The German chancellor issued an unambiguous message about the need to advance the rule of law and fight pervasive corruption in Kosovo.

By Muhamet Brajshori and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade — 20/12/11

Angela Merkel arrived in Pristina on Monday (December 19th), marking the first visit by a German chancellor since Gerhard Schroder arrived there shortly after KFOR troops entered Kosovo in 1999.

During her visit, Merkel issued an unequivocal message to Kosovo to increase efforts at democratisation.

“Germany believes that the future of the entire region is membership in the EU. I have in our conversation once again highlighted how important it is that Kosovo develops into a democratic country with rule of law and transparency. I think the issue of corruption remains on the agenda,” Merkel said.

She also called on Kosovo to solve the border dispute with Serbia by coming to “common forms of involvement”, and characterised the Integrated Border Management agreement reached between Pristina and Belgrade as a good idea.

“The joint border control could thus be something that is agreed on paper, but is not yet implemented. I have asked in this context the Kosovar side to make their contribution. And we, of course, are in constant contact with President [Boris] Tadic,” said Merkel.

Meeting the 1,300 German soldiers at the KFOR headquarters in Pristina, Merkel praised their contribution and said smuggling and illegal trade can be fought in the north as well as the south of Kosovo, even though the country does not have complete sovereignty in the north.

“This [situation] is not entirely independent of what is said and done in Belgrade,” Merkel said while addressing the reasons for delaying Serbia’s EU membership candidate status earlier in the month.

Merkel stated she made clear to Belgrade that Germany expects dismantling of the parallel structures in Kosovo.

“It is important that the implementation of joint border control is accomplished. Of course, we have to proceed in steps in order to come to the point that there are no parallel structures,” she said.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that he assured Merkel that Kosovo would co-operate with EULEX in all matters, while making dialogue and good neighbourly relations with Serbia a priority.

“The dialogue is not only one of the options, dialogue is the only option, the only solution to all the questions we want to solve between Kosovo and Serbia,” Thaci said.

Political commentator Fatlum Sadiku told SETimes that in light of the fact that Germany is taking a leading role in European Balkan policy, Merkel’s visit is historical.

“Merkel touched on the main points which are an obstacle to Kosovo, corruption and rule of law, and I understood this as the conditions which Germany will not give up when it comes to progress towards the EU,” Sadiku said.

European integration expert Alber Gashi explained to SETimes that Germany’s Balkan policy effectively forced the EU to take the first steps towards Kosovo.

“[It] is the only country which can convince the five non-recognizing countries not to block Kosovo,” Gashi said.

Reactions in Serbia

While Merkel’s message about Belgrade and Pristina normalising relations and returning to trade is not much different from what she said during her visit to Belgrade in August, the comment on dismantling parallel institutions is creating serious concern for Serbia.

Serbian officials, as well as the public, are confused whether Merkel’s statements pose direct new conditions for obtaining EU candidate status or just imply a time schedule.

“She said it can be interpreted as new additional pressure on Belgrade to meet these conditions. So, to Belgrade there remain two conditions — regional representation and the institutions in the north. The only question is whether they are placed in the box for obtaining a date or in a box for obtaining candidacy,” former Serbian Ambassador to Germany Ognjen Pribicevic told SETimes.

Pribecevic said that Germany’s position is crucial for furthering the process of Serbia’s EU integration.

“Serbia has to solve the regional representation [problem] and dismantle the institutions in the north to obtain a more relevant assessment about the EU integration process, and that is something we will be faced with in the upcoming months and, I am afraid, years to come.”

Serbian MP in the Kosovo parliament Rada Trajkovic told SETimes Merkel’s position is principled.

“The country requires functioning institutions that will reduce corruption and crime. When talking about Serbs in Kosovo, it is clear her preference is the Serbs should, slowly, start a process of phasing out the parallel institutions. By asking for a more active position from Pristina in the Integrated Boarder Management process, she pointed out that Pristina [is not] completely honest in this process either,” Trajkovic said.