Home Politics Getting closer to the EU amid new tensions – Foreign Minister Baerbock travels to Tirana for the Western Balkans conference

Getting closer to the EU amid new tensions – Foreign Minister Baerbock travels to Tirana for the Western Balkans conference

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The German government established the Berlin Process in 2014 as an informal format for regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and to support countries in the region on their path to success. EU. Alongside the Western Balkan countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, the participants in the Berlin process are Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Poland and EU.

This year, for the first time, the summit and ministerial meetings will be held in the Western Balkans region – in Tirana, Albania. This will be Foreign Minister Baerbock’s first visit to the country. She will therefore also take the opportunity to meet her Albanian counterpart and the Albanian Prime Minister for talks.

The six participating Western Balkan countries are united in their intention to join the EU. They have all applied for membership or have already been candidates for some time (North Macedonia, for example, has had candidate status since 2005). Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said:

The Western Balkan countries have already waited too long for their place at the European Union table. Young people in the region in particular are perfectly aware that their future lies in EU. And if Europe does not come to them, they will find their way to Europe – with fatal demographic consequences for their countries. Everyone must now roll up their sleeves to ensure that EU membership becomes a reality. THE EU must keep its word on the promises it has made and the Western Balkan countries must implement the necessary reforms.

Tensions rather than closer ties?

However, even though the Berlin process is clearly focused on reconciliation between the Western Balkan countries and their evolution towards EU, this year’s meeting takes place against a backdrop of new divisions and tensions. As part of the multilateral negotiations, the foreign ministers will therefore also discuss a diplomatic solution to the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. In this context, Minister of Foreign Affairs Baerbock will take advantage of the opportunity offered by the meeting to initiate bilateral talks with her Kosovar and Serbian counterparts. Before leaving for Albania, she addressed the new divisions and tensions in the Western Balkans:

Many countries have already made significant progress. However, we also repeatedly see setbacks and new fractures that must be overcome on the path to EU: an unscrupulous attack on the Kosovar police, sporadic deployments of Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo and the secessionist policy of Mr. Dodik which paralyzes the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina. These tensions are holding the entire region hostage. They hinder important progress towards reconciliation. They are toxic for investing. And they hinder the region’s progress towards EU accession. In this complex context, the Berlin Process plays an important role in bringing tangible improvements for the people of the region.

Strengthened regional cooperation and closer ties with EU

Launched in 2014, the Berlin Process aims to strengthen and deepen regional integration in and with the Western Balkans. Strengthened regional cooperation remains essential for economic growth and peace in the region. The Berlin Process also aims to help accelerate the closer alignment of the entire region on the EU. In this context, it focuses on areas such as infrastructure development, business, regional youth exchanges, reconciliation and science. Successes of the Berlin Process to date include the creation of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), the regional roaming agreement and the establishment of so-called greenways, which have facilitated expedited customs clearance of important goods at borders during the COVID-19 pandemic. pandemic.

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