Immediately after taking office in December 2021, Germany’s new governing coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Alliance 90/The Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) announced that the Western Balkans region is now at the top of Germany’s list of foreign policy priorities. A first signal in this direction was the appointment of Green politician Manuel Sarrazin as the federal government’s special representative for the Western Balkans.
Since Putin-Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the German government has further intensified its activities in the Western Balkans. In Berlin, there are fears that Moscow’s aggression could fuel the conflicts smoldering in this part of south-eastern Europe. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) rushed to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and then Serbia in early March 2022 to make it clear that the European Union means business when it says it intends to include these countries in its ranks. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz also mentioned the Western Balkans at a press conference on March 28, 2022. He stressed that negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania should now start “as soon as possible”.
While the Federal Republic is intensifying its efforts in the Western Balkans, parliamentary and presidential elections will take place in Serbia on Sunday (April 3, 2022). DW asked politicians from the Bundestag what they expect from the votes and their results.
Adis Ahmetovic, Bundestag rapporteur for the Western Balkans and SPD member of the Bundestag since the elections in September 2021, emphasizes that it is good that the Serbian opposition is not boycotting the elections like in 2020: “After the last elections, all of these basic mechanisms of a parliamentary democracy were missing , in which the opposition in parliament controls the work of the government,” Ahmetovic told DW.
“We are witnessing the creation of a new Western Balkans policy in which each of the countries there gets its own role,” the SPD politician continued. In view of the forecasts that Serbia’s long-term President Aleksandar Vucic will remain at the head of the country after the elections, Ahmetovic makes it clear that there will no longer be any special roles like those enjoyed by the Serbian President during the government of Angela Merkel (CDU). have enjoyed.
Unlike under Angela Merkel
“I think it’s important that we see all six Western Balkan countries on an equal footing,” emphasizes Ahmetovic. Situations in which all efforts are directed towards a central figure in the Western Balkans who is supposed to guarantee stability there are not in the interests of the region, the Federal Republic of Germany or the EU. Instead, from now on “every head of state or government has an equal role when it comes to stability. That was a little different under Angela Merkel.”
Ahmetovic criticizes the decision of the authorities in the Republic of Kosovo not to allow citizens who have both Kosovan and Serbian citizenship to take part in the elections in Serbia: “What is made possible for Turkish or Serbian citizens living in Germany should also be allowed in Kosovo be possible. Therefore, this decision by Prime Minister Albin Kurti is incomprehensible to me,” said Ahmetovic.
time of positioning
Serbia continues to play an important role in the Western Balkans, especially with regard to the situation in Kosovo, in Montenegro and in Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Serbia must ensure stability by ensuring that the destabilizing factor in these countries does not come from Serbia, because all these conflicts in the surrounding countries are somehow related to Serbia,” Ahmetovic explains.
While Germany has tacitly accepted Belgrade’s balancing act between Moscow and Brussels in the past, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leaves no room for tolerating such a policy: “We expect Serbia to take a clear position on foreign policy. Belgrade should be clear that it is not possible to sit on two chairs. This is a time of positioning, not compromise,” Ahmetovic said.
The Ukraine war pushed important issues into the background
Anton Hofreiter (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) sees it similarly. Serbia has a “difficult road” ahead of it on its way to the European Union, the chairman of the Bundestag’s European Policy Committee told DW. “Serbia urgently needs to return to democracy and the rule of law. This includes unequivocally condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and joining the ranks of its European partners.”
Renata Alt (FDP), Chairwoman of the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee, agrees: “Vucic’s maneuvering between East and West is also reflected in his resistance to joining sanctions against Russia. The EU should consider serious consequences,” he said Old compared to DW. However, the FDP politician believes that the situation in Ukraine will also influence the elections in Serbia in other ways: “Russia’s war of aggression has degraded voter-mobilizing issues such as the environment and corruption to secondary importance,” says Renata Alt.
The opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) also shares the demand of the German governing parties for Serbia to decide in favor of the EU. “The Russian attack on Ukraine marks a turning point that Serbia’s politicians cannot duck,” says Jürgen Hardt, member of the Bundestag and foreign policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. If Serbia is serious about its ambitions for EU membership, the country must credibly turn away from Russian President Putin and support the EU sanctions against Moscow 1:1.
“The Serbian people deserve to become part of the EU and to help shape a common European future in peace and prosperity,” continued Jürgen Hardt. Serbia has the necessary potential to write a success story as an important anchor point in the future European region of the Western Balkans. But: “To do this, his politicians must let the ghosts of yesterday rest and look courageously to the future.”