with full normalization of relations. Fabrizi said this when asked to comment on a recent statement by US Under Secretary of State David Hale that the US position is a mutually sustainable recognition of Kosovo and Serbia. “You know the EU stance on the recognition of Kosovo, it is clear. We are in favor of reaching an agreement that will be legally binding, with full normalization of relations,” Fabrizi told reporters. Fabrizi said that he did not wish to comment on the views of other parties or the possible outcome of the dialogue.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik: Pristina platform – list of wishes and maximalist requirements (Srna)

 

The Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik said that the platform for dialogue about a comprehensive and binding agreement on the normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade, as it was called in Pristina, is a list of nice wishes of one side which thinks that the many decades-old problem can be solved by putting its maximalist demands on the table and say, here is the deal. “There will be no solution to the issue of the southern Serbian province until in that will not be the Serbia with its historical, national, political and all other interests. The Kosovo Albanians put a point on any negotiations and agreements with that document, regarding, the requirements in that document,” said Dodik to Srna. “If there were someone in the international community who did not understand who actually is the problem about the Belgrade-Pristina agreement, categorically knows now” said Dodik. “The fact that now everyone has seen who break the agreement it obliges them to action, because Pristina’s behavior has become a regional, and not just a problem of Serbia. Not just about a question of platform, but also in earlier moves, such as the breach of CEFTA, to which, there was no decisive reaction from the international community, again,” stressed Dodik. He said that in Republika Srpska (RS), closely monitors what is happening in relations between Pristina and Belgrade, but also between Pristina and Tirana, because, first of all, Kosovo is very important issue for all Serbs, and not just a question of official Belgrade. “And secondly, we will have to see how the international community is dealing with this issue, which cannot be separated from the issue of the RS and B&H. Why would Kosovo be sui generis, as the Western international community likes to say? What is the case for itself,” Dodik asked. He also asked how it is possible that apply some other international rules for the same or similar social and political circumstances some 500 kilometers from RS? “These are the questions that will have to answer. Or, the silence of the international community on the Kosovo’s platform is a signal to RS that it is enough, unilateral, to draw up a nice wishes list and invoice them to Sarajevo,” Dodik said.

 

Spiric: B&H choose between the European path and conflict until self-destruction (Srna)

 

SNSD Vice President Nikola Spiric assessed that the formation of a new Council of Ministers as soon as possible is not only implementation of election results, but it is an indication of whether B&H is ready for the European path or will continue to produce internal conflicts until self-destruction. “The prolongation of the establishment of the authorities by the Bosniak parties is leading to this worse choice. Their expectation from the international community to undertake a step instead of us, is the biggest obstacle to the European path and the country’s progress,” Spiric said Srna. According to his words, an agreement on the new Council of Ministers must not become a seed of disagreement because by forming the institutions on the B&H level, B&H shows a more beautiful face towards the countries that should open the doors of the European Union and who are looking for a fair relationship. “It seems that the parties in Sarajevo lost too much time in internal fretting over and seeking partners to enter into conflicts, instead of solving the issues that lie ahead. The Bosniak parties should finally reject “orthopedic aids” in the form of the international community and start with open negotiations within B&H because that are, in the end, messages which came from Brussels, Washington, Moscow and other centers which clearly indicate that the solution is in our hands,” says Spiric. He said that it will be known soon whether and how B&H understood these messages.

 

Foreign officials in Bosnia call the Visegrad event “disturbing” and “appalling” (N1)

 

Foreign embassies and institutions in B&H condemned the Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement’s controversial annual gathering, which took place in the eastern town of Visegrad on Sunday. They said such behavior did not contribute to reconciliation and had no place in a modern society. The EU’s top representative in B&H warned that such “disturbing event” is not a path for a multi-ethnic B&H. “Today’s disturbing events in Visegrad, glorifying violence and inciting to hatred, only takes a multi-ethnic B&H and the whole region further away from reconciliation and the EU’s principles and values of tolerance” EU Special Representative in B&H, Lars Gunnar-Wigemark tweeted. Fans and followers gathered to pay tribute to the founder and leader of the WWII Ravna Gora movement, Draza Mihailovic, who was tried and convicted of high treason and war crimes and eventually executed. A Belgrade court rehabilitated him in 2015, assessing that the trial was “political and ideological” and made serious errors. But, the associations representing the Bosniak victims from the 1992-95 war and Bosniak returnees to Visegrad said this was “a humiliation” for victims. The US Embassy expects “the relevant institutions” to address the threats heard in the Visegrad event. “We are appalled by reports of threats and nationalistic rhetoric during the event in Visegrad. Such behavior is unacceptable. We expect the relevant institutions to take the necessary steps to address these threats and hold accountable those responsible,” it was written on the US Embassy’s official Twitter account.

