THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 22


From 1 September 2011 this newsletter service is subscription only. See Balkan News Service for details.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

 

Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • Turkey’s accession to EU implies security risks for the bloc according to British Members of Parliament;
  • Turkish opposition asks about the reasons for top militaries’ resignation;
  • Turkey will not sever diplomatic links with Libya;
  • Free service offered by protesting taxi-drivers in Greece;
  • A fragmentation grenade left in a court building in Bosnia & Herzegovina;
  • Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi threatens with new actions in Northern Kosovo; Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo calls on all Serbs to go to the barricades;
  • NATO sends a battalion in Kosovo;
  • Serbs has spent eight nights on the barricades;
  • At least seven illegal border crossings between Montenegro and Kosovo;
  • US Ambassador in Podgorica Sue Brown sets Serbia and Croatia as example
  • Security agencies hired by Kosovo

Economy:

  • OECD commends reforms in Greece;
  • Investments in Greek shipping industry depend on eradication of corruption and red-tape;
  • Serbia is determined to resolve the embargo issue with Kosovo through CEFTA;
  • Romanian President Traian Basescu said on public radio he does not rule out the possibility of several state-owned companies to go bankrupt;
  • Lukoil oil refinery restarts full-blast operation in Bulgaria;
  • Bulgaria second after Greece in unemployment growth;
  • Bulgarians pay the highest mobile call charges in EU;
  • Croatian government decides on a three-year freeze salaries in the public sector

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey’s accession to EU implies security risks for the bloc according to British Members of Parliament

Turkey’s accession to the European Union would present considerable risks to the security of the EU’s external border and make member states more vulnerable to organized crime according to a group of British Members of Parliament. Turkish Hürriyet newspaper comments that the British lawmakers have expressed concerns about the security risks posed by Turkey’s accession to the European Union, but they also have indicated that membership should bring long-term benefits to the bloc.

British Parliament’s home affairs committee warned that if Turkey joined the EU, the union’s borders would extend to Syria, Iran and Iraq, “which pose a considerable security risk, including as a source of large numbers of irregular migrants”.

It also said Turkish organized crime groups involved in drug trafficking or illegal immigration posed a “substantial threat” to the EU’s internal security.

Home affairs committee’s chairman Keith Vaz has said that cooperation between enforcement agencies from the EU, Turkey and Greece ought to improve since the border between Greece and Turkey is the main entry point for illegal immigrants to the EU.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkish opposition asks about the reasons for top militaries’ resignation

Turkey’s main opposition has expressed respect for high-ranking commanders’ recent decision to resign but questioned the reason behind the move, suggesting the event indicates that the country has entered an “extraordinary period.”

“We respect their democratic reaction. We would, however, like to know the reason behind it. What happened behind closed doors must be brought to light,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told Hürriyet newspaper.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey will not sever diplomatic links with Libya

Turkey does not yet plan to sever bilateral relations with the Libyan regime and will thus not work further to halt the actions of the current Libyan Embassy in Ankara, a Foreign Ministry official said.

“Since we have not broken off state-to-state relations with the Tripoli administration yet, the Libyan Embassy in Ankara remains functioning,” the official told the Hürriyet newspaper.

Athens (Greece)

Free service offered by protesting taxi-drivers in Greece

In an effort to assuage criticism that their strike is harming Greek tourism at such a critical time for the debt-ridden country, taxi drivers, who have been on strike for over three weeks, on 2 August ferried cruise passengers from Patra port to historical sites and landmarks for free after days of blocking tour buses from doing the job, Kathimerini reported.

In Athens however, cabbies, who are opposed to the government’s blueprint for the liberalization of their sector, blocked sections of Mesogeion Avenue on and off through Tuesday morning as they sought a meeting with Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis.

Banja Luka (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

A fragmentation grenade left in a court building in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Sarajevo Canton police are conducting an investigation and a counter-diversion control, by order of the cantonal prosecutor on duty.

According to local media, cited by Tanjug, the judicial police reported to members of the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Interior that the Court building scanner had detected a fragmentation grenade.

The activities to identify the person who brought the package to the entrance point of the court building are underway.

