Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during the debate in the German Bundestag on the Bundeswehr mission in Kosovo

26.05.2011 - Speech

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during the debate in the German Bundestag on the Bundeswehr mission in Kosovo

-- Translation of advanced text --


Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

Before I state the reasons for requesting you to renew this mandate, allow me to first of all comment on a special event: Ratko Mladic is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity and has been wanted as a war criminal for almost 16 years. His arrest is very good news for justice in Europe.

I’ve just congratulated Serbia’s President Tadic on this success, as well as on the fact that the crimes committed during the Balkans wars can now be dealt with because the requirements have now been met. With the arrest of Ratko Mladic, Serbia has complied with a long-standing demand of the European Union, as well as of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

However, although this was a great success, we also have to remember the victims and the families of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre at this time. Their suspected tormentor can now be brought to justice.

The arrest of Mladic helps lay the foundation for a peaceful future for the entire Balkan region. I would like to stress once more that in the German Government’s view, every country in the western Balkans has a European perspective.

Kosovo’s status has been clarified. The borders in the western Balkans have been drawn. Last July, that’s to say after the last mandate issued by the German Bundestag, the International Court of Justice confirmed that Kosovo’s declaration of independence complies with international law.

Kosovo has certainly made progress during the last year. Those who say that much has happened in political terms during the last year but that the situation has hardly changed are, in our view, only speaking half the truth. It’s true that the parliamentary elections had to be repeated in some constituencies last year. What matters, however, is that – on the whole – the elections went off peacefully and in an orderly fashion. What matters is that the irregularities were cleared up in a manner in line with the rule of law. The reaction to what was ascertained there is also important.

Those citizens in northern Kosovo who boycotted the elections harmed their own interests more than anything else. For they denied themselves the opportunity to play an active role in Kosovo’s politics. The Serbs in the south of the country are much further. Their turnout was higher than at previous elections. For the south, the elections show that the dividing lines between the ethnic groups are becoming less rigid than radical forces keep claiming.

While the constitution of the Republic of Kosovo reserves ten seats out of 120 for the Serbian minority, 13 Serbian candidates were elected. And while the constitution also reserves ten seats for other minorities, 12 minority representatives were elected. Nowadays, people in Kosovo don’t only vote on ethnic grounds alone but increasingly also on the grounds of political convictions. If we consider that Kosovo declared independence only three years ago last February, then we have to admit that this represents remarkable progress which should be taken into consideration in the political context of our mandate today.

It’s true that two Presidents have had to resign since the last KFOR debate. However, it’s also true that the political vacuum didn’t lead to discord or violence. The constitution was upheld. All political players respected the decision of the constitutional court. The fact that institutions have recovered is a sign of progress in the country.

Many conflicts remain unresolved; that has to be said in any measured and comprehensive assessment of the situation. Those who’ve been there and have held talks have heard their partners in these discussions talk of many fears and insecurities. The situation in northern Kosovo remains tense. The problem of parallel structures hasn’t been resolved. The protection of Serbian Orthodox convents remains a highly sensitive security issue which continues to require the support of KFOR.

Kosovo’s security forces are gradually shouldering more responsibility. The local police are already guaranteeing the security of six of the nine Serbian cultural monuments which warrant special protection.

The security situation has further stabilized during the last year. A reduction in the international military presence and thus also in the Bundeswehr forces is feasible. This will be the second reduction since this Government came to power. Last year, the mandate ceiling fell from 3500 to 2500 soldiers. The motion we are presenting to you reduces the number again to 1850.

However, it should be added that Kosovo will rely on support, also from the European Union, for many years to come. This was also highlighted in the progress report published by the European Commission in December 2010. The Commission also called for progress in the justice sector and in the fight against organized crime. Complaints about politicians’ influence over the courts are still common. Kosovo still falls far short of European standards.

I have complete confidence in the capabilities of the EU rule of law mission (EULEX) to investigate the allegations put forward by the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Kosovo’s leadership has announced its willingness to aid the investigation. It goes without saying that we will judge them by their actions.

This is a long-term commitment, also a long-term military commitment. However, we can see it was good to be patient and to live up to our responsibility. We should never forget what the situation was in the mid-nineties and at the end of that decade. Some people ask: what’s that got to do with us? But if we recall how many hundreds of thousands of refugees from the region came to Germany at that time, then we realize that Kosovo isn’t just anywhere and that it isn’t others who are affected. For we ourselves are affected; Europe is affected. That’s why it’s right to continue this mission even under changed circumstances and with changed parameters. We ask for your support.

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