Minister of State Gernot Erler on the occasion of the International Workshop of the Southeast Europe Association on Serbia and Montenegro after the Referendum

12.07.2006 - Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you here in Berlin to the international workshop on Serbia and Montenegro after the Referendum. Thank you for following the invitation of the Southeast Europe Association in such great numbers.

As you all know, during the referendum on 21 May 2006, a majority of 55.5 per cent of votes were cast for the independence of Montenegro. Formally, the declaration of independence in the Montenegrin Parliament on 3 June 2006 completed the referendum process and thus brought to an end the State union with Serbia that had existed since 2003.

I would like to congratulate Montenegro for having been welcomed as the 192nd Member State to the United Nations on 28 June 2006. I would also like to congratulate the Montenegrin people for having engaged in a referendum process that the OSCE confirmed to have been in line with its standards. If we are honest: not all had expected such a professional conduct since the issue at stake on 21 May was far-reaching and the people in Montenegro seemed deeply divided over the question of independence. Since a status-changing result requires more legitimacy than a simple majority, all relevant political forces in Podgorica accepted the proposal of the European Union to define a majority requirement of 55 per cent of votes cast. It is commendable that all sides made an effort to engage in a such a democratic and peaceful process. This political maturity is not the least outstanding when one looks back at how painful and disastrous previous secession processes in the former Yugoslavia had developed.

At the same time I commend the people of Serbia who have largely accepted that Montenegro has become independent. Also, the democratic political actors in Belgrade have acknowledged the result of the referendum – some sooner than others – and have already taken some of the necessary steps that should allow for a reasonable divorce of Serbia and Montenegro. The most remarkable of these step is the early establishment of diplomatic relations with Montenegro on 22 June, on the occasion of Foreign Minister Vlahovic’s visit to Belgrade.

These initial decisions taken in Belgrade and Podgorica and the political clout thereby displayed are very encouraging. Montenegro and Serbia have throughout history been very closely interconnected and will continue to have a particularly close relationship, not the least because of the many Montenegrins living in Serbia and the many Serbs living in Montenegro. As a result, the governments in Podgorica and Belgrade have, in fact, an obligation to continue working closely together for the sake of their citizens.

I have already mentioned that the European Union supported the referendum process over the past months. I am pleased to welcome here Ambassador Miroslav Lajcak, the Special Envoy of the EU’s High Representative Javier Solana, who was in and out of Podgorica and Belgrade since December last year. He offered his advice to all sides involved on the open referendum questions and allowed EU Member States to closely follow the developments. Your skilful and successful engagement in the process was highly appreciated by all involved and we think that the experience of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia could also offer further ideas for the necessary negotiations between Belgrade and Podgorica.

The idea of this workshop is to discuss openly and frankly (tomorrow under the well-known Chatham house rules) what we see are the four most important topics:

  1. the dissolution of the State Union and the road map towards good-neighbourly bilateral relations
  2. the domestic situations in Montenegro and in Serbia after the referendum
  3. the euro-atlantic integration process
  4. and regional concerns

As an introduction to these four topics I would like to offer some thoughts on each one of them:

1. The dissolution of the State Union and the establishment of good-neighbourly bilateral relations:

As I have already mentioned, initial steps in this respect have been taken. Serbia, who is the undisputed successor state of the State Union, has acknowledged Montenegro’s independence. President Tadic congratulated the people of Montenegro and visited Podgorica soon after the referendum and again on 26 June. The two now separated Republics have established diplomatic relations. And also for one of the most important questions of concern to the citizens, the direction has already been set: Both Serbia and Montenegro have declared that Serbs and Montenegrins will continue to enjoy the same rights in both States as prior to the referendum. Moreover, Serbia has offered Montenegrins living in Serbia the opportunity to apply for the Serbian citizenship. This latter point, I understand, will be important for the question of voter eligibility.