Belgrade (Serbia)/Pristina (Kosovo)

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi threatens with new actions in Northern Kosovo

Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo calls on all Serbs to go to the barricades

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi accused the international community in taking advantage of Pristina’s patience as regards Norther Kosovo. Tachi, accompanied by Kosovo President Atifete Yahaga made an inspection of the Kosovo special units (ROSU).

The Prime Minister of Kosovo announced in a statement, quouted by Radio TV Serbia (RTC) that new actions would follow against the paramilitary formations in Northern Kosovo and contrabandists.

“There is no return to the previous situation,” Tachi said.

Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, called on the Serbs in Kosovo to go to the barricades in Norther Kosovo, B92 radio reported.

„We must gather together as many people as possible and in a peaceful way to express our will and goals,” Bogdanovic said.

Belgrade (Serbia)

NATO sends a battalion in Kosovo

NATO has taken a decision to send support for the KFOR unit in Kosovo, Serbia’s Beta Agency reported. The media informed that the decision was taken by Naples-based NATO commandment at the request of KFOR commander MG Erhard Buhler. According to Beta, a battalion of 700 soldiers will reach Kosovo in the next few days.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Serbs has spent eight nights on the barricades

“The crisis in Kosovo will last as long as the demands of the Serbs are not fulfilled and things do not return to the way they were before the intervention of the Kosovo special police units ROSU,” said State Secretary with the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija Oliver Ivanovic.

“For the time being, there are to be no Albanians and Kosovo customs at the crossings in northern Kosovo. Their presence there can be the result of the negotiations in Brussels, but as long as that does not happen, things have to remain the way they were before July 25,” Ivanovic told Tanjug.In his words, negotiations present the only way for the solution of the crisis.

As opposed to the situation at the administrative crossing Jarinje, there were no rigorous controls of goods at the Brnjak crossing near the town of Zubin Potok early on 2 August

Tanjug learned that smaller-sized vehicles had no trouble delivering bread and milk from central Serbia to Kosovo via the crossing at Brnjak. The Brnjak crossing is under the control of KFOR members from France, Morocco and Austria, with members of Kosovo border police also stationed at the checkpoint.

Local Serbs spent their eighth night in a row behind roadblocks they set up in the village of Zupce, Zubin Potok municipality, on the road to the administrative crossing Brnjak, in the village of Rudare, Zvecan municipality, and in the town of Leposavic on the road leading to the Jarinje crossing.

Podgorica (Montenegro)

At least seven illegal border crossings between Montenegro and Kosovo

There are at least seven illegal crossings on mountains between Montenegro and Kosovo over which all kinds of goods are smuggled and the police are not doing anything to stop it, an unnamed police source has told the Podgorica-based daily Vijesti.

The locations where criminal groups from Montenegro and Kosovo perform exchange of goods can be precisely identified. The source points out that one of the smuggling routes is from the village of Boge, Montenegro, over Mount Hajla to the village of Hadzovici. The village is notorious for smuggling of all kinds of goods. It is located practically on the borderline, a little into the Kosovo territory. The illegally imported timber from Montenegro is reportedly stored the most in the village of Rausici, and the village of Dretalj in the Rugova Gorge is used when it comes to transportation and storage of firearms.

This village is infamous for smuggling weapons from all over the Balkans, especially from Bosnia, Vijesti reported.

Podgorica (Montenegro)

US Ambassador in Podgorica Sue Brown sets Serbia and Croatia as example

Montenegro needs to show concrete results in the rule of law and achieve breakthroughs in that field like Serbia and Croatia, US Ambassador in Podgorica Sue K. Brown has said, quoted by Tanjug.

“Countries that are serious about establishing the rule of law are working on achieving that goal like Croatia and Serbia. The two countries made a positive change, and we want to see Montenegro do the same. Montenegro can learn much from its neighbors,” Brown said.

She pointed out that Montenegro must show concrete results in the rule of law.

The U.S. ambassador expressed satisfaction that a special investigation team had been formed to combat corruption and organized crime. Brown said that Washington highly appreciates Montenegro’s participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan and reiterated the U.S. support for the country on its road to NATO.

