HOT TOPICS in September 2019: North Macedonia and Albania get green light from German parliament; Croatia expects to join Schengen soon; Sarajevo holds its first Pride parade; EBERD wants to invest in Bosnia’s wind farms; Dubrovnik to introduce cruise tax; Kosovo’s instability keeps investors awayAdriatic Journal 30 September 2019
Bundestag gives “green light” for the start of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia
With 476 votes in favor, 122 against and 16 abstentions, the German Bundestag voted last month that North Macedonia’s accession negotiations with the EU can begin. In the same meeting Bundestag also voted in favour of Albania’s EU accession negotiations to begin, too, with 395 votes in favor, 188 against and 16 abstentions. However, it set a number of strict terms and conditions for Albania, mainly regarding the rule of law reforms. The government can now consent to the beginning of the accession negotiations of the EU with North Macedonia and Albania. In both cases, however, it was emphaised that this was a beginning of a long accession process, not a decision of accession. On 15 October the EU General Affairs Council ill vote on the commencement of the accession negotiations, followed by the EU Summit two days later. All countries have to vote in favour for the negotiations to begin. Some of the countries, including France, are currently opposing further enlargemet of EU and are yet to confirm where they stand on this issue.
Croatia expects Commission’s approval to join Schengen
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels last month he expected the current European Commission to make a recommendation before the end of its term that Croatia meets the requirements for accession to the Schengen area. “I expect the College of Commissioners to adopt what has been proposed by the relevant commissioners, notably Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos,” Plenković told the press after meeting with senior EU officials. The European Commission is expected to discuss an assessment of Croatia’s readiness to join the Schengen area in mid-October. Plneković’s high hopes also come from the statement made by the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker during his visit to Zagreb last June, when he said the Commission would issue a positive recommendation before the end of its term, which expires on 1 November. Plenković noted that earlier last month the Schengen Committee had concluded that Croatia meets the requirements from all eight chapters of the Schengen acquis. “We have made a lot of advances and are now expecting the College of Commissioners to adopt what was discussed at lower levels,” he added. Slovenia, however, indicated it might block Croatia from joining Schengen area. Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said that only countries that honour the rule of law can join the Schengen area and that Croatia is violating the rule of law by refusing to implement the arbitration ruling on the border dispute between the two countries. Plenković said that “those are political issues that will be raised at the Council level. This is a technical matter for the Commission. The criteria are equal for all and Croatia has met all the criteria.”
Sarajevo Hosts its first-ever pride march
Sarajevo held its first Pride parade, while opponents held their own marches in support of ‘traditional family values’. The participants gathered in front of the Eternal Flame, a memorial dedicated to World War II victims, about 2,000 people marched through Sarajevo’s main street – Tito street – and ended in front of the state’s parliament. The two-hour-long march went ahead under tight security and, despite calls to cancel it and concerns over security, finished without incident. Human rights activists from Belgrade, Tirana, Skopje, and Podgorica also attended the march, in support of the rights for the LGBTQ community in Bosnia. While top Bosnian politicians failed to participate, the US ambassador to Bosnia, Eric Nelson, attended along with many other diplomats and representatives of non-governmental organizations in Bosnia. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only country from the former Yugoslavia that had not yet hosted a public Pride event. The conservative country has a history of violence against LGBT festivals, most notably in 2008 and 2014.
Organisers of the pride march came under intense pressure from politicians and the public after they announced their plans in April. The local Sarajevo cantonal government demanded the organisers fund additional security measures, including the purchase and placement of concrete barriers along the route of the march.
Greek PM promises to respect Macedonia deal
During their first meeting on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Summit in New York, the new prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told Macedonia’s prime minister Zoran Zaev he would respect the 2018 deal with Macedonia though he would never have signed it himself. Mitsotakis’ center-right New Democracy party came to power in July this year after winning a landslide victory over former prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Syriza party. Before becoming PM, Mitsotakis opposed the deal with Maceodnia, insisting it would harm Greek national interests because it recognised Macedonian language and identity. Athens and Skopje signed the historical agreement in June last year in Prespa which ended ended a decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name. Under the deal, Macedonia changed its name to Republic of North Macedonia. It also obligated itself to take further steps to distinguish itself from the Greek northern province, also called Macedonia. In exchange, Greece promised to stop blocking Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the start of its EU membership talks. It also accepted that the identity of the majority population in the neighbouring country, and their language, is Macedonian. Last month, Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said his country would also go ahead with a treaty to protect North Macedonian airspace. The plan for Greek jets to patrol the skies of North Macedonia once Skopje becomes a full NATO member, by the end of this year, or early next year, was not a direct part of the “name” deal but arose as a consequence of improved bilateral relations.
