German top diplomat Gabriel urges pro-EU reforms on Kosovo trip | News | DW | 13.04.2017
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Balkans

German top diplomat Gabriel urges pro-EU reforms on Kosovo trip

Germany's foreign minister has praised Kosovo for its pro-EU leanings, but cautioned that improved relations with Serbia were needed to join the bloc. He also asked the EU for more investment in Kosovo's infrastructure.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was in Kosovo on Thursday, urging Pristina to improve relations with neighboring Serbia as it seeks entry into the European Union. The EU, for its part, should invest more in infrastructure projects in the struggling nation.

"It will cost money, yes, but it would be relatively inexpensive compared to the alternative, which is a rekindling of the old tensions in the region," Gabriel told the press. 

"It would be smart of Europe to insist that all the criteria of EU membership be met, but also to do more ... to improve the living conditions of the people here so they don't lose their faith in Europe," he added.

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In talks with Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, Gabriel praised Kosovo's "tremendous progress" thus far on trying to normalize relations with Belgrade and a border deal with Montenegro, but questioned why the parliament was holding up the visa liberalization process necessary for EU ascension. 

The trip came just a day after a visit to Serbia, as part of Gabriel's goodwill tour encouraging the Balkans to pivot towards Brussels and away from the nationalism and xenophobia that threaten to stoke old tensions. Since declaring independence from Serbia nine years ago, tensions have remained high between Pristina and Belgrade, as the latter still considers Kosovo a breakaway province.

Nevertheless, Gabriel was full of praise for Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who was elected president earlier this month. The German diplomat called Serbia an "anchor of stability" in the region, though he did caution that better relations with Kosovo were "an essential precondition for accession to the European Union."

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As for the massive protests that have sprung up in response to Vucic's election, which opposition voices say he won only through manipulation and suppression, Gabriel told the Serbian leader to "get used to it."

"If you want to get into the EU, you must know that demonstrations and protests against democratically-elected governments and president are possible, permitted and within the EU, quite common," he said.

Gabriel will continue his tour of the Balkans in Albania on Monday. Albania was one of the first countries willing to recognize Kosovo's independence, of which about 114 worldwide now do. There are about 1.6 million ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo, and Albanian is an official language.

es/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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