THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 44


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

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

 

Politics and others:

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria’s Consumer Protection Commission “Decapitated” after Dismissal of All its Members
  • Bulgaria’s Government Adopts a Memorandum on Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic Integration

Croatia

  • The Croatian President on a Visit to Belgrade
  • 17 Croats among the Prisoners Taken by Libya’s Opposition
  • Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader Denies Accusations in Bribery 

Kosovo

  • UN Security Council Meeting on Kosovo
  • NATO Commanders Visit Kosovo
  • Joint EULEX – KFOR Operation in N Kosovo

Greece

  • Greek Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Opening of Professions in Greece

Montenegro

  • Opposition in Montenegro to Boycott Parliament

Macedonia

  • The Macedonian Prime Minister Indicates Readiness to Start a Dialogue over the Name Issue with Greece 

Serbia

  • Five Serbs Taken Prisoners by Libya’s Rebels
  • Families of Missing People Send a Letter to EU

Turkey

  • Palmer Report on Mavi Marmara Flotilla Due 2 September
  • Turkish Parliament Nullifies Bilateral Protocols with Armenia
  • Turkish President Accepts Greetings on the Victory Day

 

Economy:

Bulgaria

  • The Sofia Administrative Court to Try the Lukoil Refinery Case

Greece

  • The National Bank of Greece Posts a Loss of EUR 1.31 B for the 1H 2011 

Macedonia

  • 2011 Marks the Beginning of Recovery for Macedonia’s Economy

Romania

  • Bucharest Metropolitan Transport Authority to Govern Public Transport
  • Romania Passes a Fiscal Code and Sells Electrica SA

Serbia

  • Talks between IMF and Belgrade Finalised

Turkey

  • Turkey Registers 10.64% Growth of Tourists

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s Consumer Protection Commission “Decapitated” after Dismissal of All its Members

Sofia, The head of the Bulgarian state consumer protection watchdog Damyan Lazarov has resigned by request of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Sofia Press Agency reported. The Bulgarian Prime Minister has requested the resignation to achieve “a better harmonization and stronger results in the area of consumer protection.” Lazarov has worked as an expert at the Commission since 1998 and has chaired it since 2000. In March 2010 the Bulgarian government dismissed all members of the consumer protection commission except for chairperson Damyan Lazarov.

Bulgaria’s Government Adopts a Memorandum on Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic Integration

Sofia, The Bulgarian cabinet is expected to adopt a Memorandum of Cooperation with neighboring Macedonia on its European and Atlantic integration on 31 August. The document outlines Bulgaria’s assistance to Macedonia in its efforts to become a member of the European Union and NATO. The Bulgarian Government hopes to effectively support the integration of its neighbor and to enhance friendly relations between the two countries.

Among the activities foreseen by the memorandum is the harmonization of Macedonian legislation with the acquis communautaire, the training of its civil servants and the boosting of its administrative capacity.

Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Poposki is going to pay an official visit to Sofia on 1 September. Macedonian press have commented that the trip of the Foreign Affairs Minister is a sign of his intention to warm ties with Bulgaria.

 

Croatia

The Croatian President on a Visit to Belgrade

Zagreb, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic will pay a two-day visit to Serbia starting on 1 September. He will meet with ethnic Croats in Vojvodina, attend a summit meeting of southeastern European countries’ heads of states and hold talks with his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic, the office of the Croatian president said in a press release on 30 August.

17 Croats among the Prisoners Taken by Libya’s Opposition

Zagreb, The member of the Libyan National Transitional Council in charge of justice, Mohammed al-Alagy, has said that there are a lot of foreigners among those arrested in Libya, including Croats, TPortal reports

“The prisoners are being treated well. Those who did not commit crimes will be released after questioning, while the rest will be tried,” al-Alagy said, adding that foreign mercenaries, including 17 Croats, had been arrested in Tripoli.

The Croatian Foreign Ministry told press on 30 August it had received no official information that any Croatian nationals had been arrested. The ministry said it would ask the Libyan diplomatic mission in Zagreb whether any Croatian citizens had been arrested in Libya.

Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader Denies Accusations in Bribery

Zagreb, Former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader on denied taking a HRK 10 million (EUR 1.33 M) bribe to give the Hungarian oil company MOL management rights in the Croatian oil company INA, repeating what he said before a parliamentary commission on INA’s privatisation – that all government members, coalition partners and the president of the republic had been acquainted with the details of the contentious INA-MOL agreement.

Ivo Sanader emphasized the absurdity of bringing into question the INA-MOL agreement and explained that MOL having a higher stake in INA than the Croatian government also enjoyed more management rights. The last of a series of investigations against the former Prime Minister, has been started following a testimony by Robert Jezic, owner of the DIOKI company. Apart from Jezic’s statements that may be strongly influenced by business interests, the attorney said there was no other physical evidence against Sanader on this case.

 

Kosovo

UN Security Council Meeting on Kosovo

New York/Pristina, The United Nations Security Council met on 30 August to discuss the situation in Kosovo and review the latest report on the new state by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Kosovo Foreign Affairs Minister Enver Hoxhaj presented the new state’s progress in its efforts towards consolidation of statehood and socio-economic transformation of the country. In his address during the session, Hoxhaj on Serbia to dissolve the illegal parallel structures in Kosovo.

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić expressed his disappointment at the failure of the UN Security Council to officially condemn unilateral acts of the government in Priština.

Jeremić also noted that that the question that now arises was how to overcome the difficulties – by sending in paramilitary forces, which he appraised was done by Priština, or through negotiations.

“Why was it impossible to accept a (presidential UNSC) statement about what was said during this session? Those who blocked it are carrying the responsibility regarding a repeat of unilateral acts undertaken by Priština,” Jeremić told journalists.

Earlier in the day, he addressed the council to urge it to condemn unilateral acts.

Asked by reporters to comment on the position taken by the United States ambassador to the UN, who said that “all members of the structures of government of Serbia should withdraw from Kosovo”, Jeremić said that there was only one “parallel structure” in Kosovo – and that it was “located in Priština”.

At the same time, the minister asserted that “the only way forward is through dialogue”.

“We will stick to the negotiations, despite Priština’s unilateralism, and we hope that some solutions will be possible. It is clear from today’s session that a large majority of (council’s) members supported dialogue, not use of force,” he added.

Asked why Serbia was “preventing import of goods from Kosovo”, the foreign minister said this was not the case, and noted that there was “only one format for Kosovo to appear in regional initiatives, and that’s UNMIK-Kosovo”.

“If they use UNMIK-Kosovo customs stamps, if they use documents that they have been using since joining CEFTA, we will not prevent imports from Kosovo,” he was quoted as saying.

When it comes to the investigation into the allegations published in the CoE Rapporteur Dick Marty’s report – which named ethnic Albanian KLA as perpetrators of organ harvesting and trafficking in Kosovo, and in Albania – Jeremić once again stated that Serbia would continue to insist that the probe must take place under a UN mandate.

“Anything else amounts to pretending that serious efforts are being made in order to conduct an investigation,” said the minister.

Jeremić noted that EULEX had no mandate to conduct a probe outside of Kosovo, and added that it was only a matter of time before it became obvious that the setting up of an EULEX investigating team was “a failed attempt”.

NATO Commanders Visit Kosovo

Pristina, KFOR Commander German General Erhard Buhler said in a press release that there is still a high degree of tension in the north of Kosovo, Tanjug reported. Buhler’s statement came as NATO commander, admiral James Stavridis and the chairman of the alliance’s Military Committee, admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, made a visit to the NATO troops in Kosovo on 29 August.

The KFOR commander said that after the crisis escalated in the north on  July 25,  the situation calmed down thanks to the large presence of KFOR and and its commitment  in this part of Kosovo.

After visiting the KFOR command, NATO officials also visited the administrative crossing Jarinje, where they were briefed by Buhler on the situation, control system and incidents of  July 27, when the crossing was attacked  and its infrastructure destroyed and burned.