The Office of the High Representative in B&H condemned the “shameful events in Visegrad” and calls for action against those responsible for hate speech. UK Ambassador and Head of the OSCE Mission in Sarajevo shared the concerns. “B&H cannot move forward as long as there are those “who look back, glorifying xenophobia and racism and attempting to rewrite history” OSCE’s Bruce Berton said through social networks. “This behavior has no place in a modern, democratic society,” he said. UK Ambassador Matt Field also expressed hope that the authorities would fully investigate the event. “Lining up of the Chetniks in a military formation and threatening with “a hell and bloody Drina (river)” which could be heard undoubtedly pose a criminal act of causing the ethnic-based and religious hatred. Because of that, I demand all competent institutions to approach the processing of this criminal act without any calculations,” said Dzaferovic. The Presidency member also expects the Serb representatives in B&H to declare on this event.

 

Conservative MPs angered by Austrian Catholic Church’s decision (HRT)

 

The decision by the Catholic Church in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia not to allow the Croatian Catholic Church to celebrate mass at the annual commemoration in Bleiburg has sparked strong reactions from some Croatian politicians. The Austrian Church said the Bleiburg event had become historically revisionist, failed to denounce fascism, and tarnished the image of the Catholic Church. The Croatian Bishops Conference issued a statement rejecting this characterization of the event. Parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic sided with the Croatian Bishops on Friday, telling reporters “I agree with the Bishops’ statement and have nothing more to say.” The leader of the Social Democrats, Davor Bernardic, welcomed the decision and said it was time for Croatian authorities to stop tolerating the display of fascist symbols, as Austrian authorities did recently, banning the display of Ustasha insignia in response to people donning them at the annual commemoration in recent years. “Paying one’s respects to the victims is one thing, but abusing this gesture by glorifying the Nazi and fascist ideology is unacceptable. In the 21st century, it is time for our government to put an end to this, just as the very conservative, very right-leaning government in Austria has done,” Bernardic said. Nikola Grmoja, from the conservative opposition Most party, said that banning a religious service was unfair and that the decision was political. “I think this is a case of somebody trying to compensate for their own issues by punishing us Croats, and by that, I mean the Catholic Church. I don’t see the point of banning a mass. It’s an unacceptable decision,” Grmoja said. Croatian right-wing MEP Ruza Tomasic has sharply criticized the decision, sending an open letter to the Bishop of Carinthia.

“The claims made by Austrian Bishops that the mass in Bleiburg Field is part of a national political ritual that serves a selective interpretation and view of history can be clearly interpreted as a political act, rooted in the influence of aggressive and unscrupulous leftist lobbies in the highest levels of the Austrian Catholic Church,” Tomasic writes in her letter.

 

Mickoski – Zaev meeting: VMRO will not accept sham elections (Republika)

 

Following the meeting between Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski, the VMRO-DPMNE leader said that he demanded guarantees from the government that the coming presidential elections will be free and fair. Mickoski said that VMRO will not accept electoral fraud of the kind that was going on during the September 2018 referendum.

“There are needless job openings in the public sector, public transfers toward target groups of voters which are asked to support the ruling coalition nominee, we saw how electoral stations reported that voters voted in record breaking times of 2.4 seconds each and had turnouts of 95 percent. We pointed to these stations which had irregularities during the referendum. Whether Macedonia will receive the recommendation to open EU accession talks will depend on the conduct of the elections. Besides, there is a first round of voting, but also a second round, and much will depend on how the government organizes the elections,” Mickoski said, stopping just short of threatening that VMRO will boycott the second round of voting if mass irregularities happen during the first round. Zaev refused to hold early general elections along with the presidential vote which would’ve meant greater guarantees of fair conduct, including having opposition officials lead some of the most easily abused government departments. During the meeting held in the Government building this evening, and given the climate of political persecution of critical voices in the country, Mickoski asked that the opposition is allowed to appoint the Public Prosecutor, as a move which would reduce the high level of politically motivated arrests. Zaev said that he refused this request, even though it is part of the platform of his SDSM party, because he considers VMRO-DPMNE not suitable as an opposition party to appoint the Public Prosecutor. Still, Zaev asked VMRO for support in another process which will affect the EU decision this summer – the transformation of the Special Prosecutor’s Office into a permanent institution. Mickoski said that the current special prosecutor Katica Janeva, who is widely seen as loyalist of Zaev’s SDSM party, lost all credibility to run the institution. According to Mickoski, VMRO could support making the SPO office permanent, but under a different team. Mickoski also pointed out that he received the text of the draft law last Thursday, and the party had no time to analyze it. One of the opposition requests is to use this department to investigate other major corruption cases, not just the narrow time frame which Zoran Zaev set in 2015. Mickoski named the dubious privatization of the state-owned ESM energy company, the Deutche Telekom purchase of the Macedonian Telekom and other cases related to SDSM or parties now close to SDSM. You are welcome to investigate me and the property of my family, provided that afterwards we investigate Zaev, Mickoski said. Zaev responded that he trusts Katica Janeva and her team, and will support them remaining in place.

