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Connectivity Italian Style

Elena Alekseenkova

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Xi Jinping’s historic visit to Italy on March 21–23, 2019 was marked by the signing of a memorandum on Italy’s joining the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Despite the fact that 13 other EU countries have signed similar memorandums with China, the significance of Italy’s decision cannot be overstated, as it is the first G7 country and the first founding member of the European Union to officially confirm its readiness to participate in Silk Road projects.

Ever since Undersecretary of State at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development Michele Geraci announced the imminent signing of the document on March 5, 2019, warnings have flooded in from Brussels and Washington about the possible consequences of such a rash step. On March 6, U.S. National Security Council Spokesman Garrett Marquis said that the actions of the Italian government would end up harming Italy’s global reputation in the long term. Similar statements could be heard coming out of Brussels. On the eve of Xi Jinping’s visit, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani said that Italy was committing a grave mistake and that “selling ‘Made in Italy’ does not have to mean giving up your sovereignty to the Chinese.” As European leaders try desperately to form a common line of defence against China’s penetration into strategic sectors of the European economy in the run-up to the EU–China Summit on April 9, Italy is again showing no signs of European solidarity.

Italian Logic

 “I am convinced that Italy must respect its Atlantic allies and always fulfil its obligations. However, it may also choose how and where to go. We need to make a choice consciously and responsibly,” Deputy Prime Minister of Italy Luigi Di Maio said in the Five Star Movement blog in response to the alarmist signals coming from the United States. “I hope that the League adheres to the same principles, because I have seen various positions over the past few days, some of them shaped by what other countries want and not for the benefit of Italy.” “Today,” the Deputy Prime Minister continues, “the idea of ‘Made in Italy’ wins. With the Belt and Road Initiative, Italy has made the decision to be more sovereign… It is not a political union with China, but rather a business opportunity. The United States remains our main ally, and NATO continues to be our home. But the Belt and Road Initiative is a step forward for Italy.”

According to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s participation in the Silk Road project is completely in line with the country’s membership in NATO and the European Union, since it is not a political union, but simply the possibility of trade and economic cooperation. What is more, by interacting with Beijing, Rome is determined to get its new partner to adopt European standards and norms in the bilateral relationship.

“The main task is to help Italian companies develop and expand exports to China comparable to that of France and Germany… Clearly, Italian security is of paramount importance to us, which is why we will analyse and assess extremely carefully what is going on in sectors that are of strategic importance for Italy and its allies – telecommunications, energy, ports and infrastructure. The security of the Italians comes first, followed by economic interests,” claims the League, so as not to scare its alarmist-minded electorate.

“I want to control the strategic sectors, to ensure national security. Because the keys to the house should belong to the Italian people,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini stresses. Minister of Foreign Affairs Enzo Moavero Milanesi has traditionally tempered the discourse, assuring Italy’s European partners that it will act in line with EU documents and decisions, with the understanding that issues of security are a priority for all EU member countries. But the leader of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, does not share the enthusiasm of the current government, calling China a “communist and totalitarian” country “that seeks both economic superiority and political hegemony.” A fierce discussion is raging in the Italian media about the benefits and risks of the new partnership with China.

The idea of building up cooperation with China is not new. Paolo Gentiloni’s cabinet worked actively on developing ties with the country. Italy’s new “government of change” contains at least two people who actively support deepening cooperation with China, namely Minister of Economy and Finances Giovanni Tria and Undersecretary of State at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development Michele Geraci.

When he was still a student at the University of Rome, Giovanni Tria studied the success of the Chinese economy, and in the late 1970s he had the opportunity to observe the initial results of the economic transformation in Beijing first hand. His first official visit as Minister of Economy and Finances was to China. Michele Geraci is very familiar with China, having lived there for over ten years. According to Giovanni Tria, the new stage of relations between Italy and China will not only provide them with new opportunities to expand cooperation in sectors of mutual interest, but will also allow Italy to become a champion of developing cooperation between the European Union and China in addressing the key issues of globalization and international cooperation. In other words, Italy wants to significantly increase its role in the dialogue between the European and China, taking the initiative and positioning itself as a driving engine in the process. Despite the fact that 13 EU countries have already signed similar memorandums with China (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia), they are, as far as Italy is concerned, peripheral countries that carry little weight in the EU economy and are incapable of becoming drivers of EU–China cooperation. Unlike Italy, which after Brexit will be the third largest economy in the European Union and which, moreover, is one of its founding members.

