On Wednesday (20 May), Foreign Minister Steinmeier met his counterpart Ditmir Bushati in Berlin: The talks with the Albanian Foreign Minister focused on his country’s path towards the EU and Germany’s continuing support. Regional matters were also addressed, above all the situation in Macedonia following the incidents in Kumanovo.
They had met most recently just last Thursday (14 May) on the margins of the NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting in Antalya (Turkey). Today’s talks in Berlin offered Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Bushati another chance to hold in-depth discussions. This time the spotlight was on Albania’s path towards the EU and the progress made by the country, including in the field of tackling corruption.
EU: No doubt over Albania’s desire to reform
Foreign Minister Steinmeier commended the Albanian leadership’s commitment to resolutely continue along the path towards the EU:
Since becoming an EU candidate country, Albania has further progressed towards the EU. Albania has the courage to implement far-reaching reforms.
Equally though, the Ministers agreed that much remained to be done. Bushati thanked the German Government for its support for Albania’s democratic development as well as the country and the entire Western Balkans region’s progress towards the EU. For his part, Steinmeier said that he had no doubt that in the future Albania would “continue to show courage in reforming the judiciary and fighting crime”.
Furthermore, the Ministers discussed the increased numbers of emigrants – Steinmeier thanked Bushati for his help with joint efforts to run public information campaigns in Tirana and elsewhere. The German Embassy in Tirana and the Albanian Government have collaborated to implement public information campaigns, countering the belief that it was possible for Albanians to stay in Germany by applying for asylum despite not suffering political persecution.
Western Balkans Conference for more regional cooperation
Both sides praised the Austrian initiative to host a second Western Balkans Conference in Vienna: Germany had set up this new format together with its partners in south-eastern Europe last autumn. More on the conference
The German Foreign Minister praised as a positive development the fact that in Austria, concrete consultations were going to take place on infrastructure in the Western Balkans, on cooperation with civil society and on the promotion of youth exchanges between the Western Balkans and the EU. The conference would also address what the EU and its member states could contribute. Bushati voiced his hope that the conference would also help strengthen the interconnectivity of existing infrastructure between the region and the EU.
Macedonia: the need for transparent inquiry
In addition to this, the two Foreign Ministers discussed the developments in Macedonia following the clashes in Kumanovo. Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that the incident had alarmed Europe but had also provoked closer examination. He hoped that what had happened was “not the beginning of an escalation” but that, rather, those in positions of responsibility would conduct a transparent enquiry. Moreover, the Macedonian leadership had to “do its bit” to prevent similar incidents from occurring in future, he added. In this regard, he thanked the EU for its willingness to help with mediation.
I hope that the situation in Macedonia will not only calm down but that a firm desire will take root in the country to continue along the road towards the EU, rather than to raise doubts about this path.