Joint EULEX – KFOR Operation in N Kosovo

Pristina, EULEX special force operation is underway in northern Kosovo, EULEX Spokesman Nicholas Hawton told B92. Hawton added that the operation is carried out in the area of Zubin Potok and Zupče as a part of the investigation into the murder of a Kosovo police officer on July 26.

”EULEX special forces with KFOR support are carrying out an operation in the area of Zubin Potok and Zupče. The operation refers to a criminal investigation into the murder of a Kosovo police member on July 26 near Zupče,” the EULEX spokesperson told B92.

”The investigation into the murder is led by EULEX and Kosovo police. The local authorities have been informed about the operation which is being carried out so as to strengthen the rule of law and bring to justice those responsible for the crime,” he pointed out.

According to a Beta news agency reporter from the scene, strong KFOR and EULEX forces entered the village of Zupče around 05:00 CET and started searching local households for the perpetrators.

 

Greece

Greek Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Opening of Professions in Greece

Athens, A ruling by the Greek Supreme Administrative Court, deeming that Greek and European Union law dictates the opening of dozens of so-called “closed professions,” could be the tool the government needs to remove the restrictions to occupations that vehemently resist liberalization, Kathimerini writes.

The decision by the Council of State’s plenary session, made public on 30 August, notes that the “right to free choice of profession and the absence of restrictions in exercising it” is enshrined in Greek and EU law. “If those practicing a specific profession see their revenues fall, this is not a reason to bar new entrants to the sector,” the ruling says.

The development sets a strong legal precedent that can help the government in its efforts to carry out regulations for opening up more than 130 professions ranging from taxi drivers to beauticians.

This list does not include certain key closed professions, which have been particularly vehement in their opposition to the proposed reforms, such as notaries, lawyers and civil engineers. These occupations are to be liberalized later, the Greek Finance Ministry has said.

 

Montenegro

Opposition in Montenegro to Boycott Parliament

Podgorica, The Montenegrin opposition is seriously considering a boycott of the national and local assemblies after September 2, when the parliament is set to discuss amendments to the general education law, if until then no agreement is reached with the government regarding the status of the Serbian language in the education system.

The Vijesti daily from Podgorica says the opposition sees the boycott as the necessary solution if the agreement is not reached soon. The prime minister and the opposition leaders were not able to come to an agreement on 29 August after the fourth attempt. This way, the name of the language taught in schools remains an issue, although there are only 2 days left until the start of the school year.

After the meeting on 29 August, the reporters were told that Prime Minister Igor Luksic had not agreed to name the subject Montenegrin, Serbian/native language and literature. Luksic suggested Montenegrin/native language and literature as the name, adding that the government was not willing to compromise further than that, but the opposition rejected the proposal. The opposition demands that the Serbian and Montenegrin languages be treated as equals within the education system if it is to support the new election bill.

The bill, which is the EU’s number one condition for Montenegro to get the start date for the accession talks, requires a two-thirds majority in the parliament to be adopted.

 

Macedonia

The Macedonian Prime Minister Indicates Readiness to Start a Dialogue over the Name Issue with Greece

Skopje, “I am always ready and willing to meet Greece’s Premier George Papandreou if there is a possibility, but it requires a consent of both parties,” Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told reporters on 30 August.

Asked about a possibility for intensifying the diplomatic dialogue so that the name issue could be addressed in a foreseeable future, Gruevski said he hoped and wished for that to happen and emphasized that this would depend on the efforts of both parties involved in the dispute.

 

Serbia

Five Serbs Taken Prisoners by Libya’s Rebels

Belgrade, Five Serbian citizens who were taken prisoner by Libyan rebels were transported to the town of Zintan on 30 August, 150 km from Tripoli, for security reasons, according to the information given to the Serbian embassy in Tripoli. The new authorities in Libya have expressed willingness to cooperate and indicated a possibility for embassy officials to visit the five prisoners in the coming days. The Serbian Foreign Ministry has stated that it contacted the families of the men to collect as much information as possible regarding their stay in Libya. The ministry used its offices in New York, Paris, Berlin and London to contact the Libyan embassies there and get legal protection for the prisoners.

