Albania Swears in Ninth President Bajram Begaj

Albania’s new President, Bajram Begaj, was sworn in on Sunday (24 July) and called for the country’s political parties to cooperate on matters key to the future, particularly the rule of law.

Begaj is a retired military officer who had a long career in the Albanian Army before resigning his post as Chief of General Staff to accept the role of President. Politically independent, he was nominated by the ruling Socialist Party and received 78 votes out of 140 seats.

“I will be a servant of our people, a staunch collaborator of national unity. I will be a contributor and supporter of communication and initiatives and ideas that move our society forward,” the ninth president said in his speech.

He added that dialogue and cooperation between political forces, listening to the voice of the free media, and respect and acceptance of debate are needed for the country’s progress.

“Our common interest remains the consolidation of institutions that have the responsibility to protect and promote the interests of Albanians wherever they are,” he added.

Before the official swearing-in ceremony, outgoing president Ilir Meta received Begaj at the presidency. He took the opportunity to show him around his new offices and to shake his hand.

Meta’s five-year term was rocked by turbulence as the Socialist Party tried to impeach him on more than one occasion, dismissing him in June 2021. A decision on his dismissal was then sought in the Constitutional Court. They claimed that comments and actions by the president during the 2021 electoral campaign violated various laws and incited violence.

The Constitutional Court struck down all claims, claiming that it did not find any evidence of the violation of laws.

Albania officially opened negotiations towards EU membership on Tuesday (19 July) in a ceremony in Brussels where no representatives of opposition parties were present.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said this was due to not knowing who the opposition was, about the division of the Democratic Party into two factions, one led by Enkelejd Alibeaj and the other by ex-prime minister and president Sali Berisha.

Both claim they are the legitimate leader, and the other is illegitimate.

Berisha was declared persona non grata by the UK last week, a year after the US made the same designation.

The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell welcomed his swearing in at this “historic milestone on its road to the EU.”

Russia Today to Open Offices in Serbia

Russia’s state television Russia Today will open offices in Serbia. The EU has banned the station’s broadcasting activities “for inciting and supporting Russia’s aggression” against Ukraine. The information was confirmed for by Sputnik Serbia’s editor-in-chief Ljubinka Milincic.

“Yes, it is true. They will not start work in Serbia now, but preparations are underway,” Milincic said. According to information, Milincic’s daughter will head the television, but this was neither confirmed nor denied by Ljubinka Milincic.

“Should I let you in on that secret, or not? Leave it for them to say,” said Sputnik Serbia editor-in-chief. The Council of the European Union (EU) decided in March this year to suspend the broadcasting activities of the Russian state media Russia Today and Sputnik in the whole of the EU. The sanctions imposed by the EU refer to the transmission or distribution by any means such as cable, satellite, IP-TV, platforms, websites, and applications, and all relevant licenses, authorization, and distribution arrangements have been suspended, the Council said.

Brussels said that these two media outlets were important instruments in “inciting and supporting Russia’s aggression” against Ukraine, and are “a significant and direct threat to the EU’s public order and security”.

NATO Delegation Visits Bosnia to Assess Progress in Partnership for Peace

A delegation from the NATO Headquarters in Brussels visited Bosnia this week in order to conduct a joint assessment with BiH institutions of the progress that the country has made within the framework of participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

The PfP program is designed to help preserve security, stability, and prosperity for the citizens of all allied and partner countries through enhanced dialogue and cooperation. Within the framework of the PfP program, countries, such as BiH, identify their priorities, goals, and areas in which they need the help of the Alliance.

The result is a customized, tailor-made support package that helps BiH ensure civilian democratic control and oversight of the Armed Forces, effective management of the budget, developing capabilities that benefit citizens, manage civilian emergencies, crises, and disasters, including water rescue, and rescue by air, developing fire fighting capacities, as well as the developing Armed Forces that work together and according to the highest international standards.

This visit followed only a few days after the NATO allies agreed on a significant expansion of support to BiH at the Madrid summit. Commander of the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo, Brigadier General Pamela McGaha, referred to this greater support offered and praised the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces of BiH for their achievements so far.

