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Roth: Western Balkans countries need to come to terms with their past

BELGRADE – “I am convinced that Serbia’s EU accession is not only topic for the elites.” – said Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe and Federal Government Commissioner for Franco-German Cooperation, at the lecture “Serbia on the road to the EU – what after the opening of Chapters 23 and 24?” The lecture was organized by Friedrich Ebert Foundation and held at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade.

Foto: Tanjug

Roth highlighted that the EU and Western Balkans are facing with very important challenges, but peace and cooperation shouldn’t be forgotten. Over the years a lot of problems were solved through dialogue and that’s the essence of the EU. EU is more than a common market and institutions, it’s the union of common values. Germany is committed to the EU perspective of all Western Balkans countries and wants them in the EU, which was confirmed on the Paris conference this summer.

On the other hand, Germany needs countries in our neighborhood that are peaceful and committed to the EU. In that regard, Serbia is important for Germany as a key factor in the region, because of Serbia’s relations with the surrounding countries. He added that Serbian government has started reforms and that he is aware that those reforms are tough and not always popular. EU Commission is monitoring Belgrade’s relations with Priština and is aware that there are problems on both sides.

Roth pointed out several fields that Serbia needs to work on, such as minority rights and NGOs and activism. He touched on the fact that Serbia’s foreign and security policy isn’t matching with the EU’s. He is aware of Serbia’s linkage with Russia, but the EU has its Common Foreign and Security Policy which Serbia needs to align with. This doesn’t mean that Serbia needs to cut its relation with Russia.

Regarding the process of reconciliation in the region, Roth said that “all countries need to come to terms with their past.“ He gave the example of Germany and France and continuous, direct dialogue and cooperation, which has helped building the foundation for mutual trust. He expressed his confidence that the countries of the Western Balkans can do the same and build common future. Roth also commended the creation of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) at the Paris Summit, since a similar model played a great role in the case of Germany and France.

Asked if he thinks that current bilateral disputes of Serbia and Croatia would be much easier to resolve if Croatia wasn’t part of the EU, since „it’s evident that the rise of Croatian nationalism occurred after Croatia became part of the EU. “

“My message to Croatia is very clear. Croatia and Serbia must resolve their bilateral problems alone, and it has nothing to do with accession process and we shouldn’t mix it.”


Author: Vukašin Živković, Intern at European Western Balkans and student of the Faculty of Security Studies in Belgrade.