Pristina (Kosovo)

Security agencies hired by Kosovo

The Kosovo Security Council adopted recommendations to hire security agencies to enforce law and order in northern Kosovo and intervene in case Kosovo’s sovereignty and constitutional order are threatened, Tanjug reports.

The Security Council requires the security agencies to be at full readiness to intervene at any time with all disposable means if Kosovo’s sovereignty and constitutional order are threatened, says the statement. The Security Council asks all security agencies and relevant government ministries to coordinate their actions and meet the needs of all people in northern Kosovo. The assistance should focus on providing food and drugs so that a humanitarian crisis is averted. Kosovo security agencies should coordinate their actions with the international mechanism in order to unblock roads and ensure free passage of people and goods.

Until that happens, security agencies should open new channels through which basic goods will be delivered to the people of Kosovo, concluded the Security Council at a session presided by Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Tachi.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece)

OECD commends reforms in Greece

“The key to success will be in the implementation, which will have to be impeccable,”OECD stated. According to the Paris-based organization, the Greek economy, which is undergoing painstaking austerity reforms monitored by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, is set to contract 3.5 percent in 2011. The economy is forecast to limp to growth of 0.6 per cent next year, it said. The OECD also forecast an unemployment rate of 16 per cent in 2011 and 16.4 per cent in 2012, with inflation at 2.9 per cent and then 0.7 per cent.

Greece is currently in talks with its creditors to reduce its debt of over 350 billion euros (US$504 billion) by 26.1 billion euros under a second bailout accord agreed last month.

It hopes to achieve this by buying back or rolling over maturing debt and from lower interest on a 110-billion-euro bailout agreed with the EU and the International Monetary Fund last year which included a quid pro quo of tough austerity measures.

Eurozone leaders last month agreed a second rescue package for Athens worth 109 billion euros ($158 billion), plus about 50 billion euros from the private sector up to 2014 alone.

The OECD qualified the reforms in Greece over the past year as  impressive and emphasized the unprecedented cuts in the public deficit.

Athens (Greece)

Investments in Greek shipping industry depend on eradication of corruption and red-tape

Cutting red-tape, applying more transparency and wiping out bribery are the three requirements Greek shipowners have from the government in order to invest in Greece, London-based shippers have told Kathimerini.

In a recent meeting that the head of the Hellenic Shipping Cooperation Committee of London, Haralambos Fafalios, had with Regional Development and Merchant Marine Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, the former also said that the tried-and-tested administrative system of the former Merchant Marine Ministry, including the coast guard, was very important for the prosperity of the Greek shipping industry. It is also a key condition to avoid a mass departure of ships from the Greek register.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Serbia is determined to resolve the embargo issue with Kosovo through CEFTA

Serbian Minister of Economy and Regional Development Nebojsa Ciric said that the Serbian government was committed to solving the situation resulting from the embargo on goods coming from central Serbia to Kosovo-Metohija. Serbian products now cannot be delivered to northern Kosovo, and Kosovo-Metohija in general, and according to Minister Ciric, Serbia “annually delivers about 350 million of worth of our products to the territory of Kosovo-Metohija.”

Ciric told the Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that officials of the Economy Ministry had had a meeting with representatives of UNMIK Kosovo. The UNMIK’s idea is that the issue of recognizing, or of not recognizing, the customs stamps should be dealt with within CEFTA mechanisms, rather than in bilateral talks.

Ciric said the recent events in northern Kosovo evidently proved that the embargo on goods coming from central Serbia was a politically-motivated decision, rather than an economically-motivated one, recalling that the Serbian government took the stand that it was a flagrant violation of the CEFTA agreement. He confirmed that a letter was sent to CEFTA and UNMIK Kosovo stating a number of articles of the CEFTA agreement that had been violated since July 25. There is a 90-day limit during which it is possible to resolve the issue through mediation, in bilateral talks. After the period expires, Serbia will have the right to initiate an international arbitration to seek compensation or damages.

(Bucharest) Romania

Romanian President Traian Basescu said on public radio he does not rule out the possibility of several state-owned companies to go bankrupt

“I don’t rule out the possibility of letting certain state-owned companies go bankrupt,” said Basescu, declining to give any examples and saying a list of such companies ahs not been made yet.