Immediately after the Referendum some observers had been weary whether Podgorica and Belgrade would so quickly find common language and engage in the necessary discussions. With these decisions, I believe, Belgrade and Podgorica have already entered the path towards a constructive dialogue. And honestly: I think it should be in the own interest of both Belgrade and Podgorica to find solutions for the outstanding questions.

For the concrete management of the dissolution of the State Union the following topics are likely to be on the agenda:

  • Dividing the functions and property of army, navy, funds, and diplomacy.
  • Future economic cooperation, possibly with the introduction of freedom of labour, capital, services and goods (the EU model)
  • Property rights, citizenship, education, health care, taxation, social security

Herewith some remarks on the second agenda item of this workshop:

2. The domestic situations in Montenegro and in Serbia after the referendum:

As mentioned earlier, the people in Montenegro seemed to be deeply divided over the question of independence in the run up to the referendum. While a little more than the required majority of 55 per cent voted for independence, this leaves a significant amount of citizens in Montenegro who voted in favour of the preservation of the State Union. What will be needed in Montenegro is a reconciliation process across this dividing line. It will require the majority to integrate those parts of society that are unhappy with the referendum result. But it will also require those in favour of the State Union to acknowledge the result.

And now that the independence question is answered, this will also free the way for a new political agenda. Montenegro – not the least with a view to its euro-atlantic aspirations – will have to focus first and foremost on strengthening administrative capacities and reform policies, and on combating organised crime and corruption. The government has already defined some of its priorities and the upcoming campaign for Parliamentary and Municipal elections this autumn will automatically encourage all political forces to communicate their respective visions of the future they want for Montenegro.

So far, Montenegro has been almost the only place in the Western Balkans, where the question of ethnicity didn’t lead to disastrous consequences. If now Albanians, Bosniaks and Croats in Montenegro are being blamed by some for allegedly having all voted for independence, I think that this gives rise to great concern. All political actors in Podgorica should carefully avoid making ethnicity a playing factor in politics in Montenegro.

The domestic situation in Serbia: We all know that Belgrade faces a very demanding political agenda this year: the dissolution of the State Union, the Kosovo status talks, and negotiations with the EU on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement that can only resume once Belgrade’s full co-operation with the ICTY has been established. The minority government will have to master these difficult and domestically highly unpopular issues all in parallel. Moreover, the Democrats in Belgrade are under additional pressure with a Radical Party now at more than 40 per cent in opinion polls. This threat of populist and chauvinistic political forces coming back to power six years after the end of Milosevic’s regime might require a renewed union of all democratic forces to stand up in Belgrade.

3. The euro-atlantic integration process:

Joining the European Union and NATO are declared foreign policy goals of both Montenegro and Serbia. Likewise, both the EU and NATO have confirmed the euro-atlantic perspective for both Republics. It will materialise once the well known conditions have been fulfilled.

As you all know, the EU opened negotiations with the State Union on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement on 10 October of last year. Unfortunately, these negotiations had to be disrupted by the EU Commission on 3 May due to the unsatisfactory co-operation of Belgrade with the ICTY – as part of the political criteria one of the key conditions for integration into both the EU and NATO.

With Montenegro, SAA negotiations will be taken up as soon as the EU Commission has received a negotiation mandate. While the condition of full co-operation with the ICTY applies to Montenegro just as much as to all other relevant potential candidate countries, we understand that The Hague is satisfied with Podgorica’s co-operation and hence there are no objections to resuming SAA negotiations.

