-- Check against delivery --
President of the Bundestag,
Fellow Members of the Bundestag,
“Lonely Planet” recently named the Republic of Kosovo as one of the top travel destinations for 2018. Who would have thought such a thing possible just a few years ago?
Today, almost 20 years after the end of the brutal war, the western Balkans are becoming more democratic, the economy is increasingly stable and countries in the region are gradually developing closer ties. The world is now rightfully showing a greater interest in the region, as can be seen not least by its increasing popularity as a travel destination.
At the same time, we must not forget that the war continues to resonate in the region.
We have a keen interest in the western Balkans being closer to Europe. That goes for Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Like other countries in the region, Kosovo has gradually become more stable in recent years and made significant progress. Elections now take place in an orderly manner; the Kosovo Police carry out a wide range of policing duties; and the Kosovar-Serbian courts and public prosecutors offices are now fully integrated into the Kosovar judicial system.
The fact that all this has been achieved in under 20 years is thanks to the hard work by the United Nations, the EU, NATO and partners such as the US. Our soldiers, who have served in KFOR since 1999, have also helped to make this possible. They deserve our gratitude and appreciation for that.
However, it is also a fact that the state structures in Kosovo do not yet work as we would like them to. There are still significant shortcomings as regards the rule of law, particularly when it comes to fighting corruption and organised crime, in the second-newest nation in the world. Furthermore, the continued high unemployment rate, particularly among young people, is a real challenge.
Above all, relations between Serbia and Kosovo remain difficult, although relations between the two countries have improved significantly in recent years thanks to the EU-facilitated dialogue on normalisation.
But until we can expect a lasting détente in Kosovar-Serbian relations, there will also be tensions between Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. That is why international troops in the form of KFOR are still needed in Kosovo.
Overall, the situation in the country is calm and stable. However, it has the potential to escalate quickly, especially in northern Kosovo. We have already seen that twice this year.
Thanks to the efforts by both countries to de-escalate the situation, KFOR did not have to intervene.
At the same time, it was and will remain important to have it there in the background as a stabilising assurance measure, as we cannot be certain that the security situation will not deteriorate rapidly because of an unexpected incident. The dialogue on normalisation requires both sides to make painful compromises.
It must therefore be possible for KFOR to remain in Kosovo for the foreseeable future, working alongside the Kosovar police forces and EULEX, the EU’s rule of law mission.
In the coming twelve months, the number of German troops in Kosovo will decline further. Over the past months, 440 German soldiers were deployed in the country on average. We should retain the mandate’s upper limit of 800 soldiers to ensure our ability to react rapidly and flexibly should the security situation deteriorate.
KFOR is the Bundeswehr’s longest-standing deployment abroad, and it is certainly a success. Although there is hope that the security situation in the region will improve permanently in the coming years, the deployment is currently an important part of our endeavours to foster peace and security in the western Balkans.
Fellow Members of this House, on behalf of the Federal Government I thus ask for your support in extending this mandate.
Thank you very much.