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News 12 Feb 18

Balkans Await Germany's 'Return' Under New Merkel Govt

The long-delayed formation of a new government in Berlin is likely to lead to the return of Germany as the EU's 'lead actor' in the Balkans, experts say.

Maja Zivanovic

Martin Schulz, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), German Chancellor and chairwomen of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel, and Horst Seehofer, chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU), arrive for coalition negotiations on February 2. Photo: AP/Michael Sohn

While Angela Merkel's political deal with the Social Democrats, the SDP, awaits final approval, experts on the Balkans predict that the new coalition will not make major changes towards the Balkans, but some countries might face more pressure to carry out internal reforms.

A Senior Associate of the Democratization Policy Council, Bodo Weber, told BIRN that the new coalition is much like the old one, which ran Germany's foreign and European policy, including its Western Balkans policy, for most of the last decade.

“In that sense, we can expect continuity in Berlin's engagement within the EU towards the Western Balkans,” he added.

According to him, that means Germany will remain the lead actor on the EU's Western Balkan enlargement policy.

“And, with the UK on its way out of the union, it will be increasingly replaced by France as Berlin's main partner,” he added, referring to the Brexit process.

A so-called “Grand Coalition” between Merkel’s Christian Democrats, CDU, and its sister party, the CSU, with the SPD was agreed on February 7, after months of attempts.

Following an SPD referendum among its members, who will vote on the deal on February 20, it is expected that the SDP will get the post of Foreign Minister.

Weber said that once the new government is in place, the Balkan region should “expect the strong engagement of Berlin in the so-called ‘new phase’ of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue” – the EU-led talks on normalising relations between Serbia and its former province, whose independence it does not recognise.

A start to negotiations over a final, comprehensive agreement between Serbia and Kosovo was put on hold over the last six months “due to the absence of Germany as an actor”, he added.

According to a report in Deutsche Welle published on February 9, the new German government will also offer "even stronger support to reforms in the Western Balkans” and will underline the importance of the enlargement of the European Union.

A foreign policy expert and journalist in Belgrade, Bosko Jaksic, told BIRN that the new German coalition will continue old policies toward the Balkan countries.

He added that Serbia-Kosovo relations would stay in focus, but added that some other things might change.

“The SPD might insist more on internal reforms [in the Balkans], such as media freedom and the rule of law,” Jaksic said, adding that he expected “more of a dynamic” in this sense.

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