On Thursday a significant majority of Germany’s parliament voted in favor of extending the deployment of peacekeeping forces in Macedonia.
German soldiers in Tetovo
Of the 615 members of parliament, 574 were in favor of continuing the military mission in Macedonia for another three months. Only the former communist party, the PDS, was against prolonging German deployment which was scheduled to end on December 26.
There are currently 600 German peacekeepers stationed in Macedonia. Along with other NATO forces they are responsible for securing the fragile peace in Macedonia and protecting OSCE and EU observers monitoring negotiations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.
Although the mission is relatively small compared to others in the Balkans, it is significant for Germany, marking the first time the country has ever led a NATO military mission.
During the discussion in parliament, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping praised the efforts of the German troops saying they had "prevented a civil war" in Macedonia.
Even though the situation in Macedonia has improved since last summer, the presence of armed peacekeepers is still required, Scharping said. There is still much to do before the region can be considered stabile.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer echoed the defense minister’s words. He said the NATO mission was a success and that further fighting had been prevented.
According to Fischer, Europeans learned a "bitter lesson" in the Balkans about how important military force can be. Without NATO intervention, Fischer said, the region would be much worse off today. But it must remain an "ultima ratio", a last resort.
With a total of 7,700 troops stationed in the Balkans, Germany is actively involved in three military peacekeeping missions. The largest is Kosovo with 5,100 soldiers followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina with 2,000 soldiers. Macedonia has the smallest contingent with only 600 troops.
Monetary aid for Macedonia
While parliament was discussing the extension of the military mission, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) signed an agreement to grant Macedonia $58 million in financial and technical assistance. On Thursday the Macedonian Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski was on hand to sign the cooperation agreement.
The monetary aid will be used to realize new joint German-Macedonian projects for road infrastructure, water supply, waste disposal, sewage treatment and environmental protection as well as projects designed to support private business start-ups. The projects are all long-term and designed to make the region more self-sufficient.
The German government hopes that such economic and technical cooperation will improve the stability in Macedonia.