“A list hasn’t been made but the Government, unable to pay off the debts of all these companies, will have to allow creditors to cover what they are due from these companies,” said the president. Basescu emphasized that the political intention to no longer finance inefficiency is clear.

“We can no longer tolerate gangrene in Romania’s economy. The Government bailing out any state company will be a thing of the past,” he said.

Romania and the International Monetary Fund have agreed on a list of 15 state-owned companies to be placed under private management. IMF mission head Jeffrey Franks told MEDIAFAX in an interview the list of the 15 companies will include nuclear company Nuclearelectrica, hydropower generator Hidroelectrica, as well as railway companies CFR Marfa, CFR Calatori and CFR Infrastructura. In May, the IMF official announced the government would cede management over 30 to 40 of the country’s largest companies.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Lukoil oil refinery restarts full-blast operation in Bulgaria

The head of Bulgaria’s agency says the decision to restore Lukoil’s license is political

A day after the Administrative Court of Sofia blocked the procedure on Lukoil license’s revocation, the Lukoil refinery in Bulgaria has resumed operations in full blast. The crude oil processing plant in the Black Sea city can work under the conditions preceding the punitive measure of until the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS) decides on the appeal lodged by the Customs Agency.

According to a report of the state-owned TV channel BNT, little after Lukoil was officially given the green light, the tanker terminal started servicing incoming and outgoing oil tankers.

After the refinery was stripped of its license, the oil processing installations of the plant were switched into hibernation mode, which allowed it to start working at full capacity within 8 hours after the permission.

Although Lukoil resumes operations at full steam, customs inspectors will keep monitoring the refinery and the Rosenetz Oil terminal, as well as a number of other sites, as announced in July.

Lukoil will be able to make fuel as it did before the license suspension, Bulgarian Customs Agency head Vanyo Tanov in an interview with Bulgaria’s national TV. Tanov commented that the court’s ruling was either issued for reasons of expediency or was politically motivated.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria second after Greece in unemployment growth

Bulgaria ranks second among EU member states in terms of growth in unemployment, according to the latest figures published by Eurostat.

In June 2011, 11.4% of the economically active Bulgarians were out of work, compared to 10.1% one year earlier.

Greece is the only country to register a worsening situation on the labor market, with unemployment spiraling to 15%.

Eurostat estimates that 22.473 million men and women on the territory of the EU were unemployed in June 2011, down by 706 000 on the year.

In June 2011, Austria recoded the lowest unemployment rates (4.0%), followed by the Netherlands (4.1%) and Luxembourg (4.5%), and the highest in Spain (21.0%), Lithuania (16.3% in the first quarter of 2011) and Latvia (16.2% in the first quarter of 2011).

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgarians pay the highest mobile call charges in EU

The European Commission has threatened Bulgaria with sanctions over the inflated prices mobile operators charge clients here, the highest across the European Union.

The Commission is about to issue recommendations which the Bulgarian regulatory authority CRC will be “obliged to take into utmost account”, Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said, as cited by EurActive.

The government in Sofia and the regulatory body however seem to have no efficient tools to force the mobile operators bring down prices.

In letters seen by EurActiv, the CRC has threatened the mobile operators with sanctions, but these appear ridiculously low compared to the companies’ profits. One such sanction warns a mobile operator of a fine from EUR 25 to 500 per week.

According to information obtained by EurActiv, international telecommunications companies have also expressed concerns with the high termination rates and lack of accounting transparency in Bulgaria.

Zagreb (Croatia)

Croatian government decides on a three-year freeze salaries in the public sector

Public sector employees and pensioners can hope little for income increases in the next three years as government’s fiscal measures suggest, Croatian Times reports. The income of about one million and half of the country’s residents (240,000 public service employees and 1.2 million pensioners) will have to remain fixed.

The government’s guidelines for economic and fiscal policy 2012-2014 predict a budget increase of  EUR 363.3M.

The Institute of Public Finance (IJF) has said that the government’s economic and fiscal policy guidelines for the period from 2012 to 2014 are based on overly optimistic estimates and unconvincing projections.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 2 August 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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