Geraci also acknowledges the desire to take the initiative in the dialogue, emphasizing that it is a matter of tactics: “Italy should feel more free than the other 27 EU member countries. China prefers bilateral cooperation and does not like to wait for the approval of the EU, which often takes a long time. That’s why we need to take the initiative… The does not mean circumventing Europe, but rather leading it and showing it the way forward.” According to Geraci, Italy has much to learn from China: how to achieve GDP growth of 9.5 per cent; how to save 900,000 people from poverty; how to increase the income of the rural population from $130 per capita to $13,000 per capita; how to effectively control internal migration, which makes up 15–20 million people per year in China, etc. Italy, for its part, should become the main European terminal of the Maritime Silk Route. However, in order to avoid becoming a “terminal to nowhere,” Italy must help China build the land section of the Silk Road, including in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

According to Geraci, the Italian government faces two main tasks in terms of ensuring the country’s economic interests: attracting investments (and if willing investors can be found, the relevant agreements need to be put in place as soon as possible) and increasing exports (where small and medium-sized enterprises need help to start exporting their goods to China). To be sure, China has invested heavily in Italy, although mostly in the form of mergers and acquisitions and the purchase of shares, rather than setting up new projects and enterprises. Accordingly, the government’s task is to reorient the flow of investments in such a way that they help create jobs and increase productivity and, consequently, GDP. Geraci complains that Italian investments have created 50,000–60,000 jobs, while just 2000–2500 have been created in Italy. According to him, China should have a vested interest in this because, in addition to its favourable geographic location, Italy has another important asset, namely, “know-how.”

The Realities of Economic Cooperation: The Balance is not in Italy’s Favour

China is one of Italy’s key foreign trade partners. In 2018, China accounted for 3 per cent of Italy’s total exports, which amounted to approximately 13.7 billion euros. China ranks fourth in terms of Italy’s exports, behind the European Union (55.5 per cent), the United States (9.1 per cent) and Switzerland (4.6 per cent). In terms of Italy’s imports, China is second only to the European Union (7.1 per cent of the country’s total imports). China is the first destination market for Italian exports in the Asia Pacific, and eighth overall. However, the trade balance began to tip in China’s favour in 2001. Despite the fact that the trade balance increased by 7 per cent in 2007, and by a further 9.2 per cent in 2016–2017, it was still not in favour of Italy. As of year-end 2018, Italian exports to China totalled 13.2 billion euros, while imports from China amounted to 30.8 billion euros. Italy is the third-largest importer of Chinese goods in the European Union, behind Germany and the United Kingdom, and the fourth-largest exporter Behind Germany, the United Kingdom and France. Italy’s share in the Chinese market stands at 1.1 per cent, compared to 1.4 per cent for France and 5.4 per cent for Germany.

Italy wants to significantly increase its role in the dialogue between the European and China, taking the initiative and positioning itself as a driving engine in the process.

In 2000–2018, Italy was among the main targets of China’s purchases” alongside the United Kingdom and Germany, with Italy attracting 15.3 billion euros, compared to the United Kingdom’s 22.2 billion and Germany’s 46.9 billion. China is the United Kingdom’s second-largest importer and exporter and the largest importer and exporter for Germany. According to analysts at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Brexit could have a positive effect on these dynamics for the European Union, given the fact that the United Kingdom can no longer act as an entry point for investments into the EU markets.

