European Western Balkans

Focus of the new German government to remain on the Western Balkans

German Bundestag; Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Jürgen Matern

Following the adoption of the Coalition agreement between the three coalition partners (CDU, CSU and SPD), it is up to German social-democrats to endorse the agreement and, therefore, the new ‘GroKo’.

Months of political stalemate may be finally overcome if more than 450,000 members of the SDP approve the coalition. If this does not ensue, the political instability will be either embodied in the minority government of Angela Merkel or will bring about another election, which, in return, will not bring about significant changes. Only the populist, inward-looking and EU-sceptic AfD is most likely to profit in case of snap elections.

Meanwhile, EU Strategy for the Western Balkans was presented, confirming EU’s commitment towards the Western Balkans and the region’s European future.  However, the EU’s pledges were followed by its concerns and a series of requirements that the countries of the region have to comply with their respective integration processes.

Prior to the official disclosure of the document, the German government issued a statement that bore a significant dose of concern and reluctance regarding prompter integration of the region into the EU. Germany remained adamant about the further comprehensive reforms in key areas such as the rule of law, fight against corruption and organised crime, intensification of regional cooperation and the settlement of bilateral disputes.

“It is clear that many of these candidate countries still have to implement extensive reforms in their countries…Of course, there will be no such thing as automatic access to previously defined data,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

Nevertheless, a clear commitment towards the EU integration of the Western Balkans remains an integral part of the coalition agreement.

The preamble of the agreement stresses the importance of the EU enlargement policy for the promotion of peace, stability and cooperation and reiterates European perspective of the Western Balkans, conditioned upon progress in meeting the criteria.

”We are committed to supporting the reform efforts of the Western Balkan countries even more than before. In addition, the Federal Government will continue to strongly support cooperation within the region, especially within the framework of the ‘Berlin Process’ ”, reads the agreement.

What is to be expected in the forthcoming period?

Germany has traditionally been supportive of the Western Balkans and its EU bid. However, it has not been very vocal in this regard. Rather, its commitments in the region are often accompanied with the insistence on enlargement criteria, coupled with extensive enlargement fatigue of the German public. A firm hold to conditionality remains at the forefront of Germany’s approach to the Western Balkans’ EU bid, along with the insistence on regional stability and cooperation and the resolution of ongoing bilateral disputes. Hence, for instance, normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina being the centre-piece of Germany’s policy towards Serbia’s EU accession process.

The new German government is expected to engage more in the Western Balkans and lead the charge in EU’s relations toward the region, the experts say. This is even more so having in mind that the region predominantly relies on Berlin, rather than on any other centre of the EU. However, it will continue being firm on accession conditionality, EU values and merit.

An increased role assigned to the German Bundestag in relation to the EU enlargement policy could also navigate, to a certain extent, Germany’s policy in this respect, as it has proved to be the case in the previous period. The Bundestag has been resorting to its right to involve in the decision-making process on manifold occasions, although they may have contradicted the official position of the European Commission (e.g. in case of launching accession negotiations with Albania). Thus, the extent of Bundestag’s involvement in shaping policies on EU affairs will certainly not lessen in the forthcoming period.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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