Merkel Hails Progress in Balkan Cooperation

News
29 Aug 14
Merkel Hails Progress in Balkan Cooperation

At the end of the West Balkan leaders’ summit in Berlin, the German Chancellor praised leaders for working together more closely – and said their countries are on the right track in terms of eventual EU membership.

Gordana Andric, Florian Franze, Dusica Tomovic, Sven Milekic, Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Nektar Zogjani
BIRN
Berlin, Belgrade, Podgorica, Zagreb, Skopje, Pristina

Merkel with Western Balkan leaders in Berlin. | Photo by Beta

Following the summit of Western Balkan leaders in Berlin, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, said that all the countries of the region have a future in the EU and are striving towards EU membership.

“The fact that all eight prime ministers, foreign ministers and ministers of economy sat down together is proof that great progress in the region has been made in recent years, and the European Commission and EU members wish to continue their assistance,” she stated.

Regional leaders left Berlin saying they also felt reassured that both Berlin and Brussels are willing to increase their engagement in the region.

“There is a clear will in Germany and in the European Commission to increase their influence and get engaged in solving the different problems that the countries from the region face,” Nikola Gruevski, Macedonia’s Prime Minister, stated.

Ivo Viskovic, a former Serbian ambassador to Berlin, described the conference as an attempt to reinforce stability in the Balkan region, as the EU faces the continuing crisis on its border in Ukraine.

“They certainly do not want other things anywhere in Europe, especially in a sensitive region such as the Western Balkans, to get out of hand,” Viskovic told Serbia’s public broadcaster, RTS.

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian Prime Minister, said he and Merkel had discussed Serbia’s neutral standpoint on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which has been criticised. Serbia has refused to echo EU sanctions imposed on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine conflict, while declaring that it respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Vucic stated that there was “partial understanding” in Berlin and Brussels for Serbia’s neutral position on the issue, but that Serbia faced no new pressures to change its policy.

“We are on the path to the EU, but we cannot abandon some traditional friendships and standpoints that are in the economic interest of Serbia. I cannot say Merkel completely agrees with what we do, but we are firmly keeping to our policy,” Vucic said.

Merkel, on the other hand, praised the achievements made in the EU-led dialogue between Belgrade and Kosovo, and both the Serbian and Kosovo Prime Ministers said the dialogue would continue as soon as Kosovo appointed a new government.

While the German Chancellor and EU leaders praised the progress that Balkan countries have achieved, they said the pace of EU integration would depend on the countries themselves.

Merkel pointed out that she also expects further progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, once the country overcomes the challenge of forming a government following a parliamentary election due in October.

Gruevski of Macedonia said that Macedonia’s main focus remained solving the long-running dispute with Greece over its name.

“It was emphasised that it would be good to solve this issue as soon as possible, as that is the key reason why Macedonia has not yet started EU accession talks,” Gruevski was cited as saying.

Greece blocked Macedonia’s accession to NATO in 2008 and it is currently blocking Macedonia’s attempts to join the EU in connection with the name dispute. Greece insists that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia.

On the other hand, Croatia’s Prime Minister stressed that border issues have yet to be resolved in the region.

“Croatia has not signed border agreements with any of the countries… which is why we have to try [to solve] this with Serbia, if we cannot do so with the others,” Zoran Milanovic stated.

Vesna Pusic, the Croatian Foreign Minister, said that continuing reforms in countries with EU aspirations are of “vital interest for Croatia as well”.

Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister of Montenegro, pointed to the overriding importance of generating economic recovery in the region.

He called on the European Commission to set up a wide investment package for the Western Balkans, which would focus on better infrastructure interdependence and on better links between the Balkans and key European transport corridors.

“With this assumption, we can create the conditions for economic growth, new jobs, and then on progress in democratic development and implementation of standards that will bring us closer to EU membership,” Djukanovic said.

The Balkan leaders were in Berlin for a conference on the economic prospects and European perspectives of the Western Balkan under German patronage.

The summit brought to the same table top-ranking politicians from Germany, the EU and the Balkans.

The idea is for Western Balkan conferences to become regular annual events, with next one due to be held in 2015 in Austria.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)