“It has been 15 years since Bosnia and Herzegovina entered our Partnership for Peace program. At the summit in Madrid last week, BiH was given more attention than ever before and support was offered throughout the Alliance. In a little more than two months, the largest unit of BiH will complete the NATO evaluation process. These achievements underline the strong commitment of both parties in this partnership – both the Alliance and BiH – for reforms and modernization. Your efforts in this area will enable the security, stability, and prosperity of BiH and all its citizens in the future”, McGaha stated.

GRECO Says Serbia to Introduce Anti-Corruption Measures for Top Officials

The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) said in a report released on Tuesday (05.07) that Serbia should introduce a number of measures to prevent corruption among the country’s top executives.

“A public strategy on corruption prevention covering explicitly persons in top executive posts (PTEF) should be developed, with clear goals and an assessment of their achievement. In order to prevent risks of conflicts of interest in government, integrity checks should be carried out as part of appointment procedures,” the report said adding that more transparency is needed on contacts between PTEFs and lobbyists, with a broader definition of lobbying and regular reports on contacts.

It said that Serbian should adopt rules including integrity checks for top executive posts prior to appointment to identify conflicts of interests and that laws being introduced by the government should undergo public consultations.

Regular controls should be launched to check asset and income declarations of persons in top executive posts and the competencies of the Prosecutor for Organized Crime should be expanded to cover all top executive posts. Strategic documents should be introduced to prevent corruption in the government and the president’s administration. The role of the Anti-Corruption Agency should be reinforced by making its recommendations and the response of the executive authorities public and the Law on Prevention of Corruption should be expanded to cover all top executive posts.

The report said that rejections of requests for information from the Government and the Presidential administration should be open to appeal with the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the immunity provided to Government members ought to exclude corruption-related offenses.

It said that a strategy for preventing corruption in the police needs to be introduced to set out clear goals and identify risks. “Measures should also be taken for a more open and transparent procedure for the appointment of the Chief of Police and other senior management posts. The existing Code of Police Ethics needs revamping in order to cover all relevant integrity topics and be accompanied by practical examples. Training for new recruits and serving police officers should be based on this revised code and be compulsory for all. Further measures should also be taken all along the career of police officers to ensure that regular vetting takes place, and that rotation is organized in risk-prone areas,” the report said.

The report recalled Serbia has been a member of GRECO since 2003 and has undergone four evaluation rounds focusing on different topics related to the prevention and fight against corruption.

NATO Prepared a Response in Case Russia Vetoes EUFOR

Bosnia’s Defence Minister Sifet Podzic said from Madrid, Spain, that NATO decided to significantly help BiH, and that the country is considered part of a single European security structure. Podzic is the only defense minister from Membership Action Plan (MAP) member states to attend the NATO summit in Madrid. He pointed out that there was some concern in NATO about the EUFOR mission and its mandate and the potential veto, but that NATO had made it clear that they were ready to take a role in BiH if that happened.

“Last night I was very proud and I am glad that the allies are united in supporting and helping Bosnia and Herzegovina. The topic of the dinner was the Western Balkans and NATO, but it turned into BiH and NATO because I was the only non-NATO Defence Minister present,” Podzic said.

Regarding a possible Russian veto in the Security Council concerning the European peacekeeping force (EUFOR) mission in BiH, Podzic stated that the allies have a plan for a strong response.

“The allies are preparing a strong response to this possibility, and that is their obligation under the Dayton Peace Agreement, according to Annexes 1a and 1b, because they are in charge of implementing peace in the Balkans,” Podzic explained. Podzic elaborated that Bosnia has already started implementing measures from the new NATO package to help the country.

“NATO decided at an extraordinary summit last month to allocate this aid and equipment package. This was confirmed here yesterday and it is the most important thing for us. We are practically placed in the full architecture of future European security as if we were NATO member states. This will enable BiH to quickly conduct defense reviews, and modernize the armed forces, but it will also help due to the problems that BiH has with the budget,” Podzic said.

The Minister also said that any objections coming from the Republika Srpska (RS) entity will not prevent the implementation of this plan, as there are already documents that have traced BiH’s path towards the Alliance.

Rama: Relationship with Vucic aimed at not having ‘a radicalized Serbia’

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said during a visit to Kosovo that Albania’s efforts to build good regional relations with Serbia were in part to keep Belgrade in the Western orbit.

“It’s not in our interest to have radicalized Serbia, especially in today’s world”, Rama said at a joint press conference with his Kosovo counterpart in Prishtina, Albin Kurti. 

