Apostolova: Belgrade-Pristina dialogue remains most complicated Balkan process

Pristina, 5 June 2018 (MIA) – Normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia is "the most complicated process in the Balkans at the moment," Natalya Apostolova, the head of the EU’s office in Pristina, said in an interview for Euractiv.
Both sides, according to Apostolova, need the international community's encouragement to reach a final solution and progress towards EU membership.
"It is extremely vulnerable and sensitive," Apostolova said, "because we know the history and the legacy behind it. But there is no other way the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo could happen.”
She said Serbia, which has been negotiating EU membership since 2014, had already launched an internal dialogue about the issue, while Kosovo has yet to do it.
In the interview, Apostolova described recent ethnic incidents involving Serbs and Albanians as worrisome, and "starting to look like tit-for-tat.”
However, work on a statute regulating the status of Serb municipalities in Kosovo has resumed after a long time and should be completed by August, she said.
If the statute, Apostolova said, clearly guarantees the rights of Kosovo’s Serbs, allaying "their worries about security, property rights, access to civil registry, documentation, justice—with the participation of Serbian judges, as well—this period of lack of trust will be overcome.
"But no one says it will be easy, and I think again that dialogue is the only solution in this process." mr/17:37

Spain wants involvement in Belgrade-Pristina dialogue: paper
Belgrade, 6 June 2018 (MIA) - Spain and some of the Visegrad Group states voiced their dissatisfaction because they have not been involved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, reads Belgrade daily "Blic".
According to the paper, they told a meeting of the European External Action Service the negotiating process is not transparent, having the impression of secrecy and hastiness in reaching an agreement for normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
"Spain is getting nervous, the same as several other countries that have not recognized Kosovo. They told the meeting that everything Brussels is doing regarding the dialogue lacks transparency and that no one has consulted them over the issue," a source from the EU told Blic.
Radio Free Europe has reported that some Union members have reacted to the reports from the dialogue they receive from the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, which they claim are "superficial, with a positive note and the assessment that both sides are committed to a comprehensive agreement." ik/11:08

Pristina-Skopje motorway to cost EUR 700 million: minister
Pristina, 6 June 2018 (MIA) - Kosovo Minister of Infrastructure Pal Lekaj has said that the final cost of motorway Pristina-Skopje could reach EUR 700 million, which is EUR 100 million more than the initial projection, MIA reports from Pristina.
In an interview with a local TV station, Lekaj said the project was initially estimated for completion by 1 January 2018.
"The final cost for the motorway could reach EUR 700 million, including the additional penalties that were paid due to outstanding liabilities to the contractor," said Lekaj.
The motorway was set to cost EUR 608 million, but the amount increased due to the penalties paid to contractor "Bechtel Enka". The Kosovo government has decided to pay EUR 53 million in penalties as a result of outstanding liabilities by the previous government of Ramush Haradinaj. ik/12:26

EU warns UK-centered China import scam may shift to Europe's 'Silk Road'
Brussels, 6 June 2018 (MIA) - European Union anti-fraud investigators suspect Greece and Hungary may have become the main EU centers of a multi-million-euro scam involving imports of Chinese clothing and footwear that uses the infrastructure of China’s new “Silk Road”, Reuters reports.
The large-scale fraud, which involves underdeclaring the value of imported goods to pay lower duties and sales taxes, was first uncovered in Britain, where it had gone on for years, prompting the European Commission this year to demand that London pay 2.7 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in lost customs duties to the EU budget.
Officials at the EU anti-fraud agency OLAF said they now suspected the scam could have shifted to Hungary and to the port of Piraeus in Athens, which has been majority-owned by China’s state-owned COSCO Shipping (601919.SS) since 2016.
Hungarian and Greek customs data show a surge of undervalued clothing and footwear imports from China over the past two years, OLAF officials told Reuters. They stressed that this trend had coincided with a drop in undervalued Chinese imports into Britain.
Customs duties in EU countries are a direct revenue for the bloc’s budget. They are collected by national authorities before being sent to Brussels.
“We are worried about this,” OLAF’s director for investigations Ernesto Bianchi told a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday, adding that monitoring of import flows would be enhanced.
Reuters exclusively reported in April that Italian authorities were investigating suspected import fraud by Chinese criminal gangs at Piraeus port, the largest in Greece..
Asked about the suspected fraud in April, COSCO Shipping said: “The company has in its global operations consistently and strictly followed local and international laws, and persevered to operate legally and compliantly.”
Hungarian and Greek customs authorities were not immediately available for comment.
China wants to transform the Greek port into its “gateway to Europe” as part of its $126 billion “Belt and Road” initiative, which envisions a new Silk Road of land and sea routes with trading partners.
Under the plan, a fast rail and land route would connect Athens to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, across the Balkans. That same route could have been used by traffickers to move underpriced and undeclared Chinese goods to Hungary, investigators suspect.
“It is maybe too soon to jump to conclusions, but it is worrying that fraudsters are now obviously looking at infrastructure investment as a business opportunity for them too,” Bianchi said, urging EU authorities to make sure that the infrastructure built by the Chinese “is not exploited for illicit traffic”.
In the British scheme, Chinese criminal organizations used the German port of Hamburg as Europe’s first arrival point for undervalued clothing and footwear cargos. But goods passed customs controls only after having been shipped to Britain’s ports, under EU rules that spare checks on items in transit between the bloc’s member states.
The British ports of Dover and Felixstowe were still the EU’s main hubs for undervalued Chinese imports in 2017, OLAF data showed, but that flow has nearly stopped this year because of stricter checks by British customs, EU officials said.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU’s customs union might have also persuaded the criminal groups that oversee this business to find new routes to bring Chinese goods into Europe, the officials said.
The British government is contesting that frauds occurred in UK ports. OLAF chief Nick Ilett said he expected the controversy with Britain would last “some time” and would probably need to be settled at the EU’s court of justice.
OLAF defines undervalued goods as those which fall far below the average price declared in all EU customs.

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