Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the High-Level Meeting on the Franco-German Initiative on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Western Balkans

07.09.2021 - Speech

We meet today for the third time in this format with the aim of advancing the fight against illegal small arms and light weapons in the Western Balkans. This sends an important political signal. But above all it shows that we accomplish more on substantive issues when we cooperate across a given region. And I am very grateful to all of you, especially to my colleagues from Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje and Tirana, for working together.

I am grateful because the fight against small arms is more than just another component of disarmament policy.

Small arms and light weapons cause suffering and death.

Illicit trade in them is closely intertwined with human trafficking and drug trafficking, with violent extremism, terrorism and organised crime. That is why it is true to say that whoever controls small arms stabilises societies.

For that reason, three years ago as part of the Berlin Process we decided, with our French friends and the European Union, to solve the small arms problem in the Western Balkans once and for all by 2024. And I am confident that we’ll succeed.

After all, the European Commission has firmly incorporated our road map for the Western Balkans in its Action Plan on Firearms Trafficking. Thank you very much indeed for that!

Cooperation between our countries and with the European institutions has tangibly intensified thanks, as well, to the support of international organisations, non-governmental organisations and donors – and to the outstanding coordination by the SEESAC, the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons.

In light of these positive developments it is no wonder that our road map has also met with great interest elsewhere – for example in West Africa and the Caribbean.

Continued support is needed if this success is to endure. It is therefore my pleasure today to announce another 3 million euro for the implementation of our road map.

It is given in the knowledge that we are thereby contributing to the protection of people throughout Europe from violent extremism, terrorism and organised crime.

Of course this requires more than the effective control of small arms. As Willy Brandt famously said: “Peace is more than the absence of war.”

And I would like to add: Without political and economic stability, without the rule of law and participation, there is no security.

We have therefore always viewed our road map as a building block towards the integration of the Western Balkans in the European Union. Integration in a political and economic union, a community of law that guarantees the stability and security of our continent.

It is in the interest of the region, which has already undertaken great efforts in this direction. But it is equally in the strategic interest of the EU.

That’s why the European Union has to deliver and will deliver now!

We are already conducting accession negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro.

It is high time that we implement the joint decision adopted in March 2020 and also launch such negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. We therefore expressly support the Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council, which has vowed to end the present deadlock.

Finally, we also want to make further progress on the path towards accession for Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We now have a new High Representative in Sarajevo – Christian Schmidt. It is important that Bosnia and Herzegovina be put back high up on the international agenda.

Ultimately, the credibility of the European Union and its ability to act is at stake. But so is our stability here in Europe.

With our fight against illegal small arms, we are making a key contribution to these aims. It is now up to us to set the course for the future, also with respect to enlargement.

Thank you very much!


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