Ahead of the Western Balkans Summit in Berlin on November 3, DW has spoken to Susanne Schütz, Director for South-East Europe and Turkey at the German Federal Foreign Office.
Susanne Schütz: We are all aware in Germany and in Europe, but also in the Western Balkans, that the world is not the same after the 24th of February. The fact that Russia is waging a war of aggression against Ukraine has increased the feeling of insecurity also in the Western Balkans. We are also aware that all over Europe, but also in particular in this region, we will be faced with additional economic challenges. So we are very happy that against the background of this war, the EU and also its partners in the Western Balkans have shown great unity in the condemnation of the war; and I must say we welcome very much that Albania, as well as Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia have been very clear in their positions and are complying 100 percent with the EU sanctions against Russia and Belarus. We are very happy that on July 19th Albania and North Macedonia started the EU accession talks. This is really a milestone on their way to become members of the EU. It was an important signal also to the rest of the region that the EU enlargement process is still alive and the promise that was given to all Western Balkans Six states to become members of the EU is a reality.
As to the Berlin Process, we welcome very much that Chancellor Scholz has taken up this initiative and has invited to a Berlin Process Summit in Berlin in early November. And we are very happy that after two years in which the Berlin Process took place only in virtual formats, this year, for the first time, there will again be in-person-meetings of ministers: ministers of Foreign Affairs, of Economics and Interior. On the agenda will be the continuation of initiatives that were part of the Berlin Process from the very beginning: the connectivity agenda, especially the connectivity of people, youth and civil society. But there will also be new initiatives like energy security and solidarity as well as the Green Agenda.
One very important topic, which is very high on the Berlin Process agenda, is the implementation of the Common Regional Market. The CRM was decided already at the Sofia Summit in 2020, but the signing of four agreements had so far been held up because of the disagreements between Kosovo and Serbia. We are working very hard to overcome the remaining differences to make the Common Regional Market applicable to all people in the region. We are convinced that it will be very beneficial to all if travel with ID cards, recognition of professional diplomas and also academic qualifications will be agreed by all WEB6.
On October 13th, the European Council working groups on visa liberalization for Kosovo has met in Brussels. What is Berlin´s position on this topic?
Germany is very supportive. Visa liberalization for Kosovo is even in the coalition agreement of our government and we expect that there is support now from countries like France. We hope that by the end of the year all the EU member states will be given the political green light to go ahead with the visa liberalization for Kosovo and it will then be just a matter of practical implementation on the ground. We want to see this promise delivered now to all citizens of Kosovo.
In addition to the Berlin Process there is also the Open Balkans initiative, as an attempt to implement the Berlin Process on a daily basis. Do you think that by operating both these initiatives the results would be faster or do you think that Western Balkan countries need a unified regional cooperation mechanism?
The Berlin Process was designed to be a platform for all six Western Balkans states and act as a catalyst for a faster EU integration, of course also for the regional integration. We believe that the inclusiveness, having all six on board, is very important. Open Balkans so far is an initiative that works at three, and we maintain that inclusiveness of the process is important; there shouldn’t be any duplication, rather it should be a working hand in hand. It is also very important that all agreements that are being finalized under the Open Balkans are in line with the EU acquis, because otherwise it would be more difficult later on to realign with the EU standards and regulations.