Southeast Europe Weekly News Round-Up: September 11





In an economic snapshot of southeast Europe, Focus Economics reports steady growth in the region. Southeast Europe’s “economy was upgraded for a fifth consecutive month; the 2017 GDP growth forecast was revised from 3.5% last month to 3.7%.” Much of this comes from Turkey, although Romania has seen the greatest growth this year, while some countries in the region are lagging, to say the least. Growth is expected to continue, although analysts are concerned with what comes next and expect “the economy’s performance will likely deteriorate from there onwards as fiscal tailwinds in Turkey wear off and Romania’s heated economy cools down.”

Another thing steadily growing are average temperatures in the region. According to Bloomberg, Southern and Eastern Europe can both expect an Indian summer. Poland, Ukraine and northern Balkan states are told to expect the warmest temperatures in Europe during the month of September.

Albania

In the first session of Albania’s newly elected parliament, the country’s lawmakers voted 80-40 to name Gramoz Ruci as the new speaker. Ruci’s Socialist Party now holds 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

On Friday, Albania’s Energy Ministry presented a feasibility study for a €618 million gas corridor, dubbed the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline, to be built across Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Balkan Insight reports that the country hopes to garner the support of the United States and the EU in turning the 511-km-long pipeline, which will link to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, into a reality.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Union of Syndicates of Republika Srpska, the majority Serb constitutional entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, published some disturbing numbers, showing that the average monthly net salary of just around $500 covers less than half of local consumers’ basic needs.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was also disturbed to see some other numbers recently – those related to the country’s literacy rate. Just ahead of International World Literacy Day, literacy data from Bosnia-Herzegovina’s latest census from 2013 were crunched and the rates are among the lowest in the region.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was in Bosnia on an official visit this week, saying at a press conference in Sarajevo that “Serbia had never questioned Bosnia’s territorial integrity or interfered with its internal affairs, and that would be the case in the future as well,” according to Balkan Insight. Bosnia’s Prime Minister Zvizdic called Serbia a “partner” and added, “We share the same space and intentions of EU membership, and while our historical, geographic and geostrategic space direct us towards each other.” This is the sort of stuff you have to see to believe, so we highly recommend reading the whole piece.

But there are good news from Bosnia too. Sort of. A Bosnian-Serbian trio of engineers living in Zurich have created a global app that alerts users in critical situations, like terrorist attacks or natural disasters. We hear the app is now becoming popular in the Florida area, as Hurricane Irma approaches. (Keeping our fingers crossed for that side of the world!)



Bulgaria

The great European egg scandal of 2017 continues, this time affecting Bulgaria and Romania. Bulgarian authorities say that they have confiscated fipronil-contaminated eggs from stores and supermarket warehouses and that there is no immediate danger to the public, but that consumers should still be careful, in particular with children.

Bulgarian government officials seem to have been very busy dealing and signing this week. See if you can keep up with this. On Wednesday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov and Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova met in Sofia with Turkish Natural Resources Minister Berat Albayrak, where they all reportedly “agreed on the mobilization, development, and partnership in natural gas and electricity.”

In the meantime, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov and Greek Prime Minister Tsipras signed a €1 billion deal in Kavala, Greece, to facilitate planned construction of a railway that will connect the countries’ ports, highways, and railroads, from Thessaloniki in northern Greece to the Black Sea port of Ruse in Bulgaria. Borisov took this opportunity to announce that Bulgaria’s upcoming EU presidency will be “a Balkan presidency,” while Tsipras said that Bulgaria and Greece can play a positive role in the improvement of relations between the EU and Russia.

On Thursday, the first Oil and Gas Forum, organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, was held in Alexandroupoli, where Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Petkova met with her Greek and Serbian counterparts to discuss cooperation in guaranteeing security of gas supplies to the region. More about that below.

As if that wasn’t enough signing, Bulgaria’s Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova recently announced that her ministry will, as a sign of gratitude, be sending over 400,000 cards to tourists from other countries who visited Bulgaria this summer. Hopefully, she won’t have to sign them all personally.

