11. May 2017

Germany "does not accept changing borders in Balkans"

German Ambassador to Serbia Axel Dittmann says that "all statements aimed at changing borders in the Balkans are dangerous." Germany "does not accept that," he told the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti in an interview. "We say it publicly, and that is the position of the EU," the German diplomat said, adding that it was "important that all sides lower tensions and move forward." He stressed that reconciliation remains an important and significant challenge in the region and that Serbia has in this regard launched important initiatives, and is seen by Berlin as "a central country and a factor of stability." Asked about the mild reaction of Germany and the EU to statements expressing Greater Albania aspirations, Dittmann said that "certain statements have not been helpful." "The EU has reacted to them, but if one continues commenting on comments, one goes into an endless spiral," said Dittmann. "It is important now that all sides verbally de-escalate. Now it's time to move on and to lower tensions." Asked why politicians in Tirana and Pristina have not faced any sanctions for making dangerous statements, the German ambassador said that it was "now important to have concrete cooperation in order to both stabilize cooperation in the region, and look to the future." "The EU supports cooperation within the framework of the Berlin process, for example, large infrastructure projects. Serbia has launched important initiatives in the framework of the Berlin process, there is the initiative of Serbian and Albanian PMs to establish of a youth network. Serbia has also made good proposals for economic cooperation in the region" Dittmann said. He said he was "very pleased that the Serbian side has very clearly stated its commitment to resume dialogue on normalization of relations with Pristina as soon as possible," and added that he hoped this would happen soon - and that the topic will cover "open issues" - including the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities. The Western Balkans region has a clear European perspective, which was once again explicitly confirmed by the European Council at its meeting in March, while "Germany and the European Union support regional cooperation, and we are friends and partners of Serbia on its path towards Brussels," said Dittmann. He expects Serbia will in June open more chapters within its EU membership negotiations - if conditions for that have been fulfilled - but thinks the transition process is more important than opening new chapters, "because Serbia is implementing reforms for its own sake and not for Brussels." Particularly important is progress in the rule of law, i.e, chapters 23 and 24, where the EU together with Serbia has developed action plans, he ambassador said. Asked whether there Berlin fears the strengthening of Russia's influence in Serbia, he said that Serbia has made a clear strategic decision to become a member of the EU, and that Germany strongly supports that. "The numbers, too, show that course. Two-thirds of Serbia's trade are conducted with EU member states. Since 2000 Brussels has approved three billion euros in donations, 1.6 billion by Germany alone. It is normal that in addition, Serbia has traditional and close ties with other countries, including Russia," said Dittmann. Asked whether Germany finds the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center (in southern Serbia) to be "contentious," the diplomat would not comment on "status issues between Serbia and other countries" - but said that "this discussion" is being closely followed. He also and noted that German organizations that provide humanitarian assistance "do not have diplomatic status." Asked whether Berlin was in any way involved in organizing protests in Serbia, Dittmann responded negatively, but added that the events are being monitored and that demonstrations are a normal element of any functioning democracy. @b92

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