WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

ALBANIA & N. MACEDONIA BLOCKED FROM OPENING EU TALKS: Bulgaria officially utilized its veto to block N. Macedonia from opening EU accession talks over claims that the Macedonian identity and language are a Yugoslav creation therefore a  Macedonian minority in Bulgaria cannot exist. Meanwhile, the Netherlands blocked Albania from opening talks over the lack of progress on guidelines set by the EU Council regarding new electoral law and the Supreme Court from being able to operate independently.

  • Albanian PM Edi Rama blamed local Dutch elections in March 2021 as the reason why Albania was blocked. He highlighted, “The decision to hold the conference or not is not related to what we do but to the agenda of a country. The domestic narrative of a country plays a role in decision-making.”
  • PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev slammed Bulgaria for imposing unrealistic demands on its Skopje to open the talks calling it a “geostrategic mistake.” He added, “The Bulgarian attitude is irrational and offensive for Macedonians. It is not democratic and European to say to others how they feel, how they should self-determine themselves in the 21st century. It’s not a European attitude to write some other nation’s history; to impose the identities and convince it to accept.”
  • But noted, “North Macedonia remains committed to seeking a solution with Bulgaria without any encroachment into the Macedonian identity.”
  • Bulgarian FM Ekaterina Zaharieva defended Bulgaria’s veto by claiming it is not a veto since it was not voted on yesterday. Instead, she highlighted Sofia is urging compliance with the 2017 Friendship Agreement and that N. Macedonia is attempting to escape the shared history of the two countries.
  • German Minister for EU Affairs Michael Roth squarely blamed Bulgaria for not opening talks with N. Macedonia during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. He said, “It’s a single country, one country only, which wasn’t able to agree to the negotiating framework. I’m sure you can feel my very personal disappointment. Myself, the German foreign minister , and the chancellor were very committed to this process.”
  • EU Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi also expressed disappointment with the process. He tweeted, “Disappointed that we could not move forward on negotiating frameworks with #NorthMacedonia & #Albania, but I hope that in a very short period of time we will be able to. We need to break the deadlock quickly. This is important for #WesternBalkans and for the #EU.”

AMB. NELSON MEETS WITH PARTY LEADERS, EU AMB: U.S. Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson, party leaders from HDZ-BiH and SDA, Dragan Covic and SDA Bakir Izetbegovic, and EU Ambassador/Special Representative to BiH Johann Sattler met yesterday “to discuss next steps on vital electoral reforms, including adoption of ODIHR/GRECO recommendations and relevant decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court and European Court of Human Rights.”

ECHR RULES AGAINST BiH ON ETHNICITY….AGAIN: “The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday handed down yet another ruling, in a case filed by Svetozar Pudaric, confirming that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) violates the rights of its citizens by discriminating against them based on ethnicity and the territory they live in.

“Pudaric, a former vice president of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Croat-Bosniak Federation entity, was an ethnic Serb who was prevented from standing for election to the country’s collective presidency due to his place of residence.

“The ruling, published on the ECHR website, says that it has found that the relevant provision of Article V of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not meet the standards of prevention of discrimination from Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms because it does not ensure the political equality of its citizens.” (N1)

VUCIC ON HFAC HEARING: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he hoped the Biden Administration would have a different view towards Serbia after the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the Western Balkans. He said the U.S. is ready to pressure Serbia on Kosovo and Republika Srpska noting it “would be more difficult” in the incoming administration. He added that he would receive a Nobel Peace Prize if he recognized Kosovo’s independence.

EP URGES RECOGNITION WITHIN THE EU: A draft report written by EU Rapporteur for Kosovo Viola von Cramon highlighted the remaining five EU non-recognizers (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain) to recognize Kosovo as an independent country. She argues that it would lead to greater confidence in the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. Von Cramon also urged visa liberalization for Kosovo.

  • Reports on Albania, Kosovo, N. Macedonia, and Serbia will be presented today at AFET. Read the draft reports on Albania, Kosovo, N. Macedonia, and Serbia HERE. View the AFET agenda for tomorrow’s meetings HERE.

SLOVENIA TO REPRESENT CROATIA IN EUROPE: At the summit of leaders of EU countries, Slovenian PM Janez Jansa will represent Croatia at meetings tomorrow after Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic went into self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.

  • PM Plenkovic noted, “Given that I will not be able to travel to Brussels tomorrow, I spoke with President Zoran Milanovic and offered that he go and represent Croatia in my place. He expressed his appreciation for the consideration but declined my offer given the subject matter on tomorrow’s agenda. I then proposed that we authorize Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa represent Croatia, which the president agreed to. In the meantime I talked with Mr. Jansa and he accepted the offer to represent Croatia in Brussels tomorrow.”

MONTENEGRIN LEADERSHIP MEETS BORRELL: Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapic, President of Parliament Aleksa Becic, Deputy PM Dritan Abazovic, and FM Djordje Radulovic met virtually with the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell who welcomed Montenegro’s continued pursuit of joining the EU. Borrell urged the new Montenegrin government to take the next few months to make political and economic reforms.

  • Speaking of the EU and Montenegro, PM Krivokapic is set to visit Brussels next week on his first trip abroad as PM. He is due to meet with High Representative Borrell and EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi.

MONTENEGRO + SERBIA: Montenegrin FM Radulovic yesterday said an aim of the new government is “recover all relations with Serbia based on the principles of sovereignty, independence and without interference into internal issues.” FM Radulovic highlighted that the decision to expel Serbia’s ambassador cannot be reversed after 72 hours.

GERMANY COMMITS 72.1M TO KOSOVO: Germany committed 72.1 million euros to Kosovo to support “sustainable economic development, including vocational education and business development, the EU integration reform process and for significant investments in public infrastructure, including renewable energy in Kosovo” over a two-year period.

VUCIC + EBRD: “Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic asked the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Odile Renaud-Basso for further support of the country’s infrastructure, particularly regarding a motorway connecting southern city of Nis to Kosovo’s capital Pristina.

“Renaud-Basso said the Bank was ready to help in the development of the railway and Belgrade Port infrastructure.

“The EBRD has already allocated 85 million Euro in support of Nis-Pristina motorway, Vucic’s office said in a statement.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “‘Getting on the Radar’: China’s Rising Media Presence in South East Europe” by Vladimir Shopov in The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation/European Council on Foreign Relations

POLICY BRIEF: “Viral vulnerability: How the pandemic is making democracy sick in the Western Balkans” by Beata Huszka and Tanja Lessenska in European Council on Foreign Relations

OP-ED: “Bosnia and Herzegovina – Where do we go from here?” by UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Matthew Field in Balkan Journey

OP-ED: “Jansa’s Media War is a Dead End for Slovenia” by Alem Maksuti in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “Is it time to rethink Kosovo’s political system?” by Agron Demi in Prishtina Insight

OP-ED: “Kosovo edging towards another election as leaders disagree on electing new president” in Gazeta Express

ANALYSIS: “How do we judge women who kill their abusive partners?” by Shqipe Gjocaj in Kosovo 2.0

ANALYSIS: “Montenegro: New government, old problems” by Nikola Djordjevic in Emerging Europe

HUMAN INTEREST: “Meet the talented 13-year-old Croatian-Canadian heavy metal songwriter” in Croatia Week

CULTURE: “Google Year in Search 2020: What was googled the most in Croatia” in Croatia Week

TRAVEL: “Mali Losinj Boutique Hotel Alhambra Ranked Among Top 10 European Hotels” by Lauren Simmonds in Total Croatia News