Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called on the countries of the Western Balkans to prepare themselves for accession to the European Union (EU). To do this, they would also have to work more closely with each other, said the SPD politician on Monday at the end of a summit meeting in the Albanian capital Tirana. “There is no way around regional cohesion and the lasting solution to conflicts that have been simmering for far too long.”

In addition to Albania, this includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. All six Western Balkan countries are aiming to join the EU, but are at different stages.

The summit took place as part of the so-called Berlin Process, which was launched by then Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in 2014 to bring states closer to the EU. Before joining the EU, these should introduce among themselves practices and procedures that are common practice in the EU, such as open markets or the free movement of people. For the first time, the summit took place in one of the Western Balkan states.

Proposals from the EU Commission

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen renewed her proposal for a “growth plan” to boost the economy in the Western Balkans. This includes a closer connection to the EU internal market – for example in customs, cashless payments or electronic commerce. In addition, the Balkan countries would have to open their markets more widely to one another. Von der Leyen also promised an investment package worth six billion euros in return for reforms.

Scholz also announced a regional climate partnership between Germany and the Western Balkans. Germany will support the fight against climate change and the use of renewable energies in the region with 1.5 billion euros by 2030. The federal government will also provide 73 million euros for a new renewable energy program in Albania.

As host of the summit, Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama described the EU Commission’s proposals as “something completely new”. “They show that the EU is opening up to non-members of the Western Balkans by committing to steps that lead to something that is otherwise only reserved for members,” he said.

Scholz condemns the incident in Banjska

But the meeting was also overshadowed by a recent attack by Serbian paramilitaries in northern Kosovo. A Kosovar police officer and three Serbian intruders were killed in the fighting on September 24th in the town of Banjska. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti demanded at the summit that such acts should not go without consequences. His country is “still threatened by Serbia,” he added.

Scholz strongly condemned the incident in Banjska at the press conference. “We demand an extremely intensive investigation and we demand that the Serbian authorities cooperate with the authorities in Kosovo in this.” Von der Leyen emphasized that the matter was still being investigated and appropriate steps could be taken in light of the results.

Kosovo, which is now almost exclusively inhabited by Albanians, declared itself independent in 2008. More than 100 countries, including Germany, but not Serbia, Russia and China, recognize the new state. Serbia demands the return of its former province. EU-mediated talks to normalize relations that have been ongoing for years have so far produced few tangible results.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic withdrew from the so-called “family photo” that is taken on the occasion of such meetings with all participants. The Serbian media cited the fact that the flag of Kosovo was hung in the background among the flags of the participating countries.