HOT TOPICS: EU fails to set accession talks date for North Macedonia and Albania; “Mini Schengen” between Balkan countries; Serbia to sign free trade agreement with EAEU; Erdogan in Serbia; Montenegro publishes call for concession of its airportsAdriatic Journal 23 October 2019
EU fails to start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania
European Union failed to agree on the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania after France’s opposition. The decision drew sharp criticism from other EU leaders as well as huge disappointment in the two Balkan countries.
“The least that the European Union owes the region is to be straightforward with us. If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans … the citizens deserve to know,” North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, tweeted.
“While we wait for a renewed consensus, we must continue to defend true European values at home,” he added. The outgoing Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, tweeted that the citizens of the two countries were now “rightly disappointed to the bone”. “The responsibility for this failure is not with the countries [North Macedonia and Albania] who hoped rightly for a positive decision. They delivered! It was the EU which failed to deliver because of internal issues. This damages the EU’s credibility not only in Western Balkans but beyond.” Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein called the decision “regrettable”. “I have already exchanged views today with the prime ministers of both states and expressed my disappointment.” Both the Albanian and North Macedonian leaders were “very disappointed,” she said. The European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude -Juncker described the European Union decision as “a grave historic mistake,” while MEP Tanja Fajon, blamed Paris and said France was playing a “dirty game”, the Beta news agency reported last month. Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council (EUCO), also described the EU failure to decide on the date as a mistake and added “a huge majority of states was in favour of the opening of negotiations. Former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who brokered the name deal with North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, tweeted that the EU showed weakness and that sometimes the European values were higher in the Balkans than in Brussels. Zaev has now called for snap elections in his country as soon as possible. “I’m Zoran Zaev. I can be a mayor, prime minister, but above all, I’m a man and Brussels decision left me with bitterness. All options are on the table. But I have said I have no right to give up the struggle. People will decide whether they will give me a new mandate to continue along this road. Everything else is a dead-end,” Zaev said. He added Europe didn’t fulfil what it promised: “I’m disappointed and embittered,” Zaev told reporters.
Russian PM visits Belgrade
Russian prime minister Dmitriy Medvedev was on an official visit to Belgrade last month taking part in commemorations of 75th anniversary of the city’s liberation from Nazi German occupation. As well as observing a military parade, Medvedev also addressed a special session of the Serbian parliament. In his speach, Medvedev announced the signing of a free trade agreement between Serbia and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The EAEU members include Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The free trade agreement will give Serbia access to a market of 180 million consumers. Serbia already has free trade deals with Russia (since 2000), Belarus (2008) and Kazakhstan (2009), which allow it to export 99% of its goods to those countries duty-free.
“Mini Schengen” announced between Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia
Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania have signed a declaration announcing the creation of a common market within two years. The joint declaration is modelled on the passport-free zone of the EU, envisaging free movement of people, goods, capital, and services between the three countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo were also invited to the initiative. Vučić said that this would, among other things, enable free movement across all countries with an ID card and attract more foreign investment by connecting 20 markets. He also noted that lorries in the Western Balkans lose 26 million hours every year on border crossings and removing those barriers would create vast savings. The Albanian prime minister Edi Rama said that although there were some open issues in “the heart of the region,” they should not prevent the agreements concerning the entire regional population. “We have been linked by the need to develop economic cooperation, reduce unemployment, fight cross-border crime and illegal migration, and the need to improve the lives of all citizens,” he said. The prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, said he expected the rest of the Western Balkan states to join the initiative. “We are sending the message that political relations in the region are becoming simpler, that the Balkans is no longer a gunpowder barrel but a region of stability, economic development, dedicated to European integration and to improving the standards of its citizens,” Zaev added. The next meeting will take place in North Macedonia on 10 November when more “concrete measures” will be agreed.
Erdogan and Vučić mark the start of construction of Belgrade-Sarajevo highway
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on a two-day visit to Serbia last month meeting with Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić, taking part in the summit between Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia Herzegovina, and attending the ceremony to mark the beginning of the Belgrade – Sarajevo motorway construction. “Serbia has an important role in preserving regional peace and development,” Erdoğan said, adding that Serbia was strategically situated in the Balkans and that he saw it as a neighbouring country though the two states did not share borders. Prior to the visit, he told the Belgrade Politika daily his country supported Serbia’s efforts in economic development and the accession negotiations with the European Union. “That’s why we support the resumption of the Belgrade – Priština dialogue and the establishment of a long-lasting comprehensive agreement based on free will and consensus of both sides. We are ready to do everything to help solving the problem. Any deal agreed by the two sides will be acceptable to us,” Erdoğan said. At the ceremony for the partially Turkish-funded highway between Belgrade and Sarajevo, Erdogan said that the “bridge over the Sava river is a bridge of friendship for the whole region”. During his visit he also called on the three members of Bosnia’s multiethnic presidency to end a year-long political deadlock that has fueled tensions in the Balkan country.
