Mr Westerwelle, all the Balkan states view Germany as a big power. Now whether that’s right or wrong, what does it mean for you, for how you act during your trip?
Those aren’t the terms I use but of course we must not underestimate our importance, Germany’s importance, here in the Western Balkans. But conversely we in Germany must not underestimate the importance of the Western Balkans. It is on the one hand a political question, thinking of how crucial stability in the Western Balkans is, also for us and for peaceful developments in Europe. But it is on the other hand also an economic question, of course. We must not forget that a great many German businesses have made major investments in the countries of the Western Balkans and they want legal security and investment security in the interest of both sides.
Germany is sometimes considered the doorman for accession to the European Union and NATO. Yesterday you gave a keynote speech in which you said all Balkan states have a right to join the EU. But that’s just repeating what was decided years ago at EU level. What’s new about that?
It is important that particularly a country like Croatia realizes that, despite all the crises and difficulties we had to deal with at the start of the year in Europe, it is still being treated fairly on the road to accession. There are after all major concerns amongst many who shoulder responsibility also here in Croatia that the euro crisis and the discussion about European institutions could hit first and foremost those who are working so hard and have achieved such a lot already. Thus I felt it was important to convey the message to Croatia once more: If you meet the criteria, if you keep implementing the reforms – and you are well on your way – then the Europeans will keep their pledge, then you can join the European Union.
Will concessions be made on accession again, just as there were for Romania and Bulgaria?
No. There won’t be any concessions. But nor will new hurdles be added at a later date. You have to negotiate with all countries in the Western Balkans – but not just there, of course – in a fair manner and respect what has been agreed. And if you look at what Croatia has achieved economically in recent years or look at the progress it has made in the judiciary, although some work remains to be done, then this is what we need to remember. I would like to point to the example of the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia which was resolved basically in exemplary fashion by reaching an arbitration agreement. This is also a model I want to recommend to other countries in the Western Balkans, for example to Serbia and Kosovo. I can only encourage them to follow suit.
It did take a very long time!
That’s right. It did take a long time. But please remember how long some of the chapters of German history were. We too had to gather our experience and often enough against a really difficult and very dismal backdrop. But we need to recognize when progress is made. Europe will only be complete when states such as Croatia are on board. And we want to have a Europe which is strong to the core because it then also has a cultural, value-based sense of cohesion. And who would dispute that Croatia, on the Adriatic coast, just across from Italy, belongs to Europe geographically, culturally and historically?
While we are on cultural values, there aren’t going to be any concessions for Serbia either. Ratko Mladic, who is wanted for war crimes, is still on the loose.
Those are the kinds of questions we need to talk about and you know that the position not just of Germany, but also of the European Community, the European Union, is unequivocal here. Needless to say, I have carefully gone through the points to be addressed with our High Representative Catherine Ashton, for example on the Serbia-Kosovo question. We obviously compare notes prior to such a trip because we Europeans want to speak with one voice.
For me it is important that all those who want to join Europe realize Europe is not just about values, peace and economic success. Europe’s principles include above all the cooperation model. And those wanting confrontation, wanting to unroll status issues even though the international courts have just declared this to be unnecessary, inappropriate and in no way legally justifiable, well they clearly need to do some work themselves first. And I’m going to make that plain. The status question is clear!
You are alluding to relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Does Belgrade have to recognize Kosovo?
We, like the vast majority of members of the European Union, have recognized Kosovo. In its advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice declared not just the recognition but even the initial declaration of independence to be in accordance with international law. We had hoped this advisory opinion would draw a line under the whole thing and of course we are far from delighted that people are trying to reopen the chapter in New York. For us Kosovo’s territorial integrity is not up for debate.
Why should Serbia recognize Kosovo when Spain and Slovakia, both EU member states, don’t?
Well now, they are in the minority also in Europe and you know there are all too often reasons connected to their own minorities which lead countries to take this stance. Also within the European Union we will continue along our path and convince those who have not yet done so to recognize the country. But you know the vast majority of the countries in Europe and above all else the vast majority of the members of the United Nations have already done so. That is what matters and we want to carry on from here.
(Interview: Gerwald Herter)