 

Special Prosecutor Janeva: Some may save themselves (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

Special Public Prosecutor Katica Janeva, is unable to predict what will happen in the future with the cases of this prosecutor’s office, if the new draft law is finally adopted, which will ultimately regulate the status of the SPO and by which the so-called “bombs” can no longer be used as evidence in over twenty cases opened by the SPO after June 2017. It leaves an open opportunity for any defendant save themselves from responsibility, but also to increase the number of charges. “Some may save themselves, and some may earn extra charges. But we are essentially pleased that our competence expands. We are not limited to the “bombs” because in the period that we analyzed, we consider that there are other violations of the Criminal Code. So perhaps now in certain pre-inquiries we will open much bigger investigations than those we already have,” said Special Prosecutor Janeva. For the time being, the Special Prosecutor’s Office reassures that the so-called “bombs” will be unusable in the cases of “Census” that is being conducted against DUI leader Ali Ahmeti and former leader of VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski, in the cases “Thaler” against the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, the “Empire” case that should prove the crime suspected by the former head of the secret police, Saso Mijalkov and businessman Orce Kamcev, and other cases, would not be a problem because they have also collected material evidence and testimonies from witnesses. The so-called “bombs” made it easier and clarified some of the things in the context of all other material and verbal evidence, but I think that the way of working without the so-called “bombs” is a challenge for the Special Public Prosecutors and we will try to be up to the task,” said Prosecutor Janeva. Although the Supreme Court, after the legal opinion that it brought, released the suspected businessmen in the “Empire” case to be free to defend themselves, according to Janeva, the most important thing is that the SPO has sufficient evidence in the cases to continue the investigations and certain ongoing pre-inquiries for these individuals. She claims that if the Supreme Court releases and allows Saso Mijalkov to defend himself as well, they may file a request for detention for some of the other cases against him. After the coalition partners SDSM and DUI agreed on the draft law on the SPO and adopted it at a government session, now for the two-thirds majority to pass this law in Parliament, the government should seek support from the smaller Albanian parties, the independent lawmakers and convince the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE. It is exactly the leader of the opposition party Hristijan Mickoski who accused the Special Public Prosecutor Janeva that she blackmailed him by revoking the decision to freeze the party’s property in exchange for the MPs’ support for the law on the SPO. Janeva argues that there were no threats or blackmail at the meeting, but a casual conversation about the criticism that only certain individuals are under investigation by the SPO. “I thought it was good to talk to Mickoski and ask him to give his support if it comes to a new law on the SPO which will extend its term for an indefinite period of time as part of the judicial system, that he could consider the issue in his party so that the party could express its support,” said Janeva. The government put the draft law on public prosecution in a parliamentary procedure, and Justice Minister Renata Deskoska claims that they have not yet confirmed the majority in parliament. But it is important for her that they have reached an agreement on a level of a government coalition. According to her, according to the new draft law, all procedures initiated before the SPO will continue and are in the phase of indictment or in the phase of investigation or a pre-investigation, with the evidence collected on the basis of these procedures remain valid. “The use of wiretapped conversations is limited to those charges filed during the first 18 months. In consultation with foreign experts and with the SPO, we came to the conclusion that practically in cases that were filed after 18 months there is no realistic need to use these audio materials as evidence, because they are used as an indication through which the SPO came to other evidence that can serve as evidence in court proceedings. Due to these reasons, there will be no disruption to the quality of court proceedings if these audio materials are not used in these procedures,” said Justice Minister Deskoska. The new draft law proposes that the so-called “bombs” continue to be used as evidence in the cases beginning with the letter T and the case “Violence in Centar”.

 

Basha to discuss plans for the 16 March protest (ADN)

 

The leader of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha called on Sunday the party’s headship to discuss the steps needed to be followed by the opposition for the protest of 16 March.