Croatia

Croatia has been having a tough time lately, not unlike a few other countries in the region, but the country seems to be keeping its wits and humor about it. That being said, Croatian media don’t seem to be too happy with U.S. President Donald Trump’s nomination for the next U.S. Ambassador to Croatia. In fact, they’re calling W. Robert Kohorst a Halloween costume manufacturer turned ambassador and find themselves, frankly, a little offended by the suggestion.

Unfortunately, things only get worse from there. According to Total Croatia News, Hungary joined Slovenia this week in vowing to block Croatia’s OECD membership, citing a clash between Croatia and Hungarian energy giant MOL as the reason.

Just when we thought it was the end of a bad week in Croatia, on Saturday news came that the European Commission filed two lawsuits against Croatia with EU courts in Luxembourg, for not introducing regulations that comply with EU directives in a timely fashion. If the courts rule in the EC’s favor, Croatia could be fined as much as some €19,000 per day, until the EU directive measures are introduced.

This could be detrimental to the country’s economy, as it seems that Croatia’s Ministry of Interior can’t afford to provide jackets and other standard issue equipment for its police officers. A recent Facebook post by the Croatian Police Officers’ Syndicate became a hot topic in local media this week, showing a full transcript of a letter from the syndicate addressed to the cabinet of the Minister of Interior Davor Božinović and revealing the mangled state of much of the issued gear and equipment.

Greece

As mentioned above, the Energy Ministers of Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia held a meeting at the first Oil and Gas Forum, organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Greece, discussing options to deepen their cooperation in securing gas supplies for the region. The Forum covered a slew of energy-related topics, including relationships between energy geopolitics and energy markets, the oil and gas potential of Greece and southeast Europe region, the future of oil and gas drilling in Greece, and regional alliances and cooperation.

Lest we forget, the LA Times reminded us this week that the migrant crisis is still a thing in Europe and, in particular, in Greece. A total of some 60,000 migrants are still stranded in Greece. The country has been and remains at the front lines of one of the biggest refugee crises since World War II. We expect this to be an even bigger topic in the weeks to come, as some regional countries have vowed to “protect their borders.”

Among better news hailing from Greece this week, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras stated on Saturday that there is no danger of Athens “Grexiting” any time soon, while French President Macron made statements just a day earlier, inviting EU companies to band together and invest in Greece, criticizing Europe’s response to the Greek economic crisis thus far.

Oh, and Eva Longoria is currently in Greece on vacation, with husband Jose Baston and friends. Just saying.



Hungary

This was not the best of weeks for Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, as the European Court of Justice upheld the union’s right to force its member states to take in refugees. This was in response to Hungary and Slovakia’s complaints that the refugee quotas imposed by the EU were unfair and should be contested. Orban has said since that the country will continue to reject migrants, regardless of the ruling and EU quotas.

Also this week, the Hungarian Oscar Committee selected Ildikó Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul” as the country’s entry in this year’s best Foreign Language Film category at the 2018 Academy Awards – and the committee members don’t seem to be the only ones saying this film is a favorite for the Oscar. Enyedi’s newest feature has already picked up a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival this year.

Kosovo

In a tense vote Saturday evening, Kosovo’s parliament confirmed its largest government yet and swore in Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. The small country’s new government now has five deputy prime ministers, 21 ministers, and about 50 deputy ministers. Opposition MPs walked out of the session, boycotting the vote, after being denied the opportunity for debate before the vote. Some analysts in the country have said that a government this sizeable could cost Kosovo as much as €5 million more than necessary over Haradinaj’s new four-year term.

The Washington Posts reports that human rights group Human Rights Watch urged the UN this week to reverse its standing policy and pay compensation to individuals in Kosovo who were resettled in UN-operated camps in the late 1990s and now suffer from lead poisoning. Last year, a UN human rights advisory panel found that the UN mission in Kosovo knew of the health risks involved as early as November 2000, but failed to relocate the individuals.

