WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

Good Tuesday Morning! I hope that you all had a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend filled with hamburgers, hot dogs, and sunshine!

BIDEN ANNOUNCES KOSOVO AMB NOMINEE: U.S. President Joe Biden announced Jeffrey M. Hoveneier as Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo. Hovenier, a career Foreign Service Officer, is currently is the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. He has served in Germany, Croatia, Greece, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the OSCE, and on the staff of the UN Special Envoy for Kosovo Status. In addition, he served as Director for Central and Southeastern European Affairs at the NSC.

WESTERN BALKAN LEADERS, ANALYSTS GATHER AT PRESPA DIALOGUE FORUM: Analysts and leaders of the Balkans gathered on July 1-2 at Lake Prespa for the Prespa Dialogue Forum hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of N. Macedonia. See news about the event here:

MERKEL HOSTS WESTERN BALKANS BERLIN PROCESS SUMMIT: German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted her final Berlin Process Summit with the Western Balkan six countries on Monday over video conference.

  • Chancellor Merkel noted that reforms are taking a bit longer than expected which has in turn slowed down the EU enlargement process.
  • “This accession process is taking longer than some expected and hoped it would. When we started the Berlin Process in 2014, it enabled cooperation within the region with the help of support programs from the European Commission and the EBRD, but there are always some unpredictable difficulties,” said Merkel.
  • The European Commission President Ursala von der Leyen noted, “Our first priority is to accelerate the enlargement agenda across the region and support our Western Balkan partners in their work to deliver on the necessary reforms to advance on their European path.”
  • Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi highlighted, “Closing the socio-economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU is crucial for the Enlargement process. We are bringing significant investment opportunities to the region through the Economic and Investment Plan.”
  • Read the EC’s full statement HERE.

Learn more about the progress of the WB6 towards European integration  HERE.

DJUKANOVIĆ ON THIRD PARTY INTERFERENCE: Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanović warned that the slow EU enlargement process could “open space for the influence of third parties,” if EU enlargement doesn’t happen at a quicker pace in an interview with TV21 from N. Macedonia. He noted that Kosovo should receive visa liberalization, the EU should open negotiations with N. Macedonia and Albania, and Montenegro and Serbia’s process should move along quicker.

DAS PALMER VISITS BiH, SPEAKS TO KOSOVO MEDIA: U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer and the EU’s Angelina Eichorst met with Bosnia’s political leaders including the SDA’s Bakir Izetbegović and HDZ-BiH’s Dragan Čović on Sunday before meeting with presidency members on Monday.

  • DAS Palmer on Monday noted, “We have no solutions, but what we have is the desire and will to help and encourage talks, in order to somehow give that feeling, an ‘injection’ of urgency – how important and urgent it is to resolve these issues as soon as possible.”
  • “There is a chance the issues of the reform of the BiH Election Law, limited constitutional reform, but also the economic reform, as well as issues that need to be resolved in order for BiH to move towards prosperity and stability be done that this year, which is a non-election year,” he added.
  • While speaking Kosovo’s media on Sunday, he urged Kosovo to implement the Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM) since it is “an obligation that Kosovo has undertaken and one that it needs to deliver.” He added that previous agreements signed by both sides should be implemented. Kosovo PM Albin Kurti has been against establishing the ASM and recently said it is unconstitutional because of its mono-ethnic nature.

SEN. ERNST MEETS KOSOVO’S LEADERS, VISITS BONDSTEEL: U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R, IA) visited Kosovo over July 4th weekend which included meeting President Vjosa Osmani and PM Albin Kurti, and visiting U.S. troops based at Camp Bondsteel on Independence Day. Sen. Ernst served in the Iowa National Guard from 1993 to 2005 and has been a staunch supporter of the Iowa National Guard-Kosovo Security Forces State Partnership Program established in 2011.

KOSOVO CONVICTS POLICEMAN OF WARTIME RAPE: In a first of its kind, a Kosovo court convicted former Serb policeman Zoran Vukotić for wartime rape and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was convicted of committing rape and participating in expulsions of ethnic Albanians in Vushtrri/Vučitrn in 1999.

STOLTENBERG VISITS KOSOVO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with NATO’s KFOR Commander Major General Franco Federici, personnel from 27 troop contributing nations, and the Director of the NATO Advisory and Liaison Team Brigadier General Jörg Rütter on July 1.

  •  Stoltenberg said, “KFOR mission is important not only for Kosovo and for the region, but also for NATO and for all NATO allies, because we have seen throughout history that stability in this region matters for all of us. It matters for Europe, it matters for NATO.”
  • “My main message today is to thank all the men and women serving in KFOR and I commend you for the way you have been able to cope with the pandemic, as you also conduct your important work in the KFOR mission,” added Stoltenberg.