Chinese capital is already penetrating into Italian infrastructure facilities. For example, China’s COSCO Shipping has owned 40 per cent of the shares in the Vado Ligure terminal on Italian Riviera since 2016, with another 9.9 per cent of shares in this terminal belonging to the Port of Qingdao in China. Chinese investors are also interested in the ports of Genoa and Savona, where an agreement is expected to be signed with Chinese Communications Construction Company (CCCC). There is talk about the implementation of the “Trihub” project in Trieste on the Adriatic coast. China Merchants Group is expected to invest in the project. The giant CCCC intends to make a huge financial outlay (approximately 1.3 billion euros) on the construction of the Port of Venice. Remaining in the Adriatic, China Merchant Group invested 10 million euros in the Port of Ravenna in 2018. Chinese have become shareholders in recent years in a number of companies that are key for the Italian economy, including FCA Italy S.p.A., Telecom Italia, Enel, Generali, Ansaldo Energia, Cdp Reti, among others. In 2015, China National Chemical purchased Pirelli, one of the world’s largest tyre manufacturers. More recently, the famous Italian brand Candy was purchased by the Chinese giant Haier. However, the number of Chinese “purchases” in the European Union has started to drop over the past two years, which may be due to the latter’s suspicious attitude towards Chinese capital in the context of the trade wars between Washington and Beijing.

It is not so easy for Italian products to break into the Chinese market, however. For example, recent studies carried out by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) show that in 2018, imports of agricultural products from China exceeded exports to China by 35 per cent. One reason for this is that Italian apples, pears and grapes cannot make it onto the Chinese market because of the ongoing trade barriers that are designed to protect national production.

On the whole, however, the history of economic cooperation between Italy and China in recent years has clearly not favoured Italy. Despite the fact that the actual volumes have increased, Italian exports to China went down in 2018, and Rome is clearly not in the economic position to dictate terms to Beijing. According to the European Commission’s most recent forecasts of GDP growth in the EU countries for 2019, Italy is expected to have the worst growth rate of all 28 member states, at just 0.2 per cent, while incoming investments will not increase until 2021.

Connectivity Italian Style: Naivety or Sober Calculation?

On the one hand, Italy’s approach to the Belt and Road Imitative and the prospects for cooperation with China may seem somewhat naïve and even rather bold. According to some experts, the difficult economic situation in the country may make it dependent on Chinese investments, while the experience of Greece and Sri Lanka is confirmation of the fear that the facilities constructed may eventually fall into the hands of the primary investor. The economic situation in Pakistan clearly demonstrates the risk of becoming dependent on China economically. In summer 2018, the new government of Malaysia expressed its dissatisfaction with the terms of its deal on the Silk Road Economic Belt. The experience of Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) countries that signed memorandums on the Silk Road Economic Belt over five years ago shows that exports to China have not increased several times over. What is more, the transport routes did not connect the EAEU as countries of the Union had hoped. And the thousands of new jobs that had been promised to the citizens of Central Asian states never materialized.

The lack of transparent rules of the game. Dumping. The use of “grey” practices by Chinese companies. The absence of guaranteed reciprocity in commerce and investment. The use of business standards that are alien to those in the west. The prevalence of discriminatory practices against foreign companies entering the Chinese market. This is just a small list of the risks that come hand in hand with Chinese investments. And it would seem that the Italians are all too aware of this. So, what exactly is Rome hoping for?

In the run-up to the President of the People’s Republic of China visit, a number of Italian media outlets speculated that the purpose of the trip may be to take on a part Italy’s national debt. However, Minister of Economy and Finances Giovanni Tria stated that this was not the case, and that the Chinese investors were there to assess the prospects of purchasing Italian government bonds on the same terms as other foreign investors. In addition, according to Tria, the financial situation in the country had stabilized since the budget had been approved by the European Commission.

Judging by the words of Tria and Geraci, it can be assumed that Italy hopes to reclaim its position as a “protagonist” in determining the European Union’s foreign economic and political priorities. However, the take-it-or-leave-it approach taken by the Italian leadership in its decision to sign a memorandum with Beijing is unlikely to elicit enthusiasm in Brussels about the Italian initiative. What is more, given the desire of Paris and Berlin to form a single EU position on the global stage, the Italian government’s attempt to “run ahead of the train” will hardly be seen as a blessing for the European Union as a whole. And the fact that the Italian government recently backtracked on its decision regarding new rules of the game for foreign investors by not supporting the European Union’s consolidated position on Chinese investments and Huawei effectively reduces the country’s chances of becoming a driver of cooperation with China to zero.