Macedonia

Macedonia has also had a busy week, in particular Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Zaev began the week with what seems to have been a very enjoyable visit to Israel, where he met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who said that relations between the two countries grow stronger every year and asked that Macedonia use whatever influence it has in Europe to help stop demands for boycotts of Israel.

PM Zaev was then right back in Skopje, reporting on his administration’s first 100 days in government. The PM stated that he feels his government “has kept its word and created a new political reality” in Macedonia.

On September 8, Macedonia celebrated its 26th Independence Day. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called for unity among Macedonian people during the celebrations on Friday, saying this was the only guarantee of prosperity for the country. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that all parties in Macedonia must work together in order to build and develop the country further.

In the meantime, Macedonian authorities brought criminal charges against former Macedonian Minister of Transportation and Communication Mile Janakieski for allowing two individuals to purchase state-owned real estate at preferential prices. The Public Prosecutor for Organized Crime and Corruption in Skopje will be conducting a full investigation.



Montenegro

What’s being called “the trial of the century” is back on in Podgorica. The trial of two alleged Russian intelligence operatives and twelve alleged accomplices, all charged with plotting a coup against Montenegro’s pro-EU government last year, resumed on Thursday.

Obviously, there’s much more going on in this coastal country, but not much worth mentioning this week. Unless we count Saturday’s “Resting Competition” in a village near Nikšić. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to uncover details of this competition, but we’re assuming the winner will be whoever is better at… well, doing nothing. We wish all the participants whatever it is that one needs to successfully do nothing.

Romania

As with Croatia, Hungary has decided to withdraw its support for Romania’s membership bid to the OECD and other international organizations. Hungary’s reason for this lies in Romanian authorities having suspended classes of the Roman Catholic Theological High School in Targu Mures, Romania, which has been seen as an attack on the Catholic Church and the Hungarian minority in Romania.

Romanian Minister of Defense Adrian Tutuianu resigned on Tuesday, after making a public statement that the ministry didn’t have the funds to cover military salaries. The statement was debunked by the Hungarian government within hours, but it was too late – Tutuianu’s resignation had been accepted and it seems his gaffe will not be forgiven.

Romania has chosen to enter Adrian Sitaru’s ‘Fixer’ as their candidate for the Foreign Language Film category at the 2018 Oscars. The film is a Romanian-French co-production.

Romanian coastguard intercepted two fishing boats in the Black Sea this week, carrying over 200 migrants aboard. Officials from Bucharest fear that the Black Sea could become a new, alternative route for migrants seeking safety and a fresh start in Europe, as the route via the Mediterranean becomes more dangerous to cross.

Serbia

Two women were arrested on Friday in Kruševac, Serbia, for allegedly posting threats on Facebook directed at Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić and former Minister of Defense Bratislav Gašić, now Director of Serbia’s Security Intelligence Agency (BIA). Details of the arrest or the threats are still unknown. The social media threats came just days after an alleged attack on President Vučić occurred, in which a Bentley rammed into the president’s motorcade in August.

The dinar eased on Thursday after Serbia’s central bank (NBS) surprised many by cutting its high main interest rate, claiming it will help economic growth.

According to the New York Times, Serbia’s Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure said that “It would not be immodest or wrong to say that Serbia is China’s main partner in Europe,” when speaking about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge during a recent state visit to Serbia to bring more jobs, improve living standards, and lift the country’s economic growth.

Serbia’s public power utility signed a €167 million deal with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems on Friday to help reduce gas emissions and meet EU standards at Serbia’s largest coal power plant, according to Reuters.



Must-Read of the Week

Opinions seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but every once in a while we find a diamond in the rough. This week’s recommended reading is a Stratfor op-ed by U.S. diplomat and former Ambassador to Serbia Cameron Munter – ‘As Crisis Brews in the Balkans, the West Looks On’.

Danica Radisic

Danica Radisic is Editor-in-Chief of The SEE Observer. She is also the proud owner of toddler, teen, two dogs, and a boutique communications and marketing agency. Danica has spent over a decade not only following and working with media in Southeast Europe, but also training journalists in using new tools and new media development. Follow Danica on Twitter as @nikibgd.

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