Ladies and gentlemen,
Yesterday was International Day of Peacekeepers. Yesterday we in the Federal Government honoured nine young women active in various peacekeeping operations around the world. Among them was a woman who told us that she had started many years ago with EULEX, in the Balkans, in Kosovo, and is now working with other European judges to build up Kosovo’s Supreme Court. She told us things were not yet completely finished, that not everything was as we might wish, but that progress was being made.
Reading the various reports from everyone who has taken part in peacekeeping operations, including those who have been in the Balkans, you start to remember a lot of things your memory had suppressed: the bloody conflicts, human rights violations, instability, war and civil war. It was all just a few years ago.
KFOR, an operation we talk about here in the German Bundestag every year, is now moving into its 16th year. Some people might wonder whether, if it has already been going on for 16 years, there’s actually still a point to it. I want to answer that with an emphatic Yes! Not least because I still remember what it was like at the outset, how unstable and insecure it was in the Western Balkans. I know what has changed since we have been able to offer the Western Balkans as a whole a European perspective.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The fact that many states in the region have become more secure and more stable is in part thanks to the German soldiers who have been deployed in KFOR.
We know that positive developments in one state in the Western Balkans will have a stabilising effect in its neighbouring states as well. This is bound to be the case in a region which is ethnically as tightly interwoven as the Western Balkans. I want to say quite emphatically that our soldiers have played a crucial role in this. And for that, they deserve thanks and our profound respect.
It is not just about KFOR and the participation of soldiers. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that, despite what is left to be done and despite all the grounds for complaint, something is changing between these states which were once at conflict and which still have differing interests. This becomes clear, for instance, if you look at the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. These two countries are moving closer to each other, with great effort and willingness to compromise, at least sometimes. They have completely restructured their relationship. Thanks to the normalisation agreement to be implemented, relations between these two countries have certainly improved. This is equally true for the north of Kosovo, where there are at least now uniform police structures and legitimised municipal administrations.
That is more than a step forwards. But of course much remains to be done. I have just been there. We are talking with the Kosovars and Serbs about the establishment of a Kosovo‑Serbia association of communes. There are still some things to be clarified. We are talking about how to organise the energy supply and telecommunications links between Serbia and Kosovo. All this is part of the normalisation agreement. But it has not yet been implemented.
We must not slacken our efforts. We must not slacken the political pressure, and nor must we slacken in our endeavours to ensure security and stability there. That is why we still need KFOR. That is why we ask you to renew the mandate.
We are not doing this – and I hope no-one here will misunderstand – merely for love of our fellow human beings. Europe has its own interests to pursue too. We have an interest in having secure and stable neighbours in the Western Balkans. And because that is so, we are following events in various states not only with interest, but occasionally also with concern.
It is with concern, for instance, that I am following developments just now in Macedonia. This morning I spoke with EU Commissioner Hahn, who is genuinely trying to mediate between the parties to the dispute there. But relations between the various ethnic groups are fragile. Certainly it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the country might relapse if those in positions of political responsibility do not live up to that responsibility.
Last week it seemed as if we had taken a step forwards. It seemed as if the way had been cleared for new elections within a foreseeable period. This week talks have been held on how to organise things in the time leading up to the ballot so that all ethnic and political groups have a fair chance in the elections. Yesterday these talks did not go well. I hope we will be able to repeat them in the very near future. I also hope that the Prime Minister of Macedonia knows that anyone in the Western Balkans embarking on the road to Europe and hoping to arrive will only do so if they truly meet their responsibility when it comes to preserving democratic and rule of law structures.
There is light and shade in the Western Balkans. Certainly there was at least temporary light in Bosnia. For many years the domestic situation there was utterly blocked. I tried, along with the British Foreign Secretary, to launch an initiative to get the Bosnian entities and the political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina talking to each other again. Our aim was to persuade them not to try to resolve the hardest issues, such as constitutional reform, at the outset. Instead, we encouraged them to face up to the socio‑economic necessities and get a joint reform programme under way. There appears to have been progress there at least. I hope the Republika Srpska will not block this process again. This advance would certainly be a prerequisite for gradually making up the ground Bosnia and Herzegovina has lost – due in part to its own failures – on its way to Europe.
My most important example in the region is always Croatia. Croatia has been a member of the European Union for years. Croatia followed a path which was not easy for it. There are countries like Montenegro which are on a similar course and which have recognised that they have to propel themselves forwards if the train for Europe is to speed up.
We’ll have to see whether the same can be said for Serbia. We are currently in intensive talks with Serbia. Serbia wants accession chapters to be opened. The German Bundestag has made its expectations in this regard clear. During our most recent talks in Serbia we once again made it clear that we will not in fact be able to approve the opening of accession chapters if the Government makes no significant progress on implementing the normalisation agreement.
I think this brief overview of the situation in the Western Balkans shows that it is a region with much light and shadow, a region which continues to demand our pressing attention. However, we are also called upon not to give up our efforts to ensure security and stability. For that we need KFOR. And so I ask you once again for your approval.
Thank you very much.