It would seem, however, that Italy was left with no choice, and Brussels certainly shares a portion of the blame for this. The economic situation in the country really is difficult. Meanwhile, the Italian government is openly described as a “leprosy” in Paris and Berlin, and not as a third party in the “tandem” that is constructing a new Europe. Brussels predicts a deepening of the recession, offering no way out of the economic deadlock. Economic cooperation with Russia cannot be intensified because of the sanctions and the risk of an open confrontation with Brussels and Washington if they are ignored. This is why the new partnership with China is the only opportunity available to Italy on which Brussels has not yet defined a categorical position, be it positive or negative. So, Italy has to seize the opportunity while there is still a chance and hope that Washington will put forward a better option at the last minute…

First published in our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

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Ethnic tensions in Montenegro

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On Sunday, July 7, the citizens of Montenegro had the opportunity to witness another incident, that is, the open provocation of radical Albanian elements in Montenegro. Traditionally, on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in Svac, near Ulcinj (a town on the southern coast of Montenegro) liturgy is served at the ruins of a 1, 000 year-old medieval church.

The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral held this year the liturgy in Svac, but at the entrance to the locality, where the ancient church is located. As the Montenegrin police, at the request of Albanian politicians, did not allow the liturgy service in the church. At the gathering, strong police forces were present, especially on the entry to the site.

Priest Slobodan Zekovic, who served the liturgy, stated:

“We are no strangers here, we come here for decades. We come here on the foundations of our statehood and spirituality. With a single goal, not to forget our holy ancestors, aware of the graves that are here. I am sending the blessing of Metropolitan Amfilohije, who was supposed to bring the hand of St. John the Baptist. But, due to tensions, that will be done next yеаr. The President of the municipality said that the access to the site has been banned until December, because archaeological research is being done“.

However, last year also there were tensions in Svac. Then, about ten local Albanians blocked the road, so that Metropolitan of Montenegro and Littoral Amfilohije and the believers of the Serbian Orthodox Church could not come to Svac. The leader of this group was Hadzija Sulejmani, a member of the Ulcinj Assembly and a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians. Sulejmani tried to explain his shameful act by saying that the church has never been an Orthodox holy place, and that he, as a Muslim and a representative of the Ulcinj municipality, does not allow access to the church.

Everything becomes much clearer after seeing a monument that the local Albanian politicians set up in 2005 in the form of a memorial plaque, which says: “In the name of our ancestors Illyrians who founded this ancient town of Svac as the legacy of our Albanian culture …” In other words, then the Albanians marked their territory and now slowly begin with violent means to “defend” it.

History is clear about the Svac. The city of Svac has never been the city of Illyrians, and especially not the city of Albanians. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture of Montenegro started exploring Svac. The research team, led by archaeologist Mladen Zagarcanin, discovered Serbian and Roman pottery in the same layer, which clearly shows the centuries-long presence of Serbs in that area. Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian Grand Prince (Veliki Župan), merged Svac to Serbian Grand Principality (also known as Raška, lat. Rascia) in 1183. When the Mongol hordes in 1242 conquered and demolished the city of Svac, it was restored by the Serbian queen Jelena, the wife of King Uros, who lived in Ulcinj at the time. For architectural decoration, the painters and masters are brought from Serbian Grand Principality Raška (lat. Rascia) . The remains of the Church of St. John are still visible in the city today, where still writes that it was built in 1300. In 1571, the town of Svač was completely destroyed by the Turks. However, what is important to mention is that the Albanians took part in the destruction of the Svac, together with the Turks. So today we have come to a crazy situation that the people who ruined Svac, and that’s the Albanians, want to acquire the historical heritage of that medieval city. In a doctoral dissertation “The influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the creation of the Albanian nation”, Bulgarian historian Teodora Toleva, who studied the Vienna imperial archive, writes:

