Question: Do you consider an agreement between Aleksandar Vučić and Albin Kurti to be conceivable in the foreseeable future? By that, I mean 2021 or perhaps 2022.
State Secretary Berger: It’s important that both sides do their utmost to reach good and viable solutions. For us, this means negotiating a comprehensive and legally binding agreement, even if that takes some time. A solution must also be implemented at the end of the day, and you have to win over the population to do that.
An agreement like this is intended to help both countries make their prospects of joining the EU a reality. This would play a major role in making the region more stable. However, it’s also clear that the agreements reached to date must also be complied with. This goes for both sides. Germany will do everything it can to support this dialogue and to help both sides find a good solution.
Question: Germany, together with France and the Netherlands, vehemently opposes further EU enlargement. On the other hand, the expectations made of Serbia, and also of other candidate countries, are great. This has a demoralising effect. Is it possible to change this state of affairs?
Berger: There appears to me to be a misunderstanding here. Germany is committed to the EU accession prospects of Serbia and the other countries of the Western Balkans – there can be absolutely no doubt about this.
Of course, it’s also true that the necessary conditions for this must have been met. Reforms in different areas of the rule of law benefit the people in the first instance. Political deadlocks are what, understandably, lead to disappointment. This is why we hope that it will be possible to address Bulgaria’s reservations against opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia.
Particularly since we want to inject greater momentum into the accession process, we welcome the fact that Serbia opted for the new enlargement methodology. The speed of the negotiations and the progress made will be determined by Serbia itself to a large extent. The more swiftly headway is made in reforms to the rule of law, the judiciary and the freedom and independence of the media, as well as fighting corruption and organised crime, the more swiftly the accession negotiations will proceed. The Serbian Government’s announcement that it will implement judicial reform by the end of the year gives grounds for optimism in this regard.
Question: What is your assessment of the relations between Serbia and Germany today?
Berger: Our relations are close and diverse, also at the political level. Despite the restrictions owing to the pandemic, we still have a great deal of dialogue, and we have even expanded ties between Berlin and Belgrade. In March, Foreign Minister Maas received Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković and opened the new German Embassy in Belgrade not long afterwards in April. President of the National Assembly Ivica Dačić recently visited Berlin. We have worked together intensively in many formats in the Berlin Process on the promotion of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, to which Federal Chancellor Merkel issued invitations at the beginning of July, culminating in a summit meeting.
Our countries also enjoy very close ties thanks to a wealth of human, family and private contacts. This is reflected not least in a particularly lively economic exchange. Over 70,000 jobs in Serbia have been created by entrepreneurs from German companies.
Question: You will be speaking to the President of Serbia, as well as to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister over the next three days. What message will you be conveying?
Berger: I will express my gratitude for the sympathy we received from Serbia following the devastating floods in Germany. We were able to support Serbia in 2014 in the wake of severe flooding in the country. Now we Germans are experiencing a great deal of solidarity and willingness to help – also from Serbia.
Moreover, I will use my visit to assure Serbia that Germany is a close and reliable friend and partner. This applies to the EU accession negotiations in particular. We support Serbia and the countries of the Western Balkans on their path towards the EU.
Question: When you look back at the past 18 months today and consider everything that has happened in the world as a result of COVID-19, how would you assess this period? Do you think an end to this battle is drawing nearer, and have we learned anything from all of this?
Berger: COVID-19 has posed an incredible challenge for our political stakeholders and also our societies. We have, over the past 18 months, witnessed a high level of international cooperation and solidarity – not only between countries, but also in terms of cohesion in society. We have learned that we can only address such challenges with international cooperation. The COVID-19 pandemic also shows that we are capable of taking swift action and finding swift solutions. Who would have thought this time last year that we would have reliable vaccines against coronavirus today and that we would have made such progress with our vaccine rollout? In both Germany and Serbia.
The most important thing is that we don’t slacken our efforts now. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, in spite of the progress made in the vaccination rollout in Europe. We will only have greater security and protection against new variants of the virus once we have managed to vaccinate the entire world. It’s important in our countries that as many people as possible get vaccinated in order to have the greatest possible level of protection.