We sincerely hope that SAA negotiations can also resume as soon as possible with Belgrade. But this will depend on full co-operation with the ICTY, a conditionality that cannot be compromised. I would like to use this opportunity to point out what I think is a serious misunderstanding: the handing over of Mladic to the Tribunal in The Hague has become a catchy demand, quoted by political actors and the press likewise. But what actually matters is that the ICTY is being convinced that Belgrade does absolutely everything it can to co-operate. Therefore the argument now sometimes heard in Serbia that the country is being taken hostage by one single General doesn’t make much sense. Let’s remember the case of Croatia, where the ICTY reported full co-operation and thereby allowed the EU to give Croatia its candidate status, and, later on, to start accession talks. “Full cooperation” could be certified even before the actual apprehension of General Gotovina and his transfer to The Hague. What counted where the determination of the Croatian Government, underpinned by concrete plans and actions, and by the trustful and comprehensive communication and information exchange.

Also the way to joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme will be open to Serbia as soon as the ICTY-conditionality is fulfilled. In the case of Montenegro the Alliance is looking forward to Podgorica developing the military and administrative capacities that are required for participation, including the setting up of a Defence Ministry and deciding on the future design of military structures.

Finally some thoughts on

4. regional concerns:
When I spoke about the heavy political agenda that Belgrade is facing this year it has already become clear that the dissolution of the State Union is only one of many issues currently on the agenda in the region. The Kosovo status talks are by far the largest and most difficult task to solve for all involved, including the international community.

The people in Kosovo, in Serbia and in neighbouring countries need clarity about Kosovo’s future. Further uncertainty would only contribute to regional instability. Therefore, in its London meeting on 31 January with President Ahtisaari, who has our full support, the Contact Group clearly indicated that a solution should be reached until the end of this year.

We are, of course, well aware of the largely antagonistic positions between Pristina and Belgrade. The course of the Vienna meetings shows that the differences between both sides may vary to a certain degree, but altogether are difficult to overcome.

  • The Kosovo-Albanians who are aiming at Kosovo’s unconditional independence;
  • Belgrade, which is advocating for a status that would allow “more than autonomy and less than independence”.
  • And not to forget the Kosovo Serbs, who are divided into different camps, some feeling represented by Belgrade, others not. What they all have in common though is the desire to build a future which guarantees them physical and psychological safety in a multi-ethnic Kosovo. And this is also exactly what the International Community is aiming at: we will remain very firm on the needs for improvements in standard implementation, also during the period after a status solution. But we do also believe that the Kosovo-Serbs would be in a better position to protect their legitimate rights if they gave up their boycott and participated in the provisional institutions, and if Belgrade were encouraging them to do so.

Much more readiness for compromise is therefore needed from Belgrade and Pristina alike in order to come to a negotiated solution which, with some amount of good-will and flexibility, could be acceptable to both sides.

Any status solution should thus ensure two fundamentals:

  • the effective protection of the minorities living in Kosovo and
  • greater regional stability. Stability means that a solution should be objectively acceptable to both sides. Only then does it have the potential to become self-sustainable. In this context we also believe that a solution, which would not, to a considerable extent, take into account the will of the overwhelming majority of the population living in Kosovo, stands little chances to create the level of stability we need.

The Contact Group elaborated a set of guiding principles which were endorsed by the UN Security Council. Part of these principles are the so-called “three No’s” regarding Kosovo’s future status:

  • no return to the situation pre-March 1999
  • no union of Kosovo with a third country or part of it, and
  • no partition of Kosovo.

There is also a consensus that for some time Kosovo will continue to need an international civilian and military presence.

There is no denying that some very difficult decisions are laying ahead both for Pristina and Belgrade. What is important for us, as Germans and close neighbours to the region, is the need to come to solutions that are fair and do not give the impression that one side is the absolute winner and the other side stands completely empty-handed.

Finally, allow me one further remark and I would like to be very clear on this: Kosovo is a case “sui generis”. Trying to establish a link between the future status of Kosovo and the Republika Srpska, as attempted recently by some politicians in Banja Luka, is a dangerous game we will not accept. The borders of BiH have been determined once and for all by the Dayton Peace Agreement.

With these thoughts of mine on the four topics of our workshop agenda I would like to conclude this introduction. I thank you once again for coming and I hope for a good, frank and open-minded discussion tomorrow.

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