Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Champagne for Zagreb, “Time is ticking away” for Belgrade

Dessislava Dimitrova, August 26, 2011

“Mrs Merkel, dear Angela, welcome!” This is how Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor greeted on Monday (August 22) German chancellor Angela Merkel. After an exchange of gratitude during the welcoming ceremony and the official meetings, Kosor and Merkel withdrew for a “tete-a-tete” conversation on the terrace of the state residence in Zagreb, and, as it can be seen from the photos of the government press office, they did this with a glass of champagne.

The same evening the German chancellor left for Belgrade where the tone, as expected, was harshly changed, to an extent that during the join news conference of Merkel and Tadic she pointed at her watch, saying “Time is ticking away” in English and local journalists hardly managed to ask some of their questions.

Nothing unexpected so far – Croatia, which will officially join the EU in 2013, was expectedly hailed and at the same time warned that the end of the accession talks did not mean an end of the government’s efforts, while Serbia received some expected conditions to meet, if it wanted to follow its neighbours’ path.

First of all, Merkel insisted that if Belgrade wanted to become a candidate member by the end of the year it should show tangible results in the negotiations with Pristina, to make EULEX forces' work in Kosovo possible and to remove the parallel Serbian authorities in the northern part of the province.

Tadic’s answer was that Serbia as a country and he as her president had their principles, which they would stick with and that Serbia did not want an “artificial” path towards its membership but the same standards as the rest of the countries.

I consider the 'EU or Kosovo' policy wrong and peremptory, and also being against EU's values and that is why we should avoid it. We should find an elastic, creative solution under the given circumstances, which should not obstruct the normal life of the people and not hurt the dignity neither of the Albanian, nor of the Serbian people, which should pave an European path and should not create additional hurdles for our neighbours,” Tadic told a news conference in Belgrade.

It seems that the solution needed should be indeed “elastic” as Tadic’s position was quite clear at one point, when he said: “Serbia has never recognised and would never recognise Kosovo. It is seeking for a compromise.” The Serbian president also said that Pristina was trying to impact the talks with Belgrade via unilateral actions and violence and urged the EU “not to reward the conductors of violent policy.”

Merkel, on her part, agreed that the “next step should be to halt the unilateral actions and launch a dialogue instead.” Apparently, Germany will count on Zagreb in supporting the establishment of such a dialogue as on Wednesday Jadranka Kosor arrived on an official visit to Pristina. Besides, in an interview for the Croatian state-owned broadcaster a day before her visit to Zagreb, Merkel said directly: “I would ask Croatia to take the task and help countries such as Bosnia, and also [to help so that] the conflict in Kosovo does not escalate further.”

According to some local analysts, in return Kosor will receive Merkel’s support for the forthcoming elections in the country. The opposition in Zagreb, however, reminded that the country’s former PM Ivo Sanader, now pressed with corruption charges, was hailed too by Merkel several years ago.

In the end of the week Merkel is coming back to the Balkans, this time for a “pre-election” visit to Ljubljana where she is invited by Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor. In the meantime, she will have to defend her position on the eurobonds as a response to the financial crisis in Europe but for the Balkans the following message she delivered remains important: “The perspectives remain open for all Balkan countries which wish to join the EU and this will depend only on them and to meeting the accession criteria and that no one will be left waiting only because some of the others have debt problems.”

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