Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

EU commissioner goes against Merkel on Balkans borders

  • Hahn's comments flew in the face of Merkel's position (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission has endorsed the idea of a potential Kosovo-Serbia border change, going against Germany and breaking a former taboo.

"Whatever the solution finally is, and we should not exclude anything ... [it] should respect that the overarching goal is stability in the region," EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said at a symposium in Alpbach, Austria, on Saturday (25 August).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "Territorial integrity of the states of the Western Balkans ... is inviolable," Merkel said (Photo: Consilium)

"We should leave it to them [Serbia and Kosovo] ... finding a solution will be supported by us if the overall setting is OK," he added.

"It's about a bilateral solution which should not serve as a blueprint for other issues," he also said.

Hahn spoke to media alongside Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic and his Kosovar counterpart Hashim Thaci.

Both men have, in recent months, begun openly discussing the idea of a new territorial accord.

The changes would likely involve giving the Presevo Valley, an ethnic Albanian area in southern Serbia, to Kosovo in return for handing ethnic Serb areas in northern Kosovo to Serbia.

A deal could help normalise relations 20 years after the war ended, paving the way for EU accession down the line.

But it could stir instability in the Western Balkans if other minorities, such as Croats and Serbs in Bosnia or Albanians in Macedonia, also tried to change borders for the sake of ethnic purity.

"We want to reassure our neighbour countries, EU member states, and other countries in the world, not to be afraid of a potential peaceful agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, even if such a deal implies a border correction," Kosovo's Thaci said on Saturday.

"We are not problematic guys - we are trying to do an agreement," he said.

Serbia's Vucic described the status quo as a "frozen conflict."

"Someone one day will de-freeze it and then we'd have a war. And none of us wants a war," he said in Alpbach.

Merkel's law

The EU commissioner's comments flew in the face of the German and UK position on the issue.

"The territorial integrity of the states of the Western Balkans has been established and is inviolable," German leader Angela Merkel said in Berlin on 13 August after meeting Bosnian president Denis Zvizdic.

"This has to be said again and again because again and again there are attempts to perhaps talk about borders and we can't do that," she said.

The UK ambassador to Kosovo, Ruairi O'Connell, told Kosovo's T7 broadcaster on 15 August that "borders are written in words, but they change with bullets".

The US and the EU have in the past walked in lockstep on Western Balkans policy after Nato intervention helped to end the 1990s wars there.

US switch

But the White House went against Merkel on Friday, when John Bolton, US president Donald Trump's national security advisor, also backed a potential border change.

"If the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don't exclude territorial adjustments," Bolton said while in Kiev on 24 August.

"We wouldn't stand in the way, and I don't think anybody in Europe would stand in the way, if the two parties to the dispute reached a mutually satisfactory settlement," he said.

With Russia and China opposed to Balkans border changes, the EU commission's Hahn said in Alpbach that EU states had a "responsibility" to play a leading role in conflict resolution.

"It's our task, our responsibility to care about European countries and not to leave it to other parties, third parties somewhere in the world," Hahn said.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  2. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London
  3. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  4. UK announces EEA trade deal ahead of EU summit
  5. Four European cities among world's most expensive
  6. Violent 'yellow vest' protesters ban in Paris
  7. Russia celebrates fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation
  8. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out

Opinion

EU should brace for a more authoritarian Erdogan

The new blend of religious nationalism will be more anti-West and anti-EU, as Brussels has anything but leverage on Turkey. The first signs of this strong rhetoric are already visible.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  2. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  3. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  4. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections
  5. The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019
  6. It is high time to exclude Fidesz from the EPP
  7. Brexit delay and Orban decision This WEEK
  8. EU must get real on Russia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us