Making progress with reconciliation in the Balkans

Chancellor Angela Merkel following the Western Balkan Summit Making progress with reconciliation in the Balkans

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the states in the Western Balkan region to push ahead with reconciliation. "I hope that we will be able to hold the accession conference before the end of our Presidency of the Council of the European Union," she said following the Western Balkan Summit on Tuesday. This would allow EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania to begin before the end of 2020.

Chancellor Angela Merkel during a video conference with North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov

Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of North Macedonia and Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

This year, two countries jointly prepared the Western Balkan Summit, one of them an EU member state (Bulgaria) and the other an accession candidate (North Macedonia). Chancellor Angela Merkel praised this première in the history of the Berlin Process summits. She thanked the hosts, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, and the North Macedonian Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, for organising the summit. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s summit took the form of a video conference.

Who are the Western Balkan states?
The term "Western Balkan" has a political connotation, as well being a geographical designation. It was introduced at the EU summit in Vienna in 1998 and refers to the Balkan states that are not yet EU member states. The term thus currently designates Albania and the former Yugoslavian states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – but not Slovenia or Croatia, which acceded to the EU in 2004 and 2013 respectively.

Launching accession negotiations soon

The Chancellor expressed the hope that the EU accession conference can take place before the end of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. That would make it possible to begin accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania before the end of the year.

Common market is a milestone

This year’s Western Balkan Summit took place under difficult conditions in view of the pandemic, reported Angela Merkel, which made it all the more encouraging to see the progress in creating a common market. "Especially now, with our economies coming under such pressure, that is an important milestone and a positive message to the economy". This will generate impetus for people and businesses in the region.

The summit
In addition to the six Western Balkan nations Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo,  Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, EU member states attended the summit, including co-organiser Bulgaria and Germany, as well as representatives of the European Commission and other European and international organisations.

Climate action cannot be ignored

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her delight that the "Green Agenda" has been adopted. This is an indication of the interest of stakeholders in building structures that make it possible to transition to a low-carbon economy. In spite of all the current challenges of addressing the pandemic, it is vital to see climate action as an important, long-term issue "that our societies need to embrace." The "Green Agenda" sets the scene for the Western Balkan region.

"An excellent sign"

The Berlin Process and the progress it has made have always gone hand in hand with reconciliation and overcoming tensions rooted in history, Angela Merkel stated. The youth office founded in conjunction with the Berlin Process has already brought together 8,500 young people from different parts of the Western Balkan region. The Chancellor called this "an excellent sign". In future this scheme will be joined by exchanges at school level.

Angela Merkel looked ahead to next year’s summit, which is to be held in Berlin, and hoped that in summer it will be possible to meet in person in Germany’s capital city.