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#Montenegro elections called into question by EU

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milo-djukanovicThe European Union has called for a “thorough investigation”  of allegations of fraud in the recent elections in Montenegro.

Opposition parties in Montenegro have accused the country’s prime minister, Milo Đukanović (pictured), of using dirty tricks to retain power in Sunday’s (16 October) election.

The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) – led by Djukanovic, who has run Montenegro almost constantly for more than 25 years – will be the largest single party in the new parliament with 36 of 81 seats providing it can form a coalition.

Election observers, however, said they plan to file complaints over numerous allegations of fraud.

In an indirect reference to the fraud allegations, the EU’s High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said:  “Any cases of procedural irregularities observed need to be duly followed up by competent authorities and other shortcomings reported by the observers need to be addressed.”

A source at the European Commission’s neighbourhood policy and enlargement directorate (DG) told this website: “There clearly needs to be a thorough investigation into the allegations of irregularities.”

The election was marred by claims of irregularities and a temporary ban on WhatsApp, Viber and similar messaging apps.

The website of the NGO Centre for Democratic Transition and all its subdomains were under constant attack from 13 October onwards and Montenegrin Telekom (T-com) reported numerous attacks.

DPS has been part of the government since 1991 and Dukanovic has served either as prime minister or as president for most of that time.

The political turmoil resulting from the election at the weekend could cast a shadow on the small Balkan republic’s NATO and EU ambitions.

Mogherini added: “Montenegro is well advanced in its EU accession process and the months ahead must be used to deepen and speed up political and economic reforms, particularly on the rule of law, where we want to see an ever stronger implementation.”

The opposition, which accuses Djukanovic of corruption and cronyism, insists it has a good chance of forging a parliamentary majority and has poured scorn on claims that Serb gunmen planned to attack state targets and top politicians.

An election monitoring mission sent by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found that the media had lacked editorial independence in covering a campaign "permeated by personal attacks".

The country’s prosecutor’s office said 114 complaints, including the anti corruption watchdog, the Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector, had been lodged about alleged electoral fraud and “vote buying”.

Party Activists from DPS were seen recording voters outside some polling stations.

Nebojsa Medojevic, leader of the Democratic Forum, the larger of the two alliances, said, "The opposition has unanimously decided not to recognize the election result because of an attempted coup and misuse of state institutions as well as the creation of an atmosphere of fear which directly influenced the election result.”

Djukanović, 54, is the only Balkan leader to have held on to power since the collapse of Yugoslavia began in the early 1990s, serving several times as prime minister and once as president.

In 2003, Djukanovic was named a suspect in an Italian cigarette trafficking inquiry dating back to the 1990s and he faced large anti-government rallies last year.

Critics of the regime say that after Sunday's poll he is now under fresh pressure, with critics also accusing his government of corruption and links to organised crime.

The furore comes after the European Parliament adopted a resolution which condemns Đukanović’s government for lack of progress in strengthening the rule of law and governance and fighting corruption and organised crime.

The resolution, adopted in March this year, says that “corruption remains a serious concern, particularly in […] privatisation” and “reiterates the need to eliminate corruption on all levels since it undermines democratic principles and negatively affects social and economic development”. It has criticised the government’s lacklustre approach to tackling corruption by calling on it “to make combating corruption one of its priorities by allocating sufficient human and budgetary resources to it”, and urging it to make the Special Prosecutor's Office “fully operational as soon as possible”.

Montenegro, which has a population of some 630,000, is deeply divided between those who favor and oppose integration with the West. After seceding from Serbia in 2006, the country, which had been an ally of Russia, has taken a strong turn toward Euro-Atlantic integration.

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WHO says working with Commission to manage regional COVID vaccine donations

EU Reporter Correspondent

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WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the European Commission to co-ordinate COVID-19 vaccine donations for other countries on the continent, the head of its European office said on Thursday (25 February), write Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London.

Hans Kluge, asked about doses for countries in the Balkans, told a news conference: “We are also working closely with the European Commission at all levels on the issue of donations.”

Austria would be co-ordinating those donations, he said.

