WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

VUCIC + MERKEL: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic yesterday spoke  with German Chancellor Angela Merkel via video conference. They discussed the trade partnership, the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, and Serbia’s EU path. Chancellor Merkel highlighted, “The economy is a strong link between our two countries” and President Vucic noted, “Germany is our largest trading partner, even during the global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.” Read the press statement from Vucic’s office HERE (in Serbian).

VUCIC ADDRESSES SERBIA: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addressed the nation on state run RTS and said today he will be speaking with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. He added that he foresees a bilateral meeting with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in the first half of 2021. On the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, he announced the next meeting at the expert level will take place on December 10.

UK IN THE BALKANS
N. Macedonia + UK Trade Agreement:  FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani yesterday met with UK Ambassador to N. Macedonia Rachel Galloway to sign a Partnership, Trade & Cooperation Agreement. N. Macedonia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Western Balkans.

  • Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Minister for the European Neighborhood and the Americas Wendy Morton welcomed the move. She said it “sets the foundations for an even more ambitious relationship between our countries. This includes future cooperation in tackling climate change, improving education, and standing up for human rights.”
  • And highlighted, “The Agreement will also strengthen our already substantial ties in trade and investment. North Macedonia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Western Balkans and the UK is North Macedonia’s second largest import market. The signing of this Agreement gives exporters and consumers the certainty they need to continue trading freely and with confidence as the Transition Period ends.”
  • International Trade Minister Ranil Jayawardena noted, “Free and fair trade is vital as we work to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus, and so I am delighted that today we’ve secured our trading relationship with North Macedonia.”
  • Ambassador Galloway tweeted, “By signing the Agreement, we have reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to a close relationship with MK and to playing a continued positive role in the region. The UK remains committed to North Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic path and we will continue to stand together as NATO Allies.”
  • Read the full UK press statement HERE.

UK’s MP Wendy Morton in Serbia: UK MP Wendy Morton who serves as the Minister for the European Neighborhood and the Americas on Tuesday visited Serbia where she met with PM Ana Brnabic, FM Nikola Selakovic, Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar, Chief Negotiatior for the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Petar Petkovic, and Justice Minister Maja Popovic. The talks centered around bilateral relations, the Covid-19 response, rule of law, the trade partnership, and opportunities in the dialogue with Pristina.

INZKO’S RELATIONSHIP W/ BOSNIAN CROATS, SERBS

  • High Representative to BiH Valentin Inzko and leader of the HDZ-BiH Dragan Covic appear to be renewing their relationship after Covic sent a letter to Inzko. The High Rep. noted, “I perceive Covic’s letter as friendly, there are positive elements in it, he has extended the hand and we are arranging a meeting.”
  • Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik has inflamed hostilities between himself and the High Rep.
  • Dodik said at a press conference, “Who else believes Inzko? Whom can he give a deadline to? He can’t even give his own… Where is his support for something like that? That’s the story from Sarajevo because a new US administration is coming, so Inzko is trying to do something. Where does he get the authority from to change policies? Where does it say in the Dayton? Where did he read that he could do that? These are serious discussions, and he is frivolous. He’s nothing but a scoundrel. Who’s he going to punish? What kind of punishment will he impose? Inzko is a funny figure from whom Sarajevo expects to punish and sanction someone.”
  • He closed with a challenge to Inzko – “I challenge him to show me what he’s got, go on, tough guy, dismiss me.”
  • Inzko said that Dodik had “crossed the line.”

KOSOVO PRESIDENCY: PM Avdullah Hoti yesterday told media, “Soon we will organise a roundtable of political parties to see their mood on election of the new president.” Parliament Speaker Vjosa Osmani has been acting president since Hashim Thaci stepped down from the post after being indicted on war crimes.

DELEGATION TO SERBIA: A delegation from Kosovo will travel to Serbia today to the site of a mass grave of suspected Kosovar Albanians. Kosovo’s delegation will be led by the representative for missing persons on Kosovo’s negotiating team in the dialogue with Serbia Ibrahim Makolli. He will be joined by the head of Serbia’s Missing Persons Commission Veljko Odalovic.

DON’T MISS IT!: We’ve heard the views of officials and analysts about the oldest dispute in former Yugoslavia: the stand-off over Kosovo. Now it’s time to find out what the citizens of Serbia and Kosovo think.  Learn more and register here to join SAIS Foreign Policy Institute this Monday, December 7th at 9:30AM ET for a special event, as two leading think-tanks in Serbia and Kosovo present their latest findings from parallel surveys:

VULIN MEETS DODIK IN BANJA LUKA: Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin met with Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik in Banja Luka on Thursday to increase cooperation between Serbia and the Republika Srpska (RS) entity. Vulin pinpointed RS and Bosnian citizens in RS as vital to Serbia.

  • After the meeting, Vulin noted, “Every threat to security and peace in Republika Srpska is also a threat to the security and peace in Serbia. Every misfortune that happens to Serbia is equally a misfortune for the citizens of Republika Srpska.”
  • And added, “When any kind of training is needed that Serbia can provide, all security capacities of Serbia are available to the RS. The RS is our priority, the safety of citizens is just as important to us as the safety of Serbian citizens” after announcing joint police drills between Serbia’s special police units and counterparts in RS.

BOSNIA’S HEAD OF THE HJPC IN JEOPARDY?: “The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HJPC) has the crucial task of ensuring the independence of the judiciary and guaranteeing the proper functioning of the entire judicial system in the country, the European Union’s office in Sarajevo said following the session of Bosnia’s top judicial body on Thursday, whose members called on its President to ‘consider resigning.'” (N1)

IBM TO USE HUAWEI DATA CENTER IN SERBIA: American technology company IBM has entered the Serbian market as the first commercial user of the State Data Center in Kragujevac that was funded by the Chinese government and set up by Huawei. PM Ana Brnabic called IBM’s arrival a “milestone” and “a turning point for Serbia.”

GREECE + BULGARIA: Greek FM Nikos Dendias spoke with Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva ahead of the EU Council meetings. Dendias noted on Twitter that they held an  “In-depth discussion on recent developments in #EasternMediterranean & the wider region. #WesternBalkans EU perspective also in focus.”

GET BETTER SOON!: The Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Bosnia was hospitalized after testing positive for Covid-19 two days ago. We wish him a swift recovery.

IT’S ELECTRIC!: “A surge in the use of special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC) for raising money for electric vehicle start-ups could harm the long-term prospects of the industry, Mate Rimac, founder of electric hypercar maker Rimac, said on Thursday.

“Managers of SPAC companies are not held to the same level of liability about potential growth prospects as managers who raise cash via an initial public offering (IPO) on equity markets, spurring concerns about an investor bubble.” (Reuters)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Dayton Bosnia is 25, time to act like an adult” by Daniel Serwer in Peacefare

OP-ED: “How to advance a European solution to Bulgaria’s and North Macedonia’s dispute” by Goran Buldioski and Vessela Tcherneva in The European Council on Foreign Relations

ANALYSIS: “Winter and growing animosity force migrants in Bosnia into retreat” by Jelena Prtoric in The New Humanitarian

ANALYSIS: “Under the Radar: The 5G Spat in the Balkans” by Fabio Telrico in Global Risk Insights

ANALYSIS: “Slovenia Govt Condemned for Cutting Funds to Public News Agency” by Anja Vladisavljevic in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “Kosovo ethnic divide eases as Muslim cares for elderly Serb” in AP News

TRAVEL: “Montenegro: Where the Slivovitz flows and life is easy” by Daniel Wood in The Vancouver Sun

TRAVEL: “Foca, a town surrounded by the highest of mountains, the thickest of forests” in N1