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[EWB Interview] Lührmann: European proposal would remove obstacles on Serbia and Kosovo’s EU paths

Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić will have a high-level political meeting in Brussels on 27 February. The focus of the meeting will be the French-German proposal for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

Albin Kurti said at the beginning of this month that Kosovo accepts the European plan, along with six conditions for forming the Association of Serbian Municipalities (ASM). On the other side, the President of Serbia has yet to declare whether he accepts the proposal or not formally. However, according to his statements, the political agreement with Pristina is impossible without implementation of ASM. International community underlines that the formation of ASM is an early agreed obligation, adding that the European proposal represents a step forward in the normalization of relations, in which the main goal is to improve the lives of all citizens in Kosovo.

About the perspective of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the importance of the Berlin process, the state of democracy, and the enlargement process in the Western Balkans, we spoke with the Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Anna Lührmann.

European Western Balkans: How do you see the current negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo? Do you believe that accepting the French-German proposal will improve the situation? 

Anna Lührmann: Progress towards a sustainable normalization between Kosovo and Serbia is more urgent than ever. The European proposal, which is based on a German-French initiative, is a unique opportunity for both, Serbia and Kosovo. Accepting the proposal would fundamentally and sustainably improve the relations between the countries.

It can boost the process of normalization in the interest of their citizens. It would remove obstacles on the path to further EU integration and economic development. And it would certainly be a political and economic boost for the entire Western Balkans region, which is being held back by this unresolved issue. All EU members hope that Serbia and Kosovo seize this historic and unique chance. Europe is embracing the region as never before: Our arms are wide open, but we need both parties to act constructively.

EWB: Serbia is still the only candidate country not aligned with EU Foreign Policy. The percentage of alignment of Serbia with the EU during 2022 has dropped from 62 to 48% due to the lack of imposing sanctions against Russia. Is alignment with EU Foreign Policy towards Russia necessary for the further progress of Serbia to the EU, from a German perspective? 

AL: Russia’s brutal and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine has fundamentally altered the geopolitical conditions under which Serbia is pursuing EU membership. Russia is flagrantly violating the UN Charter and threating security in Europe – including the Balkans. These are the reasons for the strong sanctions, which the European Union, the US, the UK and many other partners have imposed against Russia.

Aligning with the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU is an important part of the accession process. It gives testimony to the fact that a country shares the values of the EU. We welcome that Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo are implementing the EU sanctions against Russia. As a candidate country we expect Serbia to commit itself in a similar way. Alignment with Europe’s foreign policy, most importantly towards Russia, is crucial for further progress of Serbia on its EU path.

EWB: Many believe that the geopolitical situation in Europe due to the war in Ukraine will move the focus of the EU from democracy in the region. How do you see the current state of democracy in the region and think that democracy and the rule of law will stay central pillars of the EU accession process? 

AL: The European Union is a community of shared values and principles. Democracy is the most fundamental principle shared and upheld by EU member states. Like the Rule of Law, it is part of the so-called Copenhagen criteria of 1993 for becoming an EU Member State. This has not changed and will not change. In that regard, there is still work to be done in the countries of the Western Balkans, as is also reflected in the EU Commission’s annual country reports.

EWB: Last year, there were several proposals for reforming the EU enlargement politics, such as phased accession. What do you think about this proposal, and how will it improve the enlargement process of the Western Balkans countries? 

 AL: The ultimate goal of the enlargement process is to provide stability, peace and prosperity to all of Europe and to improve people’s lives. This is the reason behind Germany’s and other Member States’ support for EU enlargement in general and the Western Balkans’ aspirations in particular. Yet, we all know that the path to accession demands patience, effort and commitment.

Therefore, I welcome the discussion. We want to show people in candidate countries how much progress they have already achieved along this path. It is about concrete and “tangible” improvements that already have a positive impact on people’s lives – like participating in EU programmes ahead of full membership and access to substantial pre-accession funds.

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