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Angela Merkel visits the Western Balkans

Realising European prospects

Chancellor Angela Merkel has ended her trip to the Western Balkans with a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. After talks with leader Denis Zvizdić, she met with the "Mothers of Srebrenica".

The Members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mladen Ivanic, Dragan Covic and Bakir Izetbegovic welcome Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina welcome Chancellor Angela Merkel Foto: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Bosnia and Herzegovina was the third stop on the Chancellor’s visit to the Western Balkans. At the outset she stressed, speaking in Albania’s capital city Tirana, that it is in Europe’s own best interests "to keep our promise that the Western Balkan states have European prospects and to ensure that these prospects are realised".

The Chancellor praised Albania’s reforms. "What has been achieved here with the creation of a new legal system deserves our very greatest respect." The reforms are an important factor on the way to concrete negotiations about the adoption of the EU’s acquis communautaire, the body of European legislation, rules and regulations.

During her next stop in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and President Tomislav Nikolić. A meeting with representatives of Serbian civil society rounded off this part of the Chancellor’s programme.

Progress on relations with Kosovo

In Belgrade, Angela Merkel praised the large number of initiatives undertaken by the Serbian government to normalise relations with Kosovo. Serbia has demonstrated a great readiness to embrace compromise. This deserves respect and will indubitably influence the course of accession negotiations with the EU.

The same applies to progress in Serbian-Albanian relations. The reciprocal visits of the two Prime Ministers over the last twelve months is an encouraging signal, said the Chancellor. She was particularly delighted by the plan for youth exchanges between Serbia, Albania and other Western Balkan states.

The number of refugees using the Western Balkans as a transit route has risen sharply over the last few months, as the Chancellor emphasised. We will have to help these countries. "There is no point in every country trying to seal itself off from the others."

Support for Bosnia’s reform agenda

In Bosnia and Herzegovina Angela Merkel spoke with head of government Denis Zvizdić, before a meeting with the three-man Presidency of the country. At a subsequent press conference she welcomed the fact that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EU has come into force.

The next step on the road to obtaining official candidate status is for Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt a reform agenda. Germany is ready to support Bosnia and Herzegovina to cushion the impacts of this reform agenda, for instance by making it easier for Bosnian skilled workers to find employment in Germany.

Chancellor meets the "Mothers of Srebrenica"

Angela Merkel also visited the permanent exhibition "Srebrenica 11/07/1995", which is dedicated to the memory of the 8,000 boys and men murdered on 11 July 1995 in Srebrenica. After touring the exhibition she met with representatives of the "Mothers of Srebrenica" an organisation which represents women who lost family members in the massacre.

Next Balkan conference to be held in Vienna

To support the Western Balkan states as they moved closer to the EU, Angela Merkel hosted a conference on the Western Balkans in August 2014, attended by the political leaders of all Western Balkan states, the European Commission, Austria and France. It was decided at that time to make the conference an annual event. In 2015 it is to be hosted by Austria.

In Tirana, Belgrade and Sarajevo Angela Merkel confirmed that she will be attending the next conference. She welcomed the fact that cooperation has been increasingly steadily among the Western Balkan states over the last few years. The fact that the heads of government of the Western Balkan states have met three times within the last year is clear evidence of this.

Countries have come through a difficult phase

After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the Western Balkan states went through a difficult phase.

Since then all have begun to move closer to the EU. This process has the support of the EU and its member states. The status of negotiations varies widely from state to state and depends on the specific preconditions in each country.

The greatest achievements of the process so far have been the accession of Slovenia in 2004 and Croatia in 2013. Significant progress has also been made in the process with other states. Regional cooperation in the fields of business and trans-national transport projects has been stepped up, for instance, and progress made on tackling corruption and organised crime.

In 2009 Serbia applied for EU membership. Since March 2012 the country has enjoyed official candidate status. Following the agreement of Serbia and Kosovo to normalise relations in April 2013 and work beginning on the implementation of this agreement, first accession negotiations began in January 2014. The next step involves negotiating the adoption of the acquis communautaire, the body of EU legislation, rules and regulations.
In addition to these negotiations, the EU has made it clear that the normalisation of relations with Kosovo must continue in a "visible and sustainable" manner.

Albania is the only state in the Western Balkans that was not part of the former Yugoslavia. It has been an independent state since 1912. Albania applied for EU membership in 2009. Since April 2014, Albania has also enjoyed official candidate states. In December 2014 the European Council drew up a list of five criteria, particularly in the field of public administration and justice, that must be met before negotiations can be opened on the adoption of the acquis communautaire.

Neither Bosnia and Herzegovina nor Kosovo have yet lodged an application to join the EU, but both are considered "potential candidates". A Stabilisation and Association Agreement has been in place since June 2015 with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The EU and its member states are currently consulting on the draft of a comparable agreement with Kosovo.

Donnerstag, 9. Juli 2015

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