Political instability hampering business environment in Kosovo
Kosovo will hold parliamentary elections on October 6, the fourth in a row since Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Berat Rukiqi, the chairman of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, said that frequent parliamentary elections, change of governments and laws have had a negative impact on Kosovo’s economy. “Unfortunately, we have too many frequent election cycles. On one hand they can have positive effects on democracy, but on the other hand they increase the country’s political instability”, he says. Since its independence, no one of Kosovo’s governments have been able to complete the four-year mandate, and this situation, argues Agron Demi of the GAP Institute for Advanced Studies, has had a negative impact on Kosovo’s economic development. “Another major problem of the frequent change of governments is the frequent changes to the laws. Frequent change of laws is a bad signal for foreign investors”, he says. US State Department’s recent report on the world’s business climate in 2019 states that despite some progress, Kosovo’s economic growth and investment opportunities are challenged by many factors, including high levels of corruption as well as political instability.
Dubrovnik to introduce tax on cruise ships
Dubrovnik is adding extra charges on foreign cruise ships as of 2021. The fee will depend on the passenger capacity and will range between HRK 2,000 (EUR 270) and HRK 40,000 (EUR 5,400) per vessel. The decision was adopted by the City Council last month. The so-called cruising tax will apply to all foreign cruise ships berthed in the port and the city’s anchorage. Revenues from the tax will be used to improve the municipal infrastructure. The lowest tax, of HRK 2,000 (EUR 270), will be payable by cruise ships with a capacity of 50 to 200 passengers, while those with a capacity of 201 to 500 passengers will be subject to an HRK 5,000 (EUR 675) tax. A tax of HRK 10,000 (EUR 1,350) will apply to vessels with a capacity of 501 to 1,000 passengers and a tax of HRK 20,000 (EUR 2,700) to those with a capacity of 1,001 to 2,000 passengers. The highest taxes – HRK 30,000 (EUR 4,050) and 40,000 (EUR 5,400) – will apply to cruise ships with carrying between 2,001 and 3,000 passengers and 3,001 passengers and over. This is the first time such tax is being introduced in Croatia. It was announced earlier this year by Mayor Mato Franković, who said the additional revenue will help local government to improve tourism management. The move was also backed by the Cruise Lines International Association.
Zagreb to host over 160 high-level events during EU presidency
During Croatia’s six-month rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2020, more than 160 different events will take place in the Croatian capital Zagreb. They are expected to generate some 35,000 overnight stays, the coordinator of Croatia’s EU presidency, Gordan Markotić, said last month. “During those six months, we expect around 25,000 delegates. In Zagreb alone, around 35,000 overnight stays are expected. All hotels will be engaged,” Markotić said on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Croatian Society of Conference Interpreters. During the EU presidency, Croatia will organise around 10,000 official lunches and 4,000 official dinners, he added. Moreover, of the 161 events to be held, most will be informal meetings which serve as preparation for formal meetings in Brussels, Markotić said. He emphasised that two summit meetings of European leaders, 12 informal meetings of the Council of Ministers, eight ministerial conferences and four meetings of parliament speakers are the most important events that will be held in Croatia during that time. Zagreb will host two-thirds of events, while the rest will take place elsewhere in Croatia. The National and University Library (NSK) will be the main venue of the presidency, and there will be another ‘central venue’ in Zagreb. Formal dinners will be held at locations such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Mimara Museum, the Preporodna Dvorana in Opaticka Street, and the Croatian Music Institute. A Europe that grows, a Europe that protects, a Europe that connects and a Europe that is open and assertive – these are the four areas in which Croatia will adopt the priorities of its presidency, the coordinator concluded. Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman estimated EU presidency costs at around EUR 70m.
EBRD wants to invest in wind farms in Bosnia
The head of the EBRD’s office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Manuela Naessl, said last month the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is prepared to invest EUR 300m in Bosnia and Herzegovina this year. With the investment, the EBRD wants to enhance its investments in the country as well as boost the development of renewable energy sources. To date, the EBRD has invested EUR 2.5 billion in Bosnia, mostly in developing infrastructure. It is a significant financier of the motorway that is part of the Vc corridor and provides favourable loans in an effort to boost the development of private enterprises. The EBRD would now like to expand its investments to the energy sector, primarily with the aim of boosting the use of renewable energy sources as BiH, Naessi said, adding in an interview with the Dnevni Avaz daily that BiH has enormous potential for wind farms. The announcement comes after BiH’s decision to construct a new block of the Tuzla thermal power plant, known as one of the worst polluters in the country. The finance for the EUR 722m investment into the 450 MW block VII comes from a Chinese loan that will cover 85% of that amount. Chinese companies will build the plant. Authorities are determined the project should go ahead despite numerous objections and warnings that the plant will increase the level of pollution not just in the country but also in its neighborhood. The prime minister of the Federation entity, Fadil Novalić, believes there is no alternative to Block VII and that the project was of strategic significance for the country.