The Serbian embassy in Geneva got in touch with the International Red Cross and stated the same request. Red Cross officials confirmed that the request would be delivered immediately to their office in Tripoli, according to the Foreign Ministry statement.

Families of Missing People Send a Letter to EU

Belgrade, The Regional Coordination Committee of the Associations of the families of missing people in the region of former Yugoslavia requested the European Union in a letter sent on 30 August not to allow any country in the region to become its member until they have resolved the fate of the people that had gone missing on their territory. A message with same content was sent from Brcko (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and from Petrinja (Croatia), Tanjug reported.

Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor pledged that the Croatian Government would do its utmost to shed light on the fate of 999 people still unaccounted-for since the Homeland Defence War, adding that “a key to the solution of this issue” lies in Belgrade, tPortal reports.

 

Turkey

Palmer Report on Mavi Marmara Flotilla Due 2 September

Ankara, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed that the Palmer Report on the Israel Defense Forces’ raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed, be delayed by six months, Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 29 August.

The proposal was made to the Turkish government and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but the Turkish government dismissed the possibility with the explanation that another delay was out of question. Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday that this information was leaked from the office of the Israeli Prime Minister and a confirmation would not to be expected. The U.N. investigative committee into the raid, headed by Geoffrey Palmer, is currently due to publish the report on 2 September. The Palmer Report about the events that occurred onboard the Turkish aid ship “Mavi Marmara” in 2010 has been delayed three times

Turkish Parliament Nullifies Bilateral Protocols with Armenia

Ankara, Protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia in 2009 to normalize relations between the two countries were recently declared null and void after Parliament failed to approve them during its 23rd term. Armenia also suspended the protocols one year after they were signed because they were not carried out.

“Turkey expected Armenia to forget the genocide, to hand Karabakh over to Azerbaijan and to act as a mediator with the diaspora to get them to halt their campaign for the recognition of the genocide by the international community, but this failed to materialize. Similar pre-conditions were set forth before Armenia while the protocols were being signed, even though Erdoğan’s government had said there would be no pre-conditions,” Hagop Çakıryan, an expert on Turkey and a columnist for the Armenian daily Azg, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkish President Accepts Greetings on the Victory Day

Ankara, For the first time in Turkey’s history, the civilian President, not the chief of General Staff, received greetings on the occasion of Victory Day. The change sends a message for the strengthening of civilian rule over the military.

President Abdullah Gül accepted the greetings of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and top state officials at a traditional ceremony held at the General Staff headquarters.

Gül said in a recent interview that the proposal for the change in Victory Day celebration protocol came from Chief of Staff Gen. Özel, who was appointed to his post after his predecessor requested early retirement last month in protest of arrests of many military commanders as part of court cases investigating anti-government plots involving members of the military.

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Bulgaria

The Sofia Administrative Court to Try the Lukoil Refinery Case

Sofia, On 31 August, the Sofia Administrative Court, SAC, is going to try the two cases against the Lukoil oil refinery for the revocation of its license to run excise warehouses. The warehouses are located at the company’s refinery in the Black Sea city of Bourgas, which is the only one in the country, and the oil terminal Rosenets. Until now the Court has only ruled that the refinery and the terminal can continue operations while Lukoil  appeals the order of the Director of the Customs Agency, Vanyo Tanov, to revoke the license over the company’s failure to install the mandatory electronic measuring devices.

If the magistrates decide they have complete information on the case, they will have one month to issue a ruling. The trial will be postponed if there is not enough evidence. The decisions of SAC will not bring the dispute to an end since they can be appealed with the Supreme Administrative Court, VAS. The Lukoil scandal erupted end of July when the Customs Head, Vanyo Tanov, issued an order to revoke Lukoil’s license to run excise warehouses over the company’s failure to install the required devices within the deadline.The Court, however, returned the license, and the refinery resumed fuel production. The Commission for Protection of Competition has announced that it would carry out an analysis to find out if there is a fuel cartel on the Bulgarian market.

