In the world of diplomacy as elsewhere, an exchange on screen can only replace face-to-face meetings to a limited extent. Therefore, in early March – heeding all the pandemic-related rules, of course – Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Nikola Selaković, as well as the Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bisera Turković, in Berlin, and also spoke on the phone to the new Foreign Minister of Albania, Olta Xhaçka. At the same time, Minister of State Michael Roth had a video conference with Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Đorđe Radulović, following on from the latter’s first official visit to Berlin earlier this year.
Serbia belongs in the EU and has set itself ambitious and necessary reform targets.
One thing became clear during all the talks: the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major challenge for all countries in Europe. And it can only be combated in the long term through close exchange, mutual support and joint solutions. All the Ministers shared the view that the vaccination rollout had to be speeded up – and that it will indeed be speeded up soon. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed during the subsequent press conferences (extracts):
“There are some who criticise Serbia for accepting vaccines from Russia and China. I’m not going to – for it’s not my place to do that. In the past few days here in Germany, there have been frantic reports that China has pledged to provide 46 countries with vaccines and that it intends to produce more than two billion doses this year. I believe that when we look at the figures, we in the EU should perhaps rather talk about the fact that
- COVAX, the international vaccine initiative for which we are the largest donor, will ship vaccines to more than 140 countries by the end of May;
- COVAX has reserved more than three billion vaccine doses for this year;
- every fifth euro spent on COVAX is provided by Germany, and every third by the EU;
- COVAX will deliver more than one million vaccine doses to the Western Balkans by May alone, of which 300,000 to Serbia as well as 130,000 to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- To help the Western Balkan countries to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic, the European Union has put together a package totalling 12 billion euro.”
All of this underscores once more that Germany is serious about the EU perspective for all Western Balkan countries. Ultimately, Europe’s strategic sovereignty cannot be achieved on a durable basis if the Western Balkan countries, among others, do not have close ties with the European Union. It therefore remains vital that these countries continue to move closer to the EU by implementing forward-looking domestic reforms.
EU accession negotiations with Montenegro: Focus on reform efforts to foster the rule of law
Since 2014, there has been a key complementary format for this, the ‘Berlin Process’. Germany is acting as host nation again this year. The ‘Berlin Process' has been fostering closer political, economic and civil society ties between the Western Balkans and the EU since its initiation.
This is all about very practical steps such as the establishment of the ‘Regional Youth Cooperation Office’, the creation of a common regional market and the preparations for passport-free travel.
Next milestone for Albania and North Macedonia: First accession conferences with the EU
The goal must be to ensure that people throughout the Western Balkans can experience our solidarity for real in their daily lives.
People in Pristina, Skopje or Tirana should not only read and hear but also see and feel quite tangibly that the 27 EU member states are serious about a Europe which creates peace, freedom of travel, jobs and prosperity.
Proof of commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina: Christian Schmidt’s candidacy for the office of the High Representative
With regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina, even 25 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, the German Government’s aim remains to closely and amicably accompany this country at the heart of Europe “from Dayton to Brussels”. The Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina shares this goal, and the new US Administration has again become more active in supporting this process in the last few weeks. With the candidacy of Christian Schmidt, Member of the German Bundestag, the Federal Government is highlighting its commitment to this key process, “from Dayton to Brussels”. For it makes sense and is important for a wide range of reasons to continue the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Parallel to the talks involving Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Minister of State Michael Roth, Miroslav Lajčák, EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues, travelled to the region for talks in early March. Just recently, the US State Department underlined renewed US support for this EU-led dialogue aimed at achieving normalisation as well as a comprehensive agreement based on mutual recognition. The election of Joe Biden as US President thus highlights an opportunity to re-establish a resolute, transatlantic commitment to reconciliation, democracy and economic development in the Western Balkans.
Germany’s pledge remains, namely that the future of the countries of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. Germany is and will remain a close partner for all countries in the region, especially during its year as host of the ‘Berlin Process’. This and many other important bilateral and international issues were the focus of the talks of Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Minister of State Michael Roth in early March – during face-to-face meetings in Berlin as well as talks on the phone or on screen.