German foreign minister visits Bosnia, urges Western Balkans join EU in face of Russia

AP , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

Germany's foreign minister said Tuesday that Western Balkans countries joining the European Union is a “geopolitical necessity” that would make Europe stronger in the face of Russia’s operations against Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends a press conference with her Montenegrin counterpart in Podgorica on March 4, 2024. AFP

 

The six nations — Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia— are at different stages of the EU accession process, following a period of wars and crisis in the 1990s.

“I would like all six countries in the Western Balkans to be able to join,” Annalena Baerbock said while visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. “The conditions for this must be created." Baerbock traveled to Montenegro and Bosnia to support their integration into the 27-nation bloc.

Russia traditionally holds sway in the Balkans, particularly among Orthodox Christian Serbs. The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Milorad Dodik, has been openly pro-Russian while facing U.S. and British sanctions for his separatist policies in Bosnia. In Serbia, the populist government has refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow.

Their memberships have been stalled for years. But after Russia's war on Ukraine, EU officials are now offering a 6 billion euro (about $6.4 billion) package for Western Balkan nations to encourage reform and lure them away from Russian influence.

For candidates to join the EU, they have to go through a lengthy process to align their laws and standards with those of the bloc and show their institutions and economies meet democratic norms.

“The Russian war of aggression is not only being waged with bombs, missiles, drones and the worst attacks on the civilian population in Ukraine, but that, as I hear again and again here in the Western Balkans, also includes hybrid warfare,” said Baerbock.

“Enlargement is a geopolitical necessity," she added. “We are convinced that it will make Europe stronger if we bring the six Western Balkan countries into the European Union in the future.”

Bosnia is perhaps the most fragile of the Balkan countries. Ethnic tensions there have persisted, long after the end of the 1992-95 interethnic war that killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions.

While Bosnia was granted candidate status in 2022 and the European Council said last year that the accession negotiations can start once the necessary degree of compliance is achieved. A decision on formal opening of the accession negotiations is due later this month.

Baerbock urged Bosnia to press on with reform while pressing the economic advantages of joining the EU.

The German foreign minister arrived in Bosnia from Montenegro, a NATO member nation in the Balkans that is first in line in the region for EU membership. On Monday in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, she said no “gray zones” that would benefit Russia should be allowed.

"At this geopolitical moment, we can’t stop and relax, we have to keep going.”

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