”After thorough studying of the archives we may claim that at the beginning of the 20th century the Albanian population did not still represent a formed nation. The ethnical groups in Albania live isolated; they do not have connections between themselves, except when fighting. The possibilities for their convergence were practically nonexistent; murders are common, even for the people from the clan. There were two basic dialects in the country that were so different that people could hardly understand each other. There was no unique literary language, but more than twenty different manners of writing in local dialects. The coefficient of literacy did not even exceed 2%. The population belonged to three religious confessions – Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. The Albanians did not have national awareness, they did not have general interests, they did not express solidarity and they did not develop in the direction of waking the national feeling. Hence, at the beginning of the 20th century there was no Albanian nation.” Toleva also noted that:

“At a time when Vienna decides to implement a new plan for Albania, there are about twenty different transcripts of Albanian dialects. Three are basic: one uses the Arabic letters, the other is Cyrillic, the third is Latin. ” Official Vienna also had a decisive influence on the unification of the Albanian language. A letter that the Albanians still use today was accepted at a congress in Bitola in 1908. The decisive role was played by the Austro-Hungarian consul Karl. Grammar, literary books, history books, all printed in Vienna. The promotion of the Albanian language was carried out at every step. The reason why Austro-Hungary did all this was Serbia, which was then the main enemy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the creation of the Albanian nation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted to weaken Serbia. And,  they did it.

Today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire policy has been taken over, dominantly by the United States and United Kingdom, but also from some other Western states.  The main goal is to create Greater Albania. Recently, the self-proclaimed Kosovo and Albania decided to implement a common foreign policy. Unlike the West, which supports that unlawful act, which raises tensions in the Balkans, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned that act.

“The provocative steps of Tirana and Pristina, which are in line with the realization of the concept of ‘Greater Albania’, cause serious concern. In this context we see the signature on July 2, the Albanian-Kosovo agreement on unification of diplomatic missions in third countries. We note that the US and EU prefer not to respond to such destructive measures and to effectively cover the ‘Greater Albanian events’ that are destructive for the region “, stated Russian Foreign Ministry.

In accordance with the support from the West, political representatives of Albanians in Montenegro every day behave more and more insolently. The current Montenegrin authorities do nothing to make Albanian politicians know that they have to respect the laws of Montenegro. While Serbs in Montenegro are strictly forbidden to display Serbian flags, Albanians in the places where they are majority display Albania’s national flag. Albanians every day show more clearly that Greater Albania is the only thing that would satisfy their national interests. The recent event that happened in Svac is something that previously could be seen in Kosovo and Macedonia. Therefore, now, while the fire is still weak, it is necessary to extinguish it. Otherwise, the Greater Albania’s fire can swallow both Ulcinj and other parts of Montenegro.

 From our partner International Affairs

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New “executive branch” of EU and Russia: EU hostile, but not united

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The recent decision by the European Council to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for the post of European Commission Chairperson and Christine Lagarde of France for President of the European Central Bank has caused many eyebrows to raise. Nevertheless, since this “feminist” set of candidates will surely receive the approval of the European Parliament, it’s these people that Russia will have to deal with. (Nominees for the posts of European policy chief  and president of European Council – Josep Borrell of Spain, and Charles Micheln of Belgium – became less of a surprise: their victory in the European Parliament is a sure thing too.)

