Merkel and the Western Balkans: missed opportunities?
Angela Merkel has made her final visit to the Western Balkans in the role of German chancellor. In Tirana she spoke with the heads of government of Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Kosovo. Commentators credit Merkel with a sincere interest in the Western Balkans, but criticise her for the fact that neither Germany nor the EU have offered the region any real prospects in recent years.
Farewell to the Aunt of the Balkans
Danas describes the outgoing chancellor's visit to Belgrade as quite emotional:
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel's somewhat nostalgic, cinematic look back at the previous half decade of cooperation with official Belgrade, and especially with President Aleksandar Vučić, dominated her farewell trip to Serbia. As she said, 'We have a successful history behind us, our two countries are closely connected.' ... Merkel's rhetoric confirmed her unofficial reputation as the 'Aunt of the Balkans.' Several times she cited the role of the Berlin process in fostering relations in the region, which is not surprising since she is the brains behind the initiative.”
Not overly active
Berlin could have done more in the region, says Jutarnji list:
“Under Chancellor Merkel, Germany did make an effort to keep things more or less peaceful in the Western Balkans. ... However, it was never the country that offered solutions. That's why we still have the status quo in relations between Kosovo and Serbia, the unchanged situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a lukewarm reaction from the EU after the events in Montenegro. Nevertheless, Germany's role in the region will continue to be important, and continuity is expected. ... Germany will continue to promote peace and stability, economic development and trade. But it will not be overly active when it comes to quickly resolving open issues, especially the integration of these states into the EU.”
EU needs to follow words with deeds
The taz suspects Merkel's trip to the region is also intended as a warning gesture:
“The EU cannot afford to be disinterested. Not only because powers like Russia and China are steadily expanding their influence, but also because in the Balkans tensions are constantly seething, and authoritarianism is on the rise everywhere. ... There have been successes, such as the plan for a common market, the abolition of roaming fees and Serbians bathing in the Albanian Riviera - something that for a long time seemed unthinkable for many. ... But the modest progress and the frustration in the Balkan countries also show that the routine assurances about EU prospects need to be followed by political action.”