Last week, US Ambassador in Sofia, James Warlick paid a visit to the Russian-owned refinery. During the visit Lukoil CEO, Valentin Zlatev announced the devices would be installed at the terminal within 3 years while those at the refinery would be functioning by the end of 2011.

 

Greece

The National Bank of Greece Posts a Loss of EUR 1.31 B for the 1H 2011

Athens, Greece’s leading lender National Bank posted a EUR 1.31 B loss for the first half of 2011 after taking a huge write-down on its holdings of Greek government bonds.

The bank said on 30 August that it will set aside EUR 1.65 B to cover anticipated losses on its government bond investments. Without the charge, it would have had a net profit of EUR 29 M, down from EUR 146 M a year earlier and EUR 157 M in the first quarter.

The bank noted that the book value of its government bonds, eligible for inclusion in a bond swap plan agreed as part of Greece’s second debt rescue, amounted to EUR 9 B.

“NBG will continue its policy of further enhancing its capital base, through efficient asset and liability management, and maintaining satisfactory liquidity,” Chief Executive Officer Apostolos Tamvakakis said in a statement, quoted by Kathimerini.

He said the bank would await “more clarity” on the planned rollover of Greek government bonds by the private sector, as agreed under a EUR 160 B debt bailout agreed at a eurozone summit in July, before making any strategic move.

Additionally, the bank would want to see the results of an overall audit of bank investment portfolios by US-based money managers BlackRock, Tamvakakis said.

 

Macedonia

2011 Marks the Beginning of Recovery for Macedonia’s Economy

Skopje, “Since this January the economic trends have improved, confirming the Government’s projections that 2011 is putting an end to the economic crisis and opening the road to recovery,” Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said on 30 August.

“We have projected a GDP growth of 3,5%. Few days ago the Central Bank has also revised its projection, set initially at 3 percent. It has been also been the case with international financial institutions, which have been initially more pessimistic. Now their projections are closer to the Government’s forecast, which has proven to be rather precise,” Gruevski said.

 

Romania

Bucharest Metropolitan Transport Authority to Govern Public Transport

Bucharest, On 30 August, Romania’s Government approved the creation of the Bucharest Metropolitan Transport Authority, under the Transport Ministry, in charge of regulating and coordinating public passenger transport in Bucharest and Ilfov county. The Authority will be financed by the state budget, through the ministry’s budget, from its own revenue, from external funds and other sources.

The plan to set up an authority governing every type of public transport in the capital – subway, buses, minibuses, trams, trolleybuses and regional trains.

Romania Passes a Fiscal Code and Sells Electrica SA

Bucharest, Romania’s new Fiscal Code, Fiscal procedure Code, heating aid ordinance and the act on the sale of a stake in state-owned energy distributor Electrica SA will be approved by the Government at its meeting on 31 August, Mediafax reported.

Government spokeswoman Ioana Muntean said the emergency ordinance on heating aid will be debated again on 31 August, as well as the act for the sale of a stake in Electrica SA.

 

Serbia

Talks between IMF and Belgrade Finalised

The talks between the Serbian government and a mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regarding a new precautionary arrangement should be completed in Belgrade Tuesday.

The arrangement would last 18 months and involve a credit of EUR 1 B meant to boost the national foreign exchange reserves.The IMF delegation leaves Serbia on 31 August.

 

Turkey

Turkey Registers 10.64% Growth of Tourists

Ankara, Number of tourists visiting Turkey went up 10.64% in the first seven months of 2011 compared to the same period last year and reached 17,624,969, the Anatolian Agency informs. Number of tourists visiting Turkey in July went up 5.49% when compared to the same month last year and reached 4,597,475. Most of the tourists that came to Turkey in July were Germans, followed by Russians and the British.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 31 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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