Rama was responding to criticism over perceptions that he is placing his relations with Serb President Aleksandar Vucic over Albanian interests in the region, especially those in Kosovo, where Rama and Kurti led a joint Albania-Kosovo governments meeting on Monday (20.06).

Rama and Kurti made it clear that they don’t see eye to eye on some issues, especially on Serbia and participation in the Open Balkan initiative, but said they would work together to bring Albania and Kosovo closer.

“I don’t think our different views on Serbia harm our shared goal – Serbia recognizing Kosovo as independent and the just peace needed for all”, Rama said.  

Prime Minister Kurti was repeatedly asked about Open Balkans, which Kosovo has refused to join as it is seen as a Serb-led initiative outside the EU’s Berlin process, saying he prefered to talk about bilateral cooperation with Albania and plans to have a port section dedicated to Kosovo in Albania’s Adriatic coastline and the construction of a new railway linking Kosovo and Albania.

Cooperation has never been wider and more intensive, both in the use of human resources and natural resources, Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti said at the joint meeting. 

“Relations between our two countries are proof that when there are no unresolved political problems, the success of relations in all other areas is guaranteed. It is also proof that cooperation, integration and sustainable development throughout the region is ensured by solving political problems at the beginning and not at the end”, Prime Minister Kurti said.

The countries’ governments approved 13 intergovernmental agreements and 8 interinstitutional agreements at the eights joint meeting, which have become a regular occurance, twice a year. The agreements ranged from law enforcement and education to customs and energy.

Belgrade-Pristina Negotiators Agree Energy Roadmap

Negotiators from Belgrade and Pristina agreed a roadmap for the implementation of energy agreements, European Commission envoy Miroslav Lajcak said on Tuesday (21.06). 

“Very pleased to announce that Kosovo and Serbia just adopted the Energy Agreements’ Implementation Roadmap in the framework of the EU-facilitated Dialogue. This is a major step forward”, Lajcak tweeted. 

According to the roadmap which Lajcak published on his Twitter account, the Elektrosever power company will be issued a licence by the Kosovo energy regulatory body (ERO) and will provide the Kosovo power company (KEDS) data on its customers within a week. Elektrosever will sign technical agreements with Kosovo energy authorities allowing it to operate on the Kosovo energy market. The roadmap says that Kosovo power companies and institutions will get access to Elektrosever infrastructure within 30 days and will submit an investment plan and planned expenses which the Kosovo authorities will approve within another 21 days. 

The roadmap allows ERO to revoke Elektrosever’s licence in case of non-compliance. 

The Elektrosever company was formed under the 2013 Brussels Agreement which included an energy agreement. The company was supposed to operate under Kosovo regulations and bill consumers in the north of Kosovo. The majority Serb populations of North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok have not been paying their power bills for more than 20 years. The Kosovo authorities have claimed that the losses for 2021 alone totaled some 40 million Euro. 

Scholz and Kurti Met in Pristina

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday (10.06) in Pristina that countries refusing to recognize each other have no place in the European Union (EU) and that Kosovo’s path to the EU is linked with its dialogue with Serbia.

It is important for Kosovo to move the EU-facilitated dialogue forward, Scholz told a news conference following his meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Scholz is currently on a Balkans trip and is also scheduled to visit Serbia, Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Kosovo and Serbia should arrive at political solutions by means of a comprehensive agreement. A dialogue is the path that paves the way for Kosovo’s European prospects. A political agreement between the two countries is an important prerequisite to the future of Kosovo’s youth. The agreement should, in the end, also solve the Kosovo issue because it is inconceivable for two countries that do not recognize each other to become part of the EU. Rapprochement is expected from both sides, Scholz is reported to have said.

The German Chancellor said that Kosovo is a reliable partner which was proved by its response to the Russian aggression on Ukraine and that his visit to Kosovo, which marks the beginning of his Balkans tour, speaks of the close Berlin-Pristina relations.

Announcing that Kosovo will apply for EU membership candidate status this year, Kurti said he asked Scholz for support in the process. The Kosovo PM thanked Scholz for Germany’s continued support, adding that Kosovo will continue to be its loyal ally.

Serbia Not Allowing Kosovo to Participate in EUSAIR as an Independent Country

Serbia said on Monday (30.05) that it would not allow Kosovo to be part of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian Region (EUSAIR) as an independent country.

