Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited some of the countries of the Western Balkans – Kosovo, Serbia and North Macedonia. The aim was to offer hope that the process of EU accession promised almost 20 years ago would soon have a realistic chance of materialising. “In terms of the prospects of EU accession of the countries of the Western Balkans, I would say this: there are problems, but these problems are not insurmountable,” said the Federal Chancellor.
Standing up for European values
In Skopje on Saturday morning, Federal Chancellor Scholz met the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovačevski. At this meeting he said: “Germany is serious about integrating the states of the Western Balkans in the EU” – and this applied especially to North Macedonia, he added. The Western Balkans were strategically vital to Germany, said Scholz.
The Federal Chancellor stressed that he admired the strength of political will that had enabled an understanding to be reached with Greece, adding that the citizens of North Macedonia and their government had worked very hard on this. “I would also like to express my appreciation for the fact that North Macedonia fully supports the EU’s positions and actions towards Russia. This is further proof of how firmly North Macedonia supports of European values and is prepared to stand up for them, too.”
“We Europeans bear a joint responsibility”
From North Macedonia, the Federal Chancellor travelled on to Bulgaria for his final visit. After his conversation with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Scholz said he was aware that European enlargement was an important issue for Bulgaria too, and that it had naturally triggered many questions and discussions – all of which was a natural part of the process.
Scholz said he firmly believed that “we Europeans bear a joint responsibility for the European Union and for stability in the Western Balkans”. It was important to use the current enlargement process to the benefit of Europe, said Scholz, and to demonstrate the solidarity of the European Union – something that was especially important at the present time.
“Europe and the possibility of being part of the European Union has mobilised many forces for good in our societies – forces in favour of democracy and solidarity,” said the Federal Chancellor. He said he had great respect for the contribution Bulgaria was making, including the fact that it had taken in some 100,000 refugees from Ukraine.
Helping Ukraine defend itself against attack
The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine was also an issue discussed during the Federal Chancellor’s visit to Serbia on Friday. The conflict was a “terrible war, a senseless war – instigated in pursuit of an imperialist vision of Russia,” said Scholz in Belgrade. “This is why it is so important for the European Union and for all of us to stand in solidarity with Ukraine and help it defend itself against this attack.”
For the Federal Chancellor, this “naturally includes sanctions against Russia. Our expectation is that these sanctions will be supported by all those countries who are candidates for EU accession,” said Scholz in an appeal to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. So far, the Western Balkan country has not supported sanctions against Russia – unlike Kosovo,
where, on the first stop of his trip in the capital Pristina on Friday morning, the Federal Chancellor said: “Albin Kurti and the government of Kosovo have shown through their support of all measures and sanctions that Kosovo stands closely by our side and is in solidarity with the European and international community as a reliable partner.”
Advancing dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia
Scholz also stressed how important it was for the EU-led dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia to move forward. To this day, Serbia does not recognise the independence of Kosovo, which used to be part of the Serbian territory. More than 20 years after the end of the Kosovo war, NATO is still deployed in the Balkans with its KFOR mission to guarantee security. It was inconceivable for two countries that did not recognise each other’s existence to become members of the EU, said the Federal Chancellor.
He said he believed that progress in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo was “absolutely essential, and I would like to encourage all political leaders to ensure that this really does happen and that numerous individual agreements are arrived at to enable an improvement in the situation, thereby advancing dialogue towards normalisation”.
This was the second meeting between Scholz and the Serbian President within a few weeks: Vučić came to Berlin at the beginning of May. “We naturally support Serbia in the EU accession process,” says Scholz, adding that he believed cooperation was important here. “We very much want to see the countries of the Western Balkans, including Serbia, move forward with their prospects of joining the European Union, and I would encourage everyone to work with the utmost courage and strength to make such progress possible.”
Reviving the “Berlin Process”
During his trip to the Western Balkans, the Federal Chancellor also made it clear that he wanted to re-establish the “Berlin Process”. “All countries in the Western Balkans benefit from better regional cooperation,” said Scholz, adding that since 2014, the Berlin Process had shown the potential that lay in cooperation between the six countries of the Western Balkans. Scholz is planning to hold another conference in Berlin in autumn.
Visit to the KFOR base
Germany is committed to stability and sound development in the Western Balkans: this is also underlined by the involvement of the Federal Armed Forces in KFOR and its contribution to the NATO Advisory and Liaison Team under German leadership. The Federal Chancellor visited the KFOR base Film City in Kosovo on Friday to form an impression of the work being done by the KFOR contingent and thank the soldiers in person: “Unbelievable excesses of violence have been committed in this region: the fact that we have been able to put an end to this is not least thanks to this operation and many others who are involved.”
On Friday evening, Federal Chancellor Scholz also visited Greece. In Thessaloniki he attended a dinner with countries involved in the regional initiative “South East European Cooperation Process”.