Germany is taking a leadership role in the Balkans' integration to the European Union.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 17/07/14
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany waves to crowds during her visit to Croatia on Tuesday (July 15th). [AFP]
Leaders of western Balkan countries are invited to a high-profile conference next month in Germany to support their integration prospects into the European Union.
Chancellor Angela Merkel invited representatives of the countries to the August 28th conference in Berlin as Germany takes a leadership role in working with southeast Europe countries.
Merkel said the conference will be undertaken "to make it clear that we want to support each other and look to the future together."
German officials said they have already issued invitations to prime ministers, finance and economy ministers. Representatives of EU members Croatia and Slovenia as well as the EU Commission and European Council will also participate.
"The region is put in the focal point with the aim of creating incentives for a further positive development in the respective countries, tackling aspects such as reconciliation and resolving still existing conflicts, [providing] incentives for economic development [and] infrastructure projects," the German embassy in Pristina told SETimes in a statement.
The conference will show the common interest in the region to enforce and strengthen the EU integration process, Ulrike Lunacek, a member of the European parliament, said.
"This would send a clear message to European institutions in Brussels and the governments of the EU member states that there is a strong political will in the western Balkans to overcome disputes from the past and share this common interest in the future," Lunacek told SETimes.
The conference will facilitate a candid and timely discussion regarding the EU's unfinished business in the Balkans, according to Corina Stratulat, a senior policy analyst at the EU Politics and Institutions Programme in Brussels.
"The recent developments in Ukraine have underscored the importance of responsible and assertive EU action in its neighbourhood, and I believe this message rang particularly loud and clear for Germany. Merkel's initiative reflects that and is also consistent with the key role that Germany has assumed over the past years in the enlargement dossier," Stratulat told SETimes.
The region's main expectation is that the EU will finally define clear preconditions for further EU integration, said Dragan Popovic, executive director of the Policy Centre in Belgrade.
"This means the Balkan states should be fully aware of what is expected of them if they want to join the EU. Having in mind that most of these countries -- Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and BiH -- have very specific issues which must be resolved before joining the EU, I believe this requires a strong leadership in the process. The only country which has this kind of influence is Germany," Popovic said.
Serbia's EU integration has been conditioned with improving relations with Kosovo.
"I believe that the meeting will also at least roughly define what will be the future legally binding agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, bearing in mind that this is the main precondition for both countries to join the EU, apart from necessary reform processes," Popovic said.
The initiative comes at the right time and will particularly contribute to reconciliation and fostering co-operation, but it should not be viewed as a Marshall Plan for the Balkans, said Albert Rakipi, former Albania deputy foreign minister.
"The Marshall Plan for the Balkans stays in the hands of the Balkan peoples," Rakipi told SETimes.
What else can Germany do to improve the EU integration process? Share your opinion in the comments space.