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Coronavirus disinformation: Online platforms took more actions fighting vaccine disinformation

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The Commission has published the new reports by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, TikTok and Mozilla, signatories of the Code of Practice on Disinformation. They provide an overview of the evolution of the measures taken in January 2021. Google expanded its search feature providing information and a list of authorised vaccines in user's location in response to related searches in 23 EU countries, and TikTok applied the COVID-19 vaccine tag to over five thousand videos in the European Union. Microsoft co-sponsored the #VaxFacts campaign launched by NewsGuard providing a free browser extension protecting from coronavirus vaccines misinformation. Additionally, Mozilla reported that curated authoritative content from its Pocket (read-it-later) application gathered more than 5.8 billion impressions across the EU.

Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “Online platforms need to take responsibility to prevent harmful and dangerous disinformation, both domestic and foreign, from undermining our common fight against the virus and the efforts towards vaccination. But platforms' efforts alone will not suffice. It is also crucial to strengthen co-operation with public authorities, media and civil society to provide reliable information.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “Disinformation poses a threat that needs to be taken seriously, and platforms' response must be diligent, robust and efficient. This is particularly crucial now, when we are acting to win the industrial battle for all Europeans to have a fast access to safe vaccines.”

The monthly reporting programme has been recently extended and will continue until June as the crisis still unfolds. It is a deliverable under the 10 June 2020 Joint Communication to ensure accountability towards the public and discussions are ongoing on how to further improve the process. You will find more information and the reports here.

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Agriculture

CAP: New report on fraud, corruption and misuse of EU agricultural funds must be wake up call

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MEPs working on protection of the EU's budget from the Greens/EFA group have just released a new report: "Where does the EU money go?", which looks at the misuse of European agricultural funds in Central and Eastern Europe. The report looks at systemic weakness in EU agricultural funds and maps out in clear terms, how EU funds contribute to fraud and corruption and undermining the rule of law in five EU countries: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
 
The report outlines up to date cases, including: Fraudulent claims and payments of EU agricultural subsidies Slovakia; the conflicts of interest around Czech Prime Minister's Agrofert company in Czechia; and state interference by the Fidesz government in Hungary. This report comes out as the EU institutions are in the process of negotiating the Common Agricultural Policy for the years 2021-27.
Viola von Cramon MEP, Greens/EFA member of the Budgetary Control Committee, comments:   "The evidence shows that EU agricultural funds are fuelling fraud, corruption and the rise of rich businessmen. Despite numerous investigations, scandals and protests, the Commission seems to be turning a blind eye to the rampant abuse of taxpayer's money and member states are doing little to address systematic issues. The Common Agricultural Policy simply isn't working. It provides the wrong incentives for how land is used, which damages the environment and harms local communities. The massive accumulation of land at the expense of the common good is not a sustainable model and it certainly shouldn't be financed from the EU's budget.
 
"We cannot continue to allow a situation where EU funds are causing such harm in so many countries. The Commission needs to act, it cannot bury its head in the sand. We need transparency on how and where EU money ends up, the disclosure of the ultimate owners of large agricultural companies and an end to conflicts of interest. The CAP must be reformed just so it works for people and the planet and is ultimately accountable to EU citizens. In the negotiations around the new CAP, the Parliament team must stand firm behind mandatory capping and transparency."

Mikuláš Peksa, Pirate Party MEP and Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control Committee said:   “We have seen in my own country how EU agricultural funds are enriching an entire class of people all the way up to the Prime Minister. There is a systemic lack of transparency in the CAP, both during and after the distribution process. National paying agencies in CEE fail to use clear and objective criteria when selecting beneficiaries and are not publishing all the relevant information on where the money goes. When some data is disclosed, it is often deleted after the mandatory period of two years, making it almost impossible to control.
 
“Transparency, accountability and proper scrutiny are essential to building an agricultural system that works for all, instead of enriching a select few. Unfortunately, data on subsidy recipients are scattered over hundreds of registers, which are mostly not interoperable with the Commission’s fraud detection tools. Not only is it almost impossible for the Commission to identify corruption cases, but it is often unaware of who the final beneficiaries are and how much money they receive. In the ongoing negotiations for the new CAP period, we cannot allow the Member States to continue operating with this lack of transparency and EU oversight."

The report is available online here.

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