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 Nova.rs 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 Nova.rs 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.