Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) wants to get the countries of the western Balkans’ stalled EU accession process going again. At the start of a two-day trip through the region, he pointed out on Friday in Kosovo that six countries aspiring to join the European Union had been promised membership 19 years ago. It is therefore important to “send a new sign of hope and confidence that this accession process is very serious,” said Scholz after a conversation with Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
In the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the Chancellor later made it clear that this also includes further reforms in the Western Balkan states. Specifically, after a conversation with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, he mentioned ensuring the rule of law and media freedom as well as the fight against corruption and organized crime. “Progress is required in each case.” Scholz acknowledged the judicial reform in Serbia, but said at the same time: “The further, the next steps must follow now.”
Scholz also made it clear that he expects Serbia to change course in its attitude towards Russia. Despite the Ukraine war, the country is still on friendly terms with Russia and has refrained from taking punitive measures.
Scholz emphasized: “We expect that the sanctions will also be implemented by those countries that are moving in the EU accession process.” Vucic countered that Belgrade had condemned Russia’s attack in the UN General Assembly and other bodies. His country has a different attitude to the sanctions. Serbia is in a “very complicated situation” when it comes to energy supply.
Vucic actually wanted to receive Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his palace in Belgrade earlier this week. The visit failed only because the neighboring countries denied Lavrov the use of their airspace. The EU is now increasingly openly calling on Serbia to show its colors. Scholz pointed out that the EU had a common line towards Russia. None of the countries willing to join should have any illusions about this.
Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania are already EU accession candidates. Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are still waiting for this status. After the conversation with Scholz, Kurti announced that he would submit a formal application this year. He hopes for the support of the EU.
In the meantime, all six Western Balkan countries have concluded a stabilization and association agreement with the EU. However, the rapprochement process has been stagnating for years. Serbia in particular is now more autocratic, more repressive and more destabilizing for the region than it was ten years ago. In Bosnia and Montenegro, the political actors are blocking each other. Progress made by Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo is not honored by the European actors. “Enlargement fatigue” is spreading across the EU, led by France, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Scholz wants to counteract this – also in order not to leave the field to players such as Russia and China as well as Turkey and the Gulf States. The EU must give a sign that the prospect of accession is seriously wanted and has a “realistic chance,” he said in Pristina. In Belgrade, the Chancellor stressed that the EU would only be successful in the future as a “large, joint unit of democratic states”. “We will only be able to defend what is important to us if we do it together. And it would be good if the countries of the Western Balkans were there.”
Scholz also justifies his demand that there can be no shortcut to the EU for Ukraine by saying that the Western Balkan countries also owe this. At the EU summit on June 23 and 24, the EU states want to position themselves on the candidate status of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
In Kosovo, Scholz also visited the approximately 70 German soldiers who are involved in a NATO protection force there with a total of 3,800 soldiers. Kosovo, which is predominantly inhabited by Albanians, broke away from Serbia in 1999 after a NATO intervention and declared its independence in 2008. Unlike most EU countries, Serbia has not yet recognized this, nor have Russia and China.
Continue to Bulgaria and North Macedonia on Saturday