Basha urged all party members to bring as many people as they can to the protest, so that it can be the biggest ever. He said that this protest should be more massive that the one held on 16 February. Chairwoman of Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) Monika Kryemadhi said after the meeting that the opposition will not withdraw their decisions. The decision to ‘burn’ mandates was difficult, but we could not become part of the ugly facade of Rama’s government. To serve Rama is considered national treachery. Therefore, ‘burning’ of mandates came to raise awareness of every citizen, every socialist, every employee of the administration that the state is captured by crime,” said declared Kryemadhi. The Minister of State for Relations with Parliament, Elisa Spiropali, stated that there will be no snap elections. According to her, parliament is legitimate and that the opposition MP’s are being replaced. “The lists have been made by DP. Opposition has politically mistaken in the decision they have taken. This is a Parliamentary republic and Parliaments cannot collapse either by bargaining or by violence. And we are not ready to sit down and go make deals with the opposition,” said Spiropali. She added that the Parliament will continue to function because the constitution forces the majority and the government to do the task. Meanwhile, a group of Albanian immigrants living in Greece have been rallied to protest in front of the Albanian Embassy premises in Athens. Local media learned that the protest was organized by the DP branch in Greece, and during their speeches held in front of the embassy, protesters demanded the departure of PM Edi Rama’s government. They called the current government a deceitful one, that abandons the interests of its citizens and who does not care about the promises made to facilitate the lives of Albanian emigrants in Greece.

Head of the DP branch in Greece, Fatmir Gjoci said that this government has deteriorated the Albanian immigrants’ reputation with the drug trafficking that has permeated Albania and with the prime minister who supports the criminals and came to power through buying votes in relation with crime-related structures.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Meleșcanu: EU also benefits from the enlargement process in the Western Balkans

(European Western Balkans, by Aleksandar Ivković, 11 March 2019)

 

It has already been assessed that Romania’s first Presidency of the Council of the EU will be everything but a formality. With the exit of the UK from the EU on 29 March and the European elections in May, to name just the most obvious challenges, it can be argued that the following few months will be crucial for EU’s future. Romania has nevertheless committed itself to an ambitious agenda, which also includes the Western Balkans. We talked about these topics with the county’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Meleșcanu.

European Western Balkans: Romania has listed support for EU’s enlargement to the Western Balkans as one of the priorities of its Presidency. While the potential accession certainly depends on reforms undertaken by the candidate countries, would you say that there is willingness within the EU as a whole to advance the process if and when the results start coming in?

Teodor Meleșcanu: EU enlargement, which remains one of the most successful policies of the European Union and an important priority on the European agenda with a great potential to strengthen the European project, is strongly promoted by the Romanian Presidency at the EU Council. In the current European context, marked by the Brexit process and the European elections, followed by the beginning of a new EU institutional cycle, as well as the challenges the Union has faced through the last years, the enlargement policy has remained an essential investment in the stability and security of the entire European continent. Last year, the Commission published its Enlargement Strategy, reaffirming EU’s engagement towards this policy and its strategic importance for the Union, which was later reconfirmed through the Council Conclusions on enlargement, adopted in June 2018. The enlargement policy was also placed among the priorities of the successive mandates of Bulgaria, Austria and now Romania at the helm of the Council of the EU. This positive context, together with the interest of both the European Commission and the EEAS – qualifying the region as top EU priority, contributed to unlocking positive evolutions and generating success stories. The recent entry into force of the Prespa Agreement was a tangible proof of EU’s transformative effect in the region. Such concrete steps are a proof that the enlargement continues to benefit from EU’s attention. In spite of challenges that may arise, the added value of the enlargement process plays not only for the states joining the European Union – which are going through the process of democratic transformation, strengthening their institutions and modernizing their societies – but also for the Union – which becomes an extended space of shared values and a stronger global actor. This does not mean, however, that Romania will abandon its principled position regarding the need that candidates fully respect the accession criteria. In fact, the objective of this comprehensive process is to promote truly European societies in terms of values ​​and principles, enabling the enlargement of the area of ​​stability and prosperity to the benefit of both current and future EU members. In this process, a positive and consistent track record of alignment to EU standards, through the comprehensive reform process by candidates and potential candidates, is essential in order to maintain a positive momentum and turn it into positive decisions for the Western Balkans. A credible perspective of joining the European Union for those candidates and potential candidates, who prove a firm commitment to reform and democratization remains essential for the credibility and efficiency of the EU’s external action, which serves to achieve the goal of a strong, united and more cohesive European Union. When the necessary level of preparation of the candidates is achieved, they should become EU members.

