Speech by Federal Minister Guido Westerwelle in the German Bundestag on extending Germany’s participation in the international security presence for Kosovo

20.05.2010 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, Members of this House,

During the last 20 years, the Western Balkans have reminded us in a most painful manner that peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted. In the 1990s, we were forced to accept that Europe wasn’t able to prevent the return of war and destruction to its own soil. This experience in the nineties, when war and destruction came to our own continent, is a reminder that European integration most certainly hasn’t had its day as a peace project. That has to be said again, ladies and gentlemen, especially at this current point in time.

Two years after the declaration of independence, the situation in Kosovo is stable. This improvement in the security situation is due to the long standing efforts of KFOR. The mission’s success is also reflected in the new tasks performed by KFOR. Precisely because KFOR was successful, the soldiers have been able to focus more on training security forces in Kosovo since last year. Precisely because KFOR was successful, we can now greatly reduce the mission together with our Allies. The mandate I’m presenting to the Bundestag today together with the Federal Defence Minister provides for a reduction in the ceiling on Bundeswehr forces from 3500 to 2500. We’re confident that renewed reductions will soon be possible. We all agree in this House that military intervention can only ever be the last resort in international politics. This is an integral part of Germany’s foreign policy. Our aim is to create a Kosovo which can ensure its own security without the assistance of foreign troops, and we’ve made considerable progress towards this goal.

On the long and difficult road to Europe, Kosovo still has enormous challenges to tackle. The European Commission stated this in its 2009 progress report, and we should be open about these difficulties. Shortcomings in the fight against corruption and organized crime were expressly highlighted. Despite growth rates of between 4 and 5%, Kosovo is trailing behind Europe economically. I discussed all of these problems with President Fatmir Sejdiu in early May, and I’m confident he and his entire Government will address these problems with vigour. He can count on Europe’s support. Through the EULEX Rule of Law Mission, the EU has assumed responsibility. It wants to help Kosovo become part of Europe on the basis of equality.

The key to a European future lies primarily in Kosovo itself. Kosovo should gradually take responsibility for its own security. During the last few months, Kosovo’s police force has taken on responsibility for Serbian Orthodox monasteries and other cultural sites in need of protection. This doesn’t sound particularly spectacular to us in Germany; but in view of a history of mutual attacks, this really is a remarkable achievement which constitutes substantial progress. We’re always quick to criticize when something we’ve planned doesn’t work out. But when something we planned together in this House across party lines does work out, then it should be pointed out and applauded. That’s my view at least.

Since independence, Kosovo Albanians have been the majority in their state. In recognizing the state of Kosovo, the international community expects Kosovo to deal responsibly with this new distribution of power. The new state’s constitution guarantees the security and equal rights of Kosovo Serbs, Roma living in Kosovo and other minorities. Only when all ethnic groups can live in peace and security will calm come to Kosovo. The local elections last autumn showed that the dividing lines between the ethnic groups are not as clear as radical forces in all groups are always claiming. In the areas in southern Kosovo where ethnic Serbs are in the majority, many people decided not to take part in an election boycott and went out to vote. That, too, is remarkable and says something about the people of Kosovo.

However, only by working with and not against Serbia is lasting peace possible in Kosovo. To that end, we have to bolster responsible forces both in Kosovo and in Serbia. We have encouraged President Boris Tadic to vigorously pursue a policy of understanding and reconciliation. I believe I speak on behalf of most Members of this House when I say I have the greatest respect for his courage and resolve in facing up those bent on confrontation and division. The vast majority of people in Serbia and Kosovo are tired of the humiliations, destruction and murders of the Balkan wars blocking the way ahead. No one will forget the victims of that period. Kosovo and Serbia are travelling along the same path into the future: a European path.

That the Western Balkans has a European perspective today is due not least to the men and women of the Bundeswehr. I’d therefore like to conclude by saying – not by way of a token remark but in all sincerity and on behalf of us all: they deserve our respect and our support. I thank them as well as their families and friends. Their courage and bravery make this mission possible. I ask for broad support for this mandate.

Thank you for your attention.

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