Speech by Frank-Walter Steinmeier before the Bundestag on extending the Bundeswehr's KFOR mandate

14.05.2009 - Speech

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, together with the historian Eckart Conze, I presented his new book about the contemporary history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The chapter on the Kosovo war bears the title “War returns to Europe”. This reminded me of the heated debates we had in Germany, and indeed in this House, ten years ago. The decision to also play a military role in the Balkans was not one we reached easily, but that decision made history. This is of course also an opportunity to once again review what we have achieved.

Although ethnic tensions in the Balkans remain, the vital thing is that the spectre of war has been banished. We achieved this together with others, and we can be proud of that.

The horror scenarios people painted a year ago with a view to Kosovo's declaration of independence have not become true. Fifty-eight countries have recognized Kosovo to date, including all successor states to the former Yugoslavia, with the exception of Bosnia and Serbia. The vast majority of countries in the region favour cooperation and stability. For the people there this provides an opportunity for reconciliation and the chance of a peaceful, shared future. That was our common goal, and that's what we have achieved.

We should bear in mind that Serbia, too, is now behaving in a more rational manner, even though it insists on what it sees as its legal right. Serbia, too, is keen not to pour oil onto the flames. The celebrations for the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence, as well as a number of other anniversaries in February and March, passed off fairly peacefully. Those with memories of what happened on those symbolic dates in the Balkans in the past know that this can certainly not be taken for granted. The fact that this time no fighting broke out also represents progress.

Even so, the challenges facing Kosovo are enormous; the task of developing its economy has become especially difficult due to the global financial and economic crisis. Another problem is the fight against corruption and organized crime. All these are huge challenges. Some progress has been made – last week Kosovo joined the International Monetary Fund, and last summer Kosovo's constitution came into force. This is an important foundation, not to be underestimated, and Kosovo-Albanians, Kosovo-Serbs and members of other ethnic groups are now able to live together side by side in peace, even if they do not mix yet.

With EULEX the European Union has set up the largest civilian EU stabilization mission to date. It is supported by all major players – by the UN Security Council, the Kosovo government, and indeed by the Serbian leadership. As you know, President Tadic clearly reaffirmed this support at the end of last year in a letter to Javier Solana. Here, too, we ask ourselves once more who could have imagined such progress two years ago? For that reason I say that we should definitely not lose sight of what has been achieved in spite of all the difficulties that remain.

Today we are discussing a mandate. Notwithstanding all the progress I have briefly touched upon in Kosovo and the region, a military presence remains necessary for now. KFOR is the guarantee of stability – in the opinion not only of people in Kosovo but also of those in the wider region, even in Serbia, as we now know. There are unfortunately still some who play with fire – let me give Mitrovica as a recent example.

Nevertheless, the manpower reduction in this year's mandate reflects the overall positive development in the region as a whole. To enable newly-independent Kosovo to take charge of its own security as soon as possible, KFOR is also helping to build up and train its security forces.

The progress made in Kosovo is clearly due to our persistent and, as I recall, sometimes difficult policy, which has always, however, been based on reality. Above all it has been due to the committed efforts by our soldiers over the past few years, and for that reason I say to them: We owe you a special debt of gratitude and recognition.

They should be able to count on our support next year, too.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I hope this House will give me its broad support for the extension of the mandate.

Thank you very much.

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