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European Commission approves state support for natural gas interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria

The European Commission said on November 8 that Bulgarian and Greek plans to support the construction and operation of a 182km cross-border gas interconnector ("IGB") between Komotinin in Greece and the Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora to be in line with EU state aid rules.

IGB will be owned by ICGB AD, a 50-50 joint venture between the IGI Poseidon consortium (which includes Edison of Italy and Greek gas incumbent DEPA) and BEH, the Bulgarian gas incumbent.

The total investment cost for the IGB interconnector, which is designed to transport three billion cubic meters/year (bcm/y) of natural gas from Greece to Bulgaria by 2021, is 240 million euro.

Bulgaria and Greece notified the Commission of certain support measures to ICGB AD, which involve state aid within the meaning of EU state aid rules.

These include an unconditional state guarantee to be granted by the Bulgarian state to cover a 110 million euro loan that ICGB AD will receive from the European Investment bank; a 39 million euro direct financial contribution by Bulgaria via the Bulgarian Operational Programme "Innovation and Competitiveness" 2014-2020; (OPIC) and a fixed corporate tax regime that will apply to ICGB AD for 25 years from the start of commercial operations and will be governed by an intergovernmental agreement between Bulgaria and Greece.

The Commission said that it had assessed these measures under EU state aid rules, in particular its 2014 Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy and concluded that "the measures are in line with EU state aid rules and will contribute to the objectives of security of supply, diversification of energy sources and increased competition in EU energy markets".

European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "The new gas interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria will increase the security of energy supply and enhance competition, to the benefit of citizens in the region.

"We have approved the support measures to be granted by Bulgaria and Greece because they are limited to what is necessary to make the project happen and therefore are in line with our State aid rules," Vestager said./IBNA

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International interest in Krk gas terminal in Croatia

Progress appears to have been made in the case of the construction of the Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) for LNG on the island of Krk, Croatia.

A final decision on the investment is not expected before mid-2019, however, the first step has been made in selecting the company to upgrade and transform the existing facility into a natural gas storage and processing plant.

Based on existing plans, Norwegian company Golar Power can deliver the project, the gas storage and processing unit, in September or October 2020, in order for it to be put into operation on 1 January 2021.

Meanwhile, the visit of Qatar emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Croatia is interesting, since the country is seeking to supply this unit with natural gas.

Qatar seems to have already expressed interest in both the construction of the plant and exporting LNG to Croatia through the terminal on the island of Krk.

So far, despite the fact that the two sides maintain excellent relations, the good intentions of both countries for cooperation have not led to the signing of a formal agreement.

"The delay is due to us. We took the decision to go ahead with the construction of the gas storage and processing unit at the same time as Poland. Their station started operating in 2017, when we still had not started building our own," said Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

Qatar has the world's third largest natural gas reserves. In 2017 it began further exploitation of the South Pars deposit in cooperation with Iran./IBNA

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has a new Presidency

The members of the BiH Presidency in the next term, as of Tuesday November 20, are officially Milorad Dodik, who will represent the Serb people, Željko Komšić, representative of the Croats, and Šefik Džaferović from the Bosniak people.

The constituent session of the newly elected BiH Presidency, was opened by Bakir Izetbegović, the chairman of the previous convocation. Another old member, Mladen Ivanić, attended the ceremony but third member, Dragan Čović, did not come to Sarajevo. Izetbegović thanked his colleagues Ivanić and Čović for the fruitful cooperation they had in the past four years.

He emphasized that during the four years in the Presidency, they made a lot of important decisions.

"Among other things, thanks to above all our engagement, after years of stagnation, the Euro-Atlantic path of BiH was unblocked. Today, we are close to gain the status of a candidate for EU membership and activation of the NATO Membership Action Plan…Together, with the consensus, we adopted more than 2,000 decisions. It is true that we did not make some of the decisions that we were supposed to make, and in some cases, we had different views on some important issues. Unfortunately, these are the few cases that are talked about more than anything that we jointly did successfully for the benefit of the citizens of this country", Izetbegović said.

After Izetbegović's address, the President of the BiH Central Election Commission, Branko Petrić, handed over the certificates on the takeover of the mandate to the newly elected members, which then read and signed a solemn declaration.

First Chairman of the BiH Presidency will be Milorad Dodik. Members of the Presidency of BiH, as Chairman of the Presidency, change every eight months according to the principle of rotation.

In his address to ceremony participants, Dodik said that his base is Republika Srpska but that he has no intentions to harm other two constituent nations in BiH.

“I want to cooperate with my colleagues and to prove that this cooperation can be effective. A long time ago, we created distance, from the time in which we had conflicts, this is a serious opportunity to make a step forward and make a democratic society. My policy will be based on respecting the Constitution, according to the Dayton Peace Agreement", Dodik said.

He repeated that his intention is to shut down the Office of the High Representative in BiH and that he will, with other Presidency members, on the first official session ask the European Union to give the candidate status to BiH.

Komšić said that there is no responsibility to the state if there is tolerance of crime, corruption and insecurity of the citizens.

“We have to look into the future. BiH's future is membership in NATO and the EU. These are the guarantors of the security of our citizens. BiH should not be an object, but a subject of international relations, and therefore cooperation with Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia should be strengthened. Priority is also the strengthening of our economic position and the fight against foreign influence in the electoral process", Komšić said.

Džaferović urged his colleagues in the BiH Presidency to take care of the words spoken in public, since all problems begin with them.

"This creates a spiral of a bad atmosphere in which it is difficult to work. If we treat each other with respect, even if we have different views, if we are to lead a civilized dialogue, if we strive for an agreement on key issues, and we will strive for the truth and justice, then we will be able to work genuinely on the reintegration of the country. That implies equal rights for every citizen and the realization of the interests of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We can stop the people from leaving the state if we make BiH the country just like EU countries. BiH stands before gaining a status of EU membership, this must be a priority", Džaferović said.

In the October general elections, the highest number of votes for the BiH Presidency member from the Bosniak people was won by Šefik Džaferović – 212,581 votes or 36.61 per cent, by the Croatian people Željko Komšić – 225,500 votes or 52.64 per cent, while Milorad Dodik won the most votes for a member of the state Presidency from the Serbian people – 368,210 votes or 53.88 percent./ΙΒΝΑ

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Hungary grants asylum to former PM Gruevski

"Today the Republic of Hungary, an EU and NATO member country, approved my previously submitted request for political asylum for political persecution in the Republic of Macedonia. In the request for political asylum I stated that I am apply for it due to political persecution by the new government led by the SDSM party. I have learned that the government wants to take my freedom away using undemocratic steps and methods and abusing the prosecutorial and judicial system in Macedonia," wrote Nikola Gruevski on Facebook after Hungary granted asylum to the former prime minister who fled to Budapest after being sentenced to jail for abuse of power.

‘The Immigration Authority concluded that if Gruevski returned home, his political past and stance, as well as accusations made against him by the new government, could make him subject to official persecution,’ the daily Magyar Idok said.

Neither the Hungarian nor the fYR of Macedonia government has thus far confirmed the news that Gruevski was granted political asylum.

Last Tuesday, the 48-year-old Gruevski who was prime minister of the Balkan country between 2006 and 2016, announced via Facebook that he had fled to the Hungarian capital. Earlier today the Macedonian Justice Ministry said it had sent a request for Gruevski’s extradition to Hungary…/IBNA

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A new railway project connecting Albania to Greece

Albania and Greece will now be connected through a railway line. This is the new line that will start in Follorina, go through Kastoria and end in Pogradec. The works for this project started yesterday in Kastoria.

This is a project funded by Interreg-IPA CBS Greece-Albania, which will study the needs of transport in the region, the needs for extra infrastructure and alternative solutions.

The general secretary of the Greek Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, Thanos Bourdas has mentioned the importance of this project for his country, for Albania, Western Balkans and all of Southeast Europe.

This new line will be part of the Thessaloniki-Durres-Tirana-Montenegro-Serbia railway line which aims at strengthening railway connections in Western Balkans and Central Europe as part of the Trans-European Network TEN-T. /ibna/

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Albanian Foreign Minister visits Kazakhstan

Albanian Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati held today an official visit to Astana, Kazakhstan. This is the first visit of an Albanian chief of diplomacy in the past 25 years in this Asian country.

In his meeting with the Kazakh counterpart, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, minister Bushati stressed the importance of intensifying economic and trade relations by improving connections in different business sectors.

Bushati considered the bilateral cooperation for the projects in the domain of oil and gas, infrastructure, tourism and agriculture as promising, underlining the need of intensifying contacts between the business communities of both countries in order to benefit as much as possible from the potential of cooperation.

Bushati also spoke about the Albanian Diaspora present in the Kazakh capital Astana, for which he said that they act as a connection bridge and a factor for the development of businesses and trade relations between the two countries.

On his part, minister Abdrakhamanov expressed the interest of his country to further boost cooperation with Albania, especially in economy. During this visit, minister Bushati was also accompanied by a group of Albanian businessmen.

At the end of the meeting, two agreements were signed: Protocol of Cooperation between the two Foreign Ministries and Protocol of Cooperation between Chambers of Commerce. /ibna/

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