Significantly, both the “prime minister” and the “foreign minister” from the European Union’s new team have been spotted making outrageously averse remarks regarding Russia. Ursula von der Leyen, holding the post of Minister of Defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, said less than a year ago that one ought to speak with Russia from a position of strength. In response, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu advised Ms. von der Leyen and other Germans to ask their grandfathers what happens when Germans try to speak with Russia from a position of strength. Josep Borrell, speaking in an interview with the Spanish El Periodico, described Russia as “an old enemy” of Spain and Europe that is somewhat  “posing a threat again,” whereas China, in his words, is but a “rival”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by demanding that Borrell account for these words, which clearly do not fit into the framework of friendly relations between Russia and Spain. The EU’s foreign policy chief-to-be came out of this situation with an elephantlike grace, chiding the Russian Foreign Ministry for “excessive” reaction and explaining his position by saying the following: “I said that Europe’s old defender – the United States – is no longer defending it, causing the rise of Europe’s former rival – the USSR “. Thus, the European diplomat has managed to strengthen a prejudice-based lie (about Russia as an enemy) with another (about the notorious “attempts by Putin to restore the USSR”). And there is a third lie – a hint at the now dishonored theory of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. For someone  burdened with the responsibilities of the head of European diplomacy, there seem to be too many prejudices and stereotypes. In all likelihood, these new representatives of the EU will not be easy to deal with.

Nevertheless, the near victory of von der Leyen and the removal from the race of the Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, and representative of the European People’s Party (i.e.”Democratic Christian”) Manfred Weber of Bavaria, speaks of serious differences, bordering on hatred, within the EU. After all, it’s these two nominees (plus Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager, who served as European Commissioner for Competition) that were considered favorites for the post of  European Commission chief right up to the G20 summit in Osaka. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly supported Weber’s candidacy and wanted the job of European Central Bank chief for the current head of the German Central Bank, Jens Weidmann, appears to be on the losing side, given the current layout of forces. Even such a well-informed player in European affairs as George Soros, predicted on the platform of the globalist Project Syndicate that in the event of Weber’s “failure” to head the European Commission, Merkel’s ambitions would be offset by the appointment of Jens Weidman. But this just didn’t happen: the EU’s top finance position went to Christine Lagarde.

Why did the options planned for so many weeks for the above mentioned candidates, which cannot be seen as 100% losers (Timmermans will remain vice-chairman of the European Commission, and Weber is set to become chairman of the European Parliament) were dropped?

The European Union makes it no secret that countries of the “Visegrad group”, first of all, Poland and Hungary, came out against Timmermans. And this is no wonder: it was Timmermans, as vice-president of the European Commission, who “oversaw” Poland’s punishment for its “sins against democracy” and has called for sanctions against Warsaw if it does not abandon so unwelcome for the EU judicial reform. As for Hungary, Timmermans was as harsh with its Prime Minister Viktor Orban. As a result, even Andrei Babis, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, which did not have time, unlike Poland and Hungary, to experience the negative rhetoric of Timmermans, said bluntly: “Timmermans is not the person who can unite Europe.”

As it happens, by voting against Timmermans, the current Polish leadership took revenge for their own failure last year, when they made an attempt to remove Donald Tusk, former Polish prime minister considered to be EU-loyal political opponent of the current ruling party in Poland, “Law and Justice”.

Thus, the current choice of candidates has become a sign of ever increasing instability and unpredictability of the European Union, including in its relations with Russia. In my opinion, two trends are gaining strength at the same time. Firstly, the selection of candidates for top jobs in the European “mainstream” is based, among other things, on the principle “who speaks harshiest of Russia will win” ( this guaranteed success of von der Leyen and Borrell). Secondly, as Eastern European countries are slowly gaining weight, their attitude towards Russia ranges from hostile ( Poland and the Baltic States) to neutral and conciliatory ( Hungarian Prime Minister Orban).

The Orban factor, according to a variety of reports, became a key one for “not supporting” Manfred Weber’s candidacy on the part of France, which eventually led Weber to defeat. President Macron did not conceal his discontent with the fact that Weber, as head of the European People’s Party faction in the European Parliament, did not exclude Viktor Orban and his party Fides from this faction.

The French newspaper Le Monde carries detailed reports on the issue. For the French president, who deems Orban, along with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini,  his personal enemies over disagreements on migration issues, any means will do to fight against the Hungarian politician. Le Monde carries reports about Macron’s attempts to cut down EU payments to the Hungarian budget due to Hungary’s unwillingness to bear its share of the migration burden on the EU. And although Macron has not succeeded in these attempts,  the battle between the “progressists” (Macron) and the “traditionalists” (Orban and the Visegrad Group, which is behind him) is driving the main wedge into the European Union, including its position towards  Russia. Both the elections to the European Parliament and the differences over the candidacies for the “executive branch” of the European Union have clearly demonstrated this. 

