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Interview in the “Kleine Zeitung” with Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the opening of the Western Balkans conference

10.12.2010 - Interview

Minister, during your visit to the Balkan region in August, you spoke with emphasis about the need to complete the unification of Europe.However, Germany’s foreign policy has created the impression in Austria, and among politicians and diplomats in the Balkans, that there is not much interest beyond Croatia; it does not seem very keen to bring the other Western Balkan states into the EU swiftly.Are they perhaps still too far east for the former Bonn Republic?

Germany stands by its belief that the Western Balkans have a future in the EU. I consider the prospect of accession indispensable for security in the area, and I am convinced that it is the most important motor for reform in the whole region. It is, however, also clear that we need to make absolutely sure that the political and economic criteria for EU membership are met – not only on paper, but also in practice. After all, these criteria have not been placed as artificial hurdles to obstruct accession; they have been placed to guarantee freedom, security and prosperity in the EU.

You were openly critical of Serbia during your visit.Why should Serbia recognize Kosovo when five EU member states, one of them Spain, do not?

We are working for the good of the people in both countries. This autumn, Serbia was faced with the choice of whether to move towards Europe or use the United Nations as a platform for a policy of conflict with Kosovo. I am very glad that Serbia decided to look to the EU.

What is now vital is that the Serbian Government approach the subject of recognition constructively. The direct talks between Belgrade and Pristina, jointly suggested by Serbia and the EU member states, are an important step on the way.

Croatia and Slovenia were a good example to show that problems between states are better and more quickly solved by opening the door to the EU wide.The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has also put aside its dispute with Greece about its name.Do you not think that is worth offering the country a way to join more quickly?

Slovenia and Croatia together overcame a significant sticking point in Croatia’s accession negotiations when they called upon a court of arbitration in November 2009 and so resolved the open question of their border. Their actions gave an example to the entire region.

In the past year, Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia held talks several times at the highest level of government on the latter’s contested name. I see this as an important first stage of the journey towards developing mutual trust between the two states and establishing the basis of a solution to this bilateral dispute.

Fifteen years after the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia is still a sore point in the heart of Europe.High Representatives, most recently Valentin Inzko, have long called for constitutional reform.Do you think your call for Bosnia to solve its inner conflicts will suffice, and should Berlin, Washington and Moscow not have learned from their mistakes by now?

First of all – Bosnia and Herzegovina is a success story for international crisis management. Today, we can look back on 15 years of peaceful coexistence in the country. Nobody would have dared dream of such successful stabilization for Bosnia and Herzegovina when the Peace Agreement was made in 1995.

It is clear today that there are further reforms to be undertaken. Germany wants to provide Bosnia and Herzegovina with advice and assistance in this matter – not least because we are a federal state, embodying the alliance of strong regional identities with common European goals. I have only one thing to say to people who put ethnicity-based obstacles in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s way on its road towards the EU: the country has only one EU perspective, not two or three. The opportunity to implement the necessary reforms is now.

Is this conference on the Western Balkans a sign that Germany is taking on a leading role in the region?

We owe particular attention to the Western Balkans, even simply because they are the EU’s immediate neighbours and there is still potential for conflict. We are dedicated to a policy of political and economic stabilization in South-Eastern Europe.

The Berlin conference is a good opportunity to focus once more on current developments in the region. I am very pleased to be opening the conference with my Austrian opposite number, Dr Spindelegger. It is another good example of the excellent collaboration between Germany and Austria in our work for the Western Balkans.

Interviewer: Ingo Hasewend

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