Winners of Kosovo elections discuss coalition government
Leaders of the two Kosovo parties that won the most votes at last month’s parliamentary elections – Vetevendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) – have expressed willingness to reach a coalition agreement, four days after the voters elected a new parliament. After Vetevendosje party came first in last month’s vote, Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) candidate for prime minister Vjosa Osmani called for a coalition agreement between them. “Finally, citizens not only voted but through their votes, called for changes and the punishment of bad governance,” Osmani said in a Facebook post. “Citizens also decided for the new government that should be composed of the opposition parties [the LDK and Vetevendosje],” she added. “To me, there is no other alternative. An LDK-VV coalition has many challenges ahead of it, but it should have only one interest: that of Kosovo’s citizens,” she continued. Vetevendosje’s leader Albin Kurti, echoed Osmani’s words, saying there was “no other option” to a coalition with the LDK. “We cannot substitute the LDK with the PDK, AAK and NISMA,” he said, referring to other parties. Both parties said their cabinet would be smaller than the previous one.
Serbia drops seven places on global competitiveness list
According to the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) report on global competitiveness, Serbia fell to 72nd from the 65th position it held last year, despite making progress in eight indicators. Serbia advanced in the areas of institutions, infrastructure, skills, labour market, financial system, the market size, business dynamics and capability for innovations. In the macroeconomy stability the country kept the same index, while in the implementation of the ICT, health service and products’ market, Serbia did worse than in 2018. Slovenia is still ahead from its southern neighbours, remaining at 35th place. It does, however, lag behind Austria (21) and Italy (30). In its 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, the WEF measured the strength of 103 key indicators, such as inflation, digital skills and trade tariffs, across 141 countries, the organisation’s website stated. In 2019, Singapore has overtaken the US to become the most competitive nation in the world, the report says.
Croatia joins European Blockchain Partnership
Last month, the Croatian government endorsed the declaration creating a European Blockchain Partnership (EBP), a platform offering more than EUR 300m to EU member states for the development of cross-border digital publica services with the highest standards of security and privacy, the Croatian government said. “From the point of view of the economy, blockchain offers us great possibilities since we are a relatively small economy with a large number of quality and competitive ICT personnel. It is a technology that transforms all stored data into a valuable resource that can be used for many purposes and its greatest value is that is entirely transparent and thus immune to possible manipulation and mishandling,” Darko Horvat, Croatia’s economy minister said at the signing ceremony. He expressed hope that blockchain technology would soon start functioning as a reliable communication platform between industries and regulators. “That way, we can transform many sectors in Croatia and room is being created for much greater efficiency of the public and state administration,” Horvat said. Ognian Zlatev, the new head of the EC Representation in Croatia, welcomed Croatia’s decision to join the initiative and commended the current, increasingly visible positive economic trends. Blockchain technology enables distributed public ledgers that hold immutable data in a secure and encrypted way and ensure that transactions can never be altered.
Number of tourists visiting Croatia up 4.5%
A total of 18.8m tourists visited Croatia in the first nine months of 2019, up 4.5% compared to the same period last year, generating almost 103m overnight stays, an increase of 2% from last year, according to the Croatian Tourist Board. In the period from January to September, almost 17m foreign tourists visited Croatia, an increase of 4% compared to the same period last year, generating 90.4m bed nights, up 1.3%. Domestic tourists accounted for 2m arrivals, which is an increase of 9.3% from 2018 and they generated an increase of 7% in bed nights or a total of almost 12.5m. “So far in October 350,000 more tourists have been recorded, which is an increase of 6% compared to the same period in 2018 and an even greater increase of 10% has been recorded in bed nights, or 1.3 million,” HTZ concluded.
The Government of Montenegro issues a call for the concessions of its airports
The Ministry of Transport and Maritime Affairs of Montenegro has issued a public invitation for submission of applications for the pre-qualification for the award of a concession for Montenegro’s airports. The subject of the concession is the construction, reconstruction, modernization, maintenance and use of Podgorica and Tivat airports. Competitively selected best bidder will establish and register a company with headquarters in Montenegro to run the concession business. “The intention is to provide, through the award of the concession, the necessary valorization of the Airport of Montenegro in a long-term and in a sustainable manner, which will be in the interest of Montenegro and its further economic development,” the invitation said. The two-stage process involves two phases, namely a public announcement for pre-qualification and a call for proposals. Applications for pre-qualification must be submitted physically to the Tender Commission by 25 November 2019 by 12:00. The bidders have an obligation to advance at least 100% of the airport’s annual revenue. The pre-qualification phase will last 45 days, after which the tender procedure is expected. The public invitation was also published in the Financial Times.