If one thing has become apparent to us in recent weeks, then it is the fact that there is a correlation between staying power and success. This applies not only to the efforts to curb a pandemic, but also to bringing about lasting peace. After almost 21 years of the Bundeswehr’s mission in the Balkans, we can certainly talk about staying power, which has, we believe, paid off.
The security situation in the Balkans is largely stable, thus allowing us to gradually scale back the Bundeswehr’s involvement in recent years. Whereas there were over 6000 German servicemen and women on the ground at the start of the mission, and four years ago there were still over 1300 soldiers, there are fewer than 70 on the ground today. The fact that KFOR has no longer had to intervene in situations that threatened security in recent years, not even once, also speaks for itself.
The nature of this mission has also changed considerably over the past two decades. Today, the Bundeswehr is only stationed in Pristina. The focus of our engagement is now on advising Kosovo’s security forces.
To use the jargon of our time, all of this is an easing of measures, but with a sense of proportion. We are reducing and adapting our presence, but at the same time we are maintaining KFOR with the flexibility required in order to respond quickly to unexpected, but also not entirely unlikely, deteriorations in the security situation.
The fact that the Kosovar population has gained confidence in the newly established multi-ethnic police and security forces is also thanks to the soldiers of the Bundeswehr, who have made an enormous contribution to this over the past 21 years. For this, ladies and gentlemen, we owe them our sincere thanks.
But we don’t want to make any secret of the fact that, politically speaking, despite all the progress made, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated considerably, especially over the last 16 months. The bilateral dialogue between the two countries, which is being facilitated by the EU, has practically come to a standstill. This fans the flames of unrest time and time again, also because of the most minor incidents on both sides. This is also having repercussions for the entire continent – from the stalling of the EU rapprochement process to voltage fluctuations in the European electricity grid. We are feeling the tensions in the Balkans throughout Europe. The Balkans are not only geographically, but also politically and historically, at the heart of Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, how close we are to each other is also being demonstrated in this context by, of all things, a global virus. Contrary to what some decision-makers on the ground are saying, the European Union has mobilised 3.3 billion euros to provide medical and economic aid for the countries of the Western Balkans in the coronavirus crisis. In addition, the countries of the Western Balkans can now also be involved in the joint European procurement of medical supplies, because we have also put this in place within the European Union.
We have provided bilateral support where the need has been greatest, for example in Roma communities. We are also prepared to do even more, and are already engaged in productive discussions on the basis of the decisions to be taken here in the Bundestag, especially in the Budget Committee. After all, ladies and gentlemen, it is particularly important now to show that we stand by our partners in the Western Balkans in a reliable manner. This mandate plays an important role in this regard.
We will make the Western Balkans a priority during our EU Presidency, and this will also apply to the entire Eastern Partnership with respect to addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we are working to jumpstart the political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia as this is badly needed. One of the first steps was for Germany and France to instigate the summit as part of what is known as the Berlin Process. If progress is made here, then we will prepare a follow-up together with France. The appointment of Miroslav Lajčák as EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue is also a positive step towards creating momentum for relaunching this dialogue.
Ultimately, this is a question of moving away from purported solutions such as changes to borders, which have been put on the table not only by those affected, but also by others who want to exert influence in the region. This only creates the illusion of progress, however, if, given the history of this region, this could be described as progress at all. Instead, such mind games tend to defer the solution of complex problems, and they lead to nothing more than a dead end.
Ladies and gentlemen, we firmly believe that the only way forward is a structured, transparent and inclusive negotiation process as proposed by the European Union. This will also guide our actions. The end result must be nothing other than a comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Pristina that is politically viable in both countries, that contributes to regional stability – not only in these two countries; because what is decided there also affects others – and thus, ultimately, if we look very far ahead, paves the way for these two countries to become members of the EU.
Until that time, KFOR will continue to be needed as a guarantor of security and as an anchor of stability in the region. The fact that KFOR enjoys the support of both sides, which are currently in agreement on just a handful of issues, is worth its weight in gold, also when it comes to de-escalation and mediation regarding many other political issues. In this respect, ladies and gentlemen, our further commitment continues to be contingent upon the situation on the ground. Success requires staying power. I therefore request your approval of the extension of this mandate.
Thank you very much.