EWB: Is the EU enlargement going to be in focus at the Sibiu Summit on the Future of Europe on 9 May?

TM: The complex process of reflection on the future of Europe, started in Bratislava and finalizing in Sibiu, will define the future of European construction. The year 2019 will remain a milestone in this process, marked by the launch of a new institutional cycle, but also by the unprecedented departure of a Member State from the European Union, an unwanted event, to which the other Member States must respond with a message of unity and of pro-European commitment and pro-expansion for the future. The future of Europe and strengthening its role as a global actor are closely linked to the European Union’s ability to continue to project stability and prosperity in its immediate neighborhood. A consolidated, strong and efficient European Union, capable of integrating new members, is in the best interests of both the Member States and of the candidates and potential candidates from both the Western Balkans and the wider South East Europe. We hope that enlargement will continue to feature on the European agenda, as a policy instrument that has contributed strongly to the unity of the European continent that has potential to strengthen the European project and contribute to the goal of a stronger and more cohesive Union.

EWB: As a country that has not recognized Kosovo as an independent country, how does Romania see the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue? What would be its optimal result, provided that it resumes?

TM: The process you have mentioned (Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue) is facilitated by the EU and stems out of a Resolution adopted by United Nations General Assembly in 2010. This document was submitted by all EU Member States. Therefore, the Dialogue benefits from the support of all EU Member States. The text of the Resolution welcomes the readiness of the EU to facilitate a process of dialogue aimed at achieving progress on the path to the EU and improve the life of the people. The ideal result would be, of course, in the spirit and in the letter of the Resolution. Consistent and in good faith implementation of the agreements and understandings achieved within the framework of the Dialogue must be implemented will have to mirror in the everyday life all inhabitants in Kosovo. As the Dialogue enters its eight year, we consider essential to focus and show political will in order to overcome the difficulties and to reach a solid, lasting, viable result, in line with aspirations for a better life of the people represented by the entire establishment in Belgrade and Pristina. Such a solution has to resolve the problem, contribute to the regional stability, and consolidate the security of the Western Balkans as a whole, and not to create difficulties.

EWB: At the time of this interview, serious anti-government protests are taking place in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. Is there anything EU could do in order to help soothe political tensions in these countries?

TM: It is our belief that open and honest dialogue among all political actors and with the civil society will bring about social peace. Implementing reforms, with the proper consultation of all stakeholders, will also legitimize the entire process of alignment to the acquis. Representatives of the EU and its institutions can only help by mediating between the political and/or social actors, if they desire such assistance. As Presidency of the EU Council, we encourage the political establishment to hurry the implementation of necessary reforms for EU accession and award full independence to the judicial system, in order to ensure the trust of the citizens and meet their expectations for democratization.

EWB: Several weeks ago, informal meeting of the foreign ministers (Gymnich) was held in Bucharest, one of the topics being EU-China relations. Are there any controversies when it comes to China’s role in the Western Balkans?

TM: The EU-China relations were granted a significant place on the agenda of the informal meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs from the EU Member States, which was organized in Bucharest, between 31 January-1 February 2019, during the Romania’s EU Council Presidency.

The discussions highlighted the need to maintain a common, coherent and coordinated approach at EU as well as candidate level in the relationship with China. At the level of the candidate countries, the support of the 16 + 1 format was reiterated, provided it represents a transparent cooperation platform complementary to EU relations. Most candidate countries have called for more EU involvement in development projects in the Western Balkans region, otherwise they have to identify new strategic partners, such as China, to provide financial assistance for their economic development. EU ministers underlined the importance of respecting European principles and values ​​and applying reciprocity in dealing with China. In most candidate countries, Chinese investments are in strategic areas such as infrastructure (road, digital, energy).

Coming to Romania’s immediate region, I would like to emphasize the connectivity theme, which came into spotlight with the adoption by the EU, in October 2018, of the Europe-Asia Connectivity Strategy. Romania was a strong supporter of this important document. Due to its geographical position, Romania has a vested interest in becoming an active actor with connectivity initiatives. We believe that promoting complementary initiatives would positively enforce the cohesion and the development of regional ties, especially in transport infrastructure.

We should make better use of the natural avenues that can facilitate a rapid increase in the flow of people, goods and services and generate synergies with existing policies towards regions and partners with strategic importance for the European Union, such as states from the Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership, or Central Asia. We support projects that increase inter-operability, respecting a set of principles that should be paramount such as transparency, rules-based procurement, reciprocal market access and financial sustainability.

 

 

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