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In the difficult environment of managing a public health pandemic because of the coronavirus, Montenegro would be well advised to invite international support organisations to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year, to ensure that there are no politically motivated restrictive measures. The Coronavirus pandemic should not be used as a pretext for limiting the transparent election process. such a move risks the government  to negative criticism of their commitment to democracy and deal a serious blow that would impact on the reputation for any future Government for many years - writes Vladimir Krulj,

The Author, Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London

The Author, Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London

To the contrary, the presence of international observers to monitor the process during such difficult times would be crucial for protecting these fundamentals for Montenegro in the context of their ongoing EU accession process. Election observation today is the norm with 85% of all elections in new democracies organising the involvement of international agencies to monitor their operation. In todays world, failure to inviteelection observers could be misinterpreted as meaning that the country is not guided by basic democratic principles, and give rise to accusations that the society tolerates electoral malpractice.

International observers representing diverse political interests, academic and professional expertise give credibility to the full international legitimacy of the election process and can lend important support to the country during its transition to the democratic set of norms established by EU.

Safe, peaceful, free and fair elections will foster democratic development in Montenegro, reinforce its sovereignty and independence, and pave the way for greater cooperation with the EU and economic prosperity for the Montenegran people.

Montenegro is at a crucial point in its accession process to become a  member of the EU, and whilst the current negotiations with Western Balkan states are not a beauty contest, it is nevertheless important for Montenegro to demonstrate the countrys commitment to the same democratic values and principles of good governance expected of EU Member States.

In recent elections for neighbouring countries in the Region, both North Macedonia and Croatia arranged for observer teams, but there were no observation missions for Serbia; indeed there was no political campaigning, no opposition, with the result of a landslide74% victory for the ruling coalition. Although Serbia is another candidate country to join the EU, it seems to follow a different road in terms of freedom of media, rule of law and electoral fairness.This presents Montenegro with the opportunity to aim for higher standards, and follow the examples of North Macedonia and Croatia to go for best governance practice.

The attention of the EU on standards of governance for elections has recently been drawn into sharp relief by the failure of Belarus to respect any standards in the conduct of their elections due on 9 August. Montenegro needs to distance the country totally from such behaviour, and show efforts to implement procedural and legal safeguards to enhance inclusiveness, integrity and transparency during all stages of the electoral process.

Accusations have already started to be levelled in the media to cast doubt on voter registration, and there is a need to counter black propaganda with hard facts and attention to demonstrate that Montenegro is determined to protect democracy and the rule of law and to ensure a meaningful and competitive political contest.

It is time to act quickly to stop such negative propaganda, by putting in place positive structures to support and defend political rights and freedoms. Inviting international observers to monitor the election process is one such measure that needs to be implemented as soon as possible.

The Author, Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London


President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again



President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

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Parliament launches the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize



Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb explosion in October 2017 

The European Parliament has launched a journalism prize in tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in 2017. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values.

"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala.

Prize money of €20,000

The €20,000 annual prize will be awarded as of October 2021 to journalists or teams of journalists based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.

The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.

Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.

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Scotland extends hospitality restrictions until 2 November - PA Media




Coronavirus restrictions in Scotland, which include the closure of pubs and restaurants in the central belt area and a curfew on indoor hospitality elsewhere, are to be extended until 2 November, PA Media reported on Wednesday (21 October), citing Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, write Sarah Young and Andy Bruce.


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