Foreign Minister Westerwelle begins a two-day trip to the Western Balkans today. He will visit the Albanian capital Tirana (21 and 22 February) and subsequently the Macedonian capital Skopje (22 February). In both cities, Foreign Minister Westerwelle will meet the Heads of State and Government, the Foreign Ministers as well as opposition leaders for political talks.
The meetings will focus on the two countries’ efforts to move closer to the European Union, the expansion of bilateral relations as well as current domestic developments.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle issued the following statement ahead of the trip:
“Germany backs the Western Balkans’ European perspective. We support Albanian and Macedonian efforts on their road towards the EU, as we do those of all other countries in the Western Balkans. That is why it is so important that the conditions and criteria to which this is linked are met in a credible and durable manner. The rule of law, the settlement of conflicts in a spirit of cooperation and good-neighbourliness and the peaceful co-existence of the different population groups are essential for the region’s prosperous development.”
Republic of Albania:
German-Albanian relations have been steadily consolidated since the beginning of the democratization process in spring 1991. Albania is a focus of German development cooperation. In June 2006, Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, an important step towards Europe. In April 2009, Albania joined NATO. Since December 2010, Albanian nationals have been able to enter the Schengen area for up to three months without a visa. Parliamentary elections are due to take place in June of this year.
In Tirana, Foreign Minister Westerwelle is meeting President Bujar Nishani, Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Foreign Minister Edmond Panariti as well as Edi Rama, leader of the opposition Socialist Party.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:
Germany has had close ties with Skopje ever since the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia gained independence in September 1991. For instance, Germany is one of its most important trading partners. In December 2005, the European Council granted the country official candidate status. The Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU has been in force since 2004. The next step in the pre-accession process would be an EU decision to begin accession negotiations. Since December 2009, Macedonian nationals have been able to enter the Schengen area for up to three months without a visa. In April 2008, the NATO Council invited the country to join but this has not been possible to date. There is a dispute between the Greek and Macedonian Governments about the country’s name. Negotiation efforts are currently ongoing under the auspices of the UN.
In Skopje, Foreign Minister Westerwelle will meet President Gjorge Ivanov, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Fatmir Besimi, Foreign Minister Nikola Popski and Branko Crvenkovski, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia.
This is the Foreign Minister’s first visit to both countries.