SERBIA AIMS TO BUY FRENCH ARMS, EQUIPMENT: “Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s Defence Minister, and Thierry Carlier, Director of International Development in the French General Directorate for Armament, discussed on Monday the obtainment of weapons and equipment for the Army of Serbia (VS).

“So far, the activities of military-economic cooperation have been assessed as successful and meaningful, the Defence Ministry’s statement has said.” (N1)

PDK ELECTS NEW LEADER: The Democratic Party of Kosovo has elected Memli Krasniqi as its new party leader, succeeding Kadri Veseli who has been detained in The Hague by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. Krasniqi has previously served as Minister of Culture and Minister of Agriculture in PDK-led governments.

WHAT’S UP WITH THE WASHINGTON AGREEMENT?: Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučićon Thursday said that only it will decide when it will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Vučić signed obligations on September 4, 2020 at The White House which included moving the embassy.

  • Vučić noted, “Israel, meanwhile, has recognised Kosovo, we are talking to the Americans and the EU, and we will, in accordance with international law, but also with the interests of Serbia, and those interests have changed since Israel recognized Kosovo, make decisions in the future, respecting friendship with Israel, but also respecting ourselves.”

ALBANIA PARTICIPATES IN TURKISH-LED MILITARY DRILLS: Albania’s Special Forces have been participating in military drills in Turkey since June 28 with the special forces of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, as well as participating observers Kosovo and Mongolia.

KOSOVO MUNICIPALITY TAKES SERB RETURNEE TO COURT: The Gjakova/Djakovica Municipality has taken Serb returnee Slavica Gašić to court in an attempt to have her rent contract annulled. Gašić returned to her apartment after 22 years and has faced calls to be “evicted” from the municipality until the missing are found. She claims she has faced constant threats, banging on her doors, and throwing stones at her windows. Last week, a the municipality refused to allow her to put a reinforced door on her apartment. The court is unable to locate Gašić.

ALBANIA’S NATIONAL THEATRE PROCEEDINGS SUSPENDED: “After three sessions, the Constitutional Court in Tirana has suspended the legal initiatives that paved the way for construction of a new National Theatre undertaken by the government and the Municipality of Tirana until the court issues a final decision on the issue. The old National Theatre was demolished in May 2020, after three years of protests by activists.” (Balkan Insight)

TURKSTREAM CONNECTS HUNGARY TO SERBIA: Serbian state-owned company Srbijagas and Hungary’s FGSZ completed a cross-border connection as a part of Russia’s TurkStream pipeline.

ALBANIA + BECHTEL + HYDROPOWER: Albania’s Ministry of Infrastructure signed an agreement with U.S. company Bechtel to construct the first stage of the Skavica hydropower plant. The first stage focuses on environmental studies. The U.S. is funding the project.

BUGATTI AND RIMAC LINK UP: “Volkswagen Group and Porsche have agreed to create a new joint venture that combines Rimac, a Croatian company that makes electric supercars, with Bugatti.

“The new company will be called Bugatti-Rimac and will make both Bugatti and Rimac cars. Bugatti, like Porsche, is part of the Volkswagen Group. Porsche also owns a stake in Rimac.” (CNN Business)

GOING GREEN IN THE REGION: “Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), with North Macedonia planning to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2027 and potentially become the first coal-free country in the Western Balkans, the Alliance said.

Montenegro plans to phase out coal by 2035, whereas Croatia has committed to working with the alliance to set a coal phase-out date soon, the PPCA said in a statement on Wednesday.

North Macedonia currently gets around half of its power from burning lignite, the PPCA.” (Renewables Now)

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: Press Freedom Deteriorating in Slovenia under Latest Janša Government by the Media Freedom Rapid Response Press Freedom Mission to Slovenia

OP-EDFrom Powder Keg to Power House: Engineering the Western Balkans for Success by Joseph Vann in Modern Diplomacy

ANALYSIS: Montenegro’s government totters in The Economist

ANALYSISThe EU’s Green Agenda for the Western Balkans Packs a Risky Geopolitical Agenda by Allison Carragher in Carnegie Europe

ANALYSISHow Aleksandar Vučić stole the vaccine-diplomacy show by Dimitar Vechev in Atlantic Council

ANALYSISPowers of New High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina Lie in Board’s Hands by Dino Jahić in VoA

ANALYSISThe Balkans rediscover socialism in Le Monde diplomatique

ANALYSISAlbania and Kosovo: Unification through the back door? by Nikola Djordjević in Emerging Europe

ANALYSISNorth Macedonia, Europe is more than a football field by Francesco Martino in Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa