18th Mar 2019

Merkel moots 'privileged partnership' for Balkans

  • Angela Merkel - "the question of full membership should not be the next question at all" (Photo: CDU)

German chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested a "privileged partnership" for the western Balkan states as an option for closer ties with the EU, raising doubts over Berlin's commitment to full membership for the region.

Ms Merkel made her comments at a press conference after meeting Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa in Berlin on Wednesday (15 March), DTT-NET.COM reports.

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Asked whether the western Balkans' "European perspective" could also mean something less than full membership, she said "from my side I would like to say that we should not avoid the term ‘privileged partnership’."

Ms Merkel's statement represents the first public statement by an EU leader of a loose partnership option for the region, an option that so far has only been mooted for states like Turkey and Ukraine.

It also came just days after member states struggled to find common wording for their aims towards the region after a meeting of foreign ministers last week.

In the end, the words "EU membership as ultimate goal" were only included after strong pressure from the Balkan states.

Ms Merkel said "I think the question of full membership should not be the next question at all, it is rather about political stabilisation, for which Europe should feel responsible."

"Political stabilisation can of course never mean 'never full membership', but (...) other steps are more important now," she added.

Wobbly message

But although Ms Merkel did not rule out eventual full membership, her use of the term "privileged partnership" is likely to cause concern in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo.

The term has been frequently used by Ms Merkel and other politicians for Turkey and Ukraine as an alternative to full accession.

For it part, the European Commission is urging member states to stay true to their Balkan commitments. EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn urged member states not to "go wobbly" on the goal of full EU membership for western Balkan states, just as the region enters a difficult period of talks on Kosovo’s future status.

EU leaders promised western Balkan countries that they "will become an integral part of the EU, once they meet the established criteria" at a meeting in Thessaloniki in 2003.

Berlin and Paris: deepening first

However, Germany has now joined France in saying that the union should first sort out its internal institutional problems before expanding further.

Ms Merkel said that "without a constitutional treaty, in which institutional reforms are also anchored, enlargement of the European Union is hardly imaginable."

The remark echoes similar statements from Paris.

Dominique de Villepin, the French prime minister, said in January that "Europe has no vocation to enlarge indefinitely."

"A balance has to be found between widening and deepening and now the priority lies with deepening," the French politician stated.

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.

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