From our partner International Affairs

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North Macedonia and Albania not allowed even in EU “waiting room”

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The recent decision by an EU summit to postpone until October the solution on welcoming in Albania and Northern Macedonia as new members marks yet another setback for the European Union, which testifies to lack of unity among its members. Both Albania and Northern Macedonia have done all they could in the past few years to prove their loyalty to NATO and the West with a view to secure early admission to the European Union. Albania has joined NATO and supports Kosovo separatists, while the former Yugoslav regional capital Skopje chose to change the name of its country from Macedonia to Northern Macedonia, despite the unconvincing results of the de facto failed referendum on this issue in February this year. All these efforts were not rewarded, not even by a formal announcement on the start of the membership talks.

The matter is that European capitals make no secret of the reasons for such a postponement: the parliaments of Germany and the Netherlands opposed the entry of Macedonia, and Albania in particular. These parliaments have thereby refused to implement the recommendations of the European Commission of May 29 which advised member states to speed up the process of welcoming new members into the Union from countries of Western Balkans.

Instead of information on the beginning of the negotiations, Macedonia and Albania received a humiliating communiqué of the European Council, calling on these “hopefuls” of the EU membership to do more to secure the rule of law, strengthen democratic institutions, etc.

Macedonians and Albanians feel deceived also because the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Khan, promised last year that membership negotiations would begin in June 2019 if both countries carried out reforms of their judiciaries and security services.

Albanian Prime Minister Edie Rama said that his country has fulfilled the reforms required by Brussels and that Tirana has thus earned the right to enter admission negotiations.

“I want to say that the European Union should proceed from geostrategic and geopolitical considerations, and it also should take into account the achievements of candidate countries,” – Prime Minister Rama was quoted as saying on June 11, 2019. “If candidate countries deserve to be admitted, the European Union should not deny them this right.”

The Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, went as far as stating that postponement of negotiations on his country’s accession to the EU could lead to the fall of his government and the victory of nationalist forces “hostile to the European Union”.

Behind all these statements lies demonization of Russia and the attempts to present it as a “destabilizer” of the situation in the Balkans, just as it was done by  Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic, who accused Moscow and so-called “Serbian nationalists” of an attempt to stage a coup in his small country for the purpose of preventing Montenegro from entering NATO.

The version of what happened was provided by a Montenegrin court, which blamed leaders of the opposition Democratic Front for an attempt to seize power in Podgorica with the help of two dozen Serbian militants. The court described the incident as a typical conspiracy and a “high-profile process” in the style of Andrei Vyshinsky. Nevertheless, the Western press has accepted this version, telling its to readers about plans by wicked Russians and Serbs to kill Mr. Djukanovic, who positioned himself as a Serbian-Montenegrin nationalist during the “Yugoslav Wars” of the early 1990s.

Will North Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev succeed in performing the same trick, will the EU accept his version that “forces hostile to the European Union” will take over if his country does not join the European Union in the near future? It seems that the European Union is skeptical about Zaev’s “warnings”. It knows only too well that Zaev himself came to power as a result of a Macedonian “color revolution” that removed the former leader Nikolu Gruevsky, who led the left-wing party VMRO-DPNE. This party is still the largest opposition party in the parliament of Northern Macedonia.

Shortly after coming to power Zaev reoriented the country to NATO, hoisting a NATO flag in front of the Macedonian government building.  Taking advantage of people’s hopes for joining the European Union, Zaev ensured the victory in the presidential election of his henchman Stevo Pendarovsky. But now that the prospect of starting negotiations looks remote and indefinite, Zaev and his entourage may indeed face a destabilization. The position of Albanian government of Edi Rama, who is facing powerful protests across the country, is hardly better. 

From our partner International Affairs

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