EUSAIR is a forum bringing together Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, and San Marino, launched in 2014 by the European Commission to help candidate countries and potential candidates draw closer to EU membership.

The ten countries are Adriatic or Ionian countries or are in the hinterland of the two seas, and they gathered in Tirana for an annual conference on 16-18 May. A Kosovo delegation led by Local Government Minister Elbert Krasniqi visited Tirana but did not attend the conference, however, the delegation met with European Commission officials, requesting accession to EUSAIR.

For a country to be admitted to EUSAIR it needs to have the consent of all ten member countries. “Under international law and the UN Charter, Kosovo and Metohija are an integral part of the Republic of Serbia, a member of the United Nations”, the Serbian Foreign Ministry said in an e-mail sent to the Croatian state news agency Hina, noting that parts of EUSAIR member countries cannot participate in EUSAIR because the countries of which they are part of, are already members. In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia and its independence has been recognized by 22 of the 27 EU member countries.

This month Bosnia and Herzegovina took over the presidency of EUSAIR, to last until 31 May 2023, when the chairmanship will be taken over by Croatia. Krasniqi told Hina on Sunday (29.05) he believed that Croatia would support Kosovo’s bid and that during its chairmanship Kosovo could become a member. Croatian state secretary Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, who attended the meeting in Tirana, told Croatian reporters that Kosovo “should certainly be included in all initiatives, including international organizations.”

The EC, the EU’s executive body, said that EUSAIR could further expand but that the admission of new members did not depend on it but on the consent of all ten members, and that Serbia was blocking Kosovo’s entry. In its reply to Hina, the Serbian Foreign Ministry notes that among the EUSAIR member countries are also countries that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence, such as Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina. EUSAIR member-states local and regional authorities, universities, associations, and companies apply jointly for projects financed with money from EU funds.

Kosovo participates only in cross-border cooperation with North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro as part of the IPA program, which enables potential candidates and candidates to use money from EU funds. Krasniqi said that those projects were excellent and that it was a pity Kosovo did not have such projects with Serbia or EU countries like Italy”, as it would provide citizens with additional opportunities. “The Kosovo and Serbian delegations did not meet or talk in Tirana. The Serbian ministry said Krasniqi had not been invited to the forum itself and only attended events on the margins of the conference.

The last country to join EUSAIR was San Marino, in February 2022 while North Macedonia joined in 2021.

“Serbia has good cooperation with the member countries of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative and EUSAIR, and the latest work results of all four pillars show that EUSAIR has a future that will benefit all participating countries”, the Serbian ministry said. EUSAIR builds on the former Adriatic-Ionian Initiative adopted in Ancona in 2000 to promote regional cooperation and political stability as a foundation for the process of European integration.

Izetbegovic Says “Serbian World” is a Threat

SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic on Thursday (26.05) said the danger of the Greater Serbia project in the Balkans has not ended and that cooperation between the Bosniaks and Croats is essential to prevent it, but that it doesn’t exist as HDZ BiH party has decided to cooperate with Banja Luka and Belgrade. 

Addressing a special meeting of the main committee of the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) in Sarajevo on the 32nd anniversary of the party’s establishment, Izetbegovic said that the idea of a Greater Serbia has continued to live in the “Serbian World” project constructed in Belgrade as a version of the “Russian World” as imagined by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. 

Separatism and attempts to destroy BiH as conducted by the Serb member of the Presidency, Milorad Dodik, is a constituent part of that scenario, underscored Izetbegovic. 

A logical response in the fight against that Greater Serbia project, Izetbegovic said, would be cooperation with the “Croat factor,” in BiH and with Croatia because whenever that cooperation existed, the situation in BiH stabilised in everyone’s favour. 

That is not succeeding with the incumbent leader of the HDZ BiH, Dragan Čovic, because, Izetbegovic said, the largest Croat party in BiH has decided to achieve its political objectives by pressuring Bosniaks and cooperating with Dodik, as well as creating Serb-Croat collusion that includes Zagreb and Belgrade while flirting with Russia, undermining the position of the High Representative to BiH and weakening the international factor which is stabilising the situation in BiH. 

Izetbegovic said that SDA will not and cannot agree to any amendments to the election law that would bolster discrimination of BiH citizens, dividing them into legitimate and illegitimate ones, and that would “create a two-third majority rule of ethnocentric Serb and Croat parties” over the Bosniaks.