Friday

19th Jan 2018

Opinion

Germany needs to stay invested in Western Balkans

  • Pristina. Western Balkan countries have high expectations that chancellor Merkel will keep EU enlargement as a top priority. (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

Germany's elections on Sunday (24 September) confirmed the victory of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian partners, the CSU, albeit with a drop in votes compared to past elections.

But, of course, the result will not undermine Germany's role in Europe or in the Balkans - and neither will it serve to weaken the position of chancellor Angela Merkel.

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The chancellor remains a significant figure, and is largely supported by German public opinion. This was proven by the elections and the widespread support she herself is seeing in comparison with her centre-right CDU party.

Accepting a million of refugees into Germany from Syria; overseeing the legalisation of gay marriage; granting early retirement for those who have sufficient work experience; providing financial aid to Greece in the billions of euros to overcome the deep economic crisis; raising sanctions against Russia; supporting Ukraine; condemning Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria; and waging war against ISIS are just some of the measures taken by Merkel in her previous mandate.

All of these decisions - at home and abroad - will be remembered as bold moves, and ones that were taken at the right time, despite the political price.

Although they were economically costly and unpopular, the decisions did not hamper Germany in reducing its unemployment rate and even boosting GDP, while, at the same time, influencing European and world politics.

Germany will continue to be pivotal for European and world policy over the next four years.

Franco-German alliance

The partnership between Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron, representing two of the founding states of the EU, presents a message to EU citizens and beyond that the principles on which the Union is founded are not negotiable.

It also presents the vital notions on which the economy, free movement and every other civil rights in Europe are based.

For Europe and beyond, the world is facing many challenges: North Korea's nuclear tests, the migrant crisis, Brexit, Crimea and Russia, Islamic radicalism, rising nationalism in the EU, and the ongoing exasperation in the Balkans.

These are more or less the reasons why Europe and the wider world need a teamed-up Merkel and Macron.

First and foremost, this partnership would be a driving engine for the whole of Europe.

They are required to defend and preserve the integrity of EU values, which were challenged on several occasions after the Brexit referendum in the UK. And, moreover, this partnership would guarantee EU enlargement and the inclusion of the Western Balkan countries as a bright prospect in the near future.

The role of Germany in the Balkans and of chancellor Merkel, in particular, continues to be crucial.

Germany took the WB6 (Western Balkan 6) initiative - known also as a "Berlin Process" - under its supervision and helped to facilitate it.

This initiative is based on three principles: regional cooperation between governments (which remains the basic principle in the accession process), the connectivity agenda in regard to infrastructure and energy projects, and cooperation among youth and civil society.

Meanwhile, Germany has presented other initiatives, such as the "Marshall Plan for WB" or "Berlin + Process" which will be supplementary factors in the economic development of countries in the region.

The Transport Treaty and the Agreement on the Regional Economic Area, should be considered another added value towards the process of EU enlargement.

They were facilitated by the EU but sponsored by Berlin, and both of them are supplementary factors in the integration process for the entire WB countries.

'By 2025'

The latest statement by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that "By 2025, Montenegro and Serbia could join the EU", was an announcement that came as a surprise to many high-level officials in Brussels. And this too, in a sense, means that the engine of the EU relies on Berlin and not really on Brussels.

Germany also continues to be very outspoken and decisive.

The country has made it clear to the Western Balkans countries, and their governments, that there are basic conditions to be met - the rule of law, the fight against crime and corruption, good neighbourly relations, basic human rights, freedom of expression and economic development - to pave the way towards the EU integration process.

Aside from that, each and every country is at a different stage of the EU accession process and has its own road map to follow.

Technical issues, which are later transformed into a political obstacles, such as the border demarcation between Kosovo and Montenegro, have kept Kosovo isolated for almost three years, and visas are still required for Kosovo citizens to enter the Schengen area.

The issue of border demarcation, the continuation of dialogue with Serbia, and the establishment of the association of Serbian municipalities, are all conditions that should be fulfilled by Kosovan institutions - and Berlin has already made this clear to all political parties in Kosovo.

Only after these conditions are met will Kosovo be able to apply for EU candidacy and later open accession negotiations.

But, on the other hand, Serbia should also be committed and constructive towards relations with Kosovo, so that the dialogue can be concluded with a bilateral agreement and Serbian recognition of Kosovo's independence.

For both countries, Kosovo and Serbia, their path towards the EU is interlinked and locked together through the dialogue and rapprochement.

Balkans prospects

Montenegro, as the youngest member state of Nato, continues to be ahead of the others in the path towards the EU negotiation process.

In addition, regarding the opening of accession negotiations for Albania, Germany had made it clear that soon after its elections (which were on 24 September), Albania would be able to open accession negotiations.

This has come after Albania showed a determination and willingness to undertake judicial reforms and implement vetting.

Germany has also been a key factor in the case of Macedonia, by expressing a will to find a solution with Greece on the issue of the country's name.

At a later stage, this could pave the way for Macedonia towards the EU negotiation process and also Nato membership.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied for candidate status, and once they reach an internal consensus and sufficiently meet the Copenhagen EU accession criteria, there could be a continuation of the integration process.

For the most powerful woman in Europe, chancellor Merkel, this mandate will certainly be very challenging and demanding - for her decisions and actions.

But this upcoming term will be important for Germany in remaining the guarantor of peace, security, political stability and economic prosperity.

Lastly - but not least importantly - citizens of WB countries have high expectations that chancellor Merkel will keep enlargement as a top priority and be committed to supporting the region towards the goal of reconciliation, economic prosperity and EU integration.

As is very often quoted: "the EU is not complete without the Balkans".

Mimoza Ahmetaj is the former minister of EU integration of Kosovo.

EU's Kosovo meddling risks Balkans chaos

The EU and the US are is unfairly pressuring Kosovo to ratify a border deal with Montenegro against the will of the opposition. It could bring trouble to the Western Balkans region.

Bulgaria calls for West Balkan EU integration after Brexit

The UK leaving the EU gives an opportunity to bring the Western Balkans closer, Bulgaria's PM said in Brussels. Bulgaria will hold the upcoming rotating presidency, while Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro will be EU members by 2025.

EU's 'old men' must pressure Poland on abortion rights

Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

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