BERLIN/BELGRADE (Own report) -The “Western Balkans Conference”, opening in Berlin today, is overshadow [sic] by the dispute over sanctions against Russia and criticism of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). Serbia, a participant in the conference, has declared, it will not join the EU’s sanctions. Serbian enterprises are therefore not affected by Russian countermeasures and are even replacing agricultural products, whose importation from the EU has been banned by Moscow. The German government is attempting to prevent this. Berlin, in turn, has been forced to admit that, for years, the BND had systematically spied on Albania. Albania, Germany’s NATO ally, will also attend the conference. Berlin has initiated the “Western Balkans Conference” to shore up the hegemony over Southeast Europe, which it had acquired in the 1990s against the growing influence of China, Turkey and, particularly, Russia.
Russia’s ostentatious growing influence in Southeast Europe is one of the reasons why Germany is organizing the “Western Balkans Conference.” In recent years, based on solid economic relations, Moscow has succeeded in expanding its relations with Belgrade, its traditional ally. Russia is Serbia’s third largest trading partner, following Italy and Germany and a major investor. On May 24, 2013, Moscow and Belgrade concluded a “strategic partnership”, with Russia pledging multibillion-dollar investments and loans. On November 13, 2013, the two countries also signed a military agreement for 15 years, which will include Serbian officers being trained in Russia, a closer cooperation of the armed forces and general staffs, as well as joint maneuvers. Cooperation in the framework of UN mandated interventions and the intensification of arms cooperation are also planned.
Shoring up Hegemony
Reacting to this development in Southeast Europe and to the growing influence of other countries – particularly China and Turkey – Berlin has taken the initiative to try to reinvigorate ties with the non-EU member countries of the region – of course, without promising rapid EU membership. At present, the German government does not feel that their becoming members would tangibly enhance Berlin’s power. Chancellor Angela Merkel had already taken part in the July 15 “Western Balkans Summit” in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Southeast European countries that participated at that summit will return to today’s conference in Berlin. Today’s “Western Balkans Conference,” which Merkel had promoted during the summit, is slated to further reinforce the ties. A successor conference, in Austria, is already planned, which is why Austrian government officials are awaited in the German capital. Numerous German companies are transacting their Southeast European businesses via Austria. France is supposed to be won over to support the third “Western Balkans Conference.” Ministerial officials in Paris should, therefore, also participate in today’s event. However, it remains uncertain, whether the French government will, in fact, support the project. Since the 1990s, Germany, for the most part, had successfully imposed its hegemony over Southeast Europe, squeezing France out in the process. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Since then, Paris has no longer shown great interest in activities in the region.
The Consequences of Joining
Berlin and Brussels are exerting massive pressure to persuade Belgrade to join their sanctions. The EU is also calling on Serbia, at the least, not to subvention, in any way, those agricultural enterprises exporting to Russia. Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has come to accept this demand. Last Friday, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, personally reassured his German counterpart that Belgrade did not seek to exploit the situation “for the benefit of its companies or for business.” It is also regularly reminded in Berlin that, Serbia entered negotiations for EU membership, last January. The EU makes a common foreign policy a precondition for membership. Therefore, it is assumed that Belgrade will not be able to uphold its degree of sovereignty.