Europe

Germany urges Serbia, Kosovo to step up rapprochement amid EU bid

Scholz and Vucic highlight differences on Russian sanctions over Ukraine war

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BERLIN

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Serbia and Kosovo on Wednesday to step up their rapprochement efforts amid their plans to join the European Union.

Speaking after his meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Berlin, Scholz emphasized that progress on this issue was of "enormous importance" for the targeted EU membership of both countries.

"All open questions must be clarified in this dialogue," the chancellor added.

Scholz stressed that Serbia's accession process to the EU was being intensively supported by Germany.

To do this, however, the country must consistently continue on its reform path -- above all in questions of the rule of law, freedom of the media, and the fight against organized crime, according to Scholz.

Accession negotiations with Serbia have been going on since 2014.

Kosovo, which is predominantly inhabited by Albanians, broke away from Serbia in 1999 and declared its independence in 2008. To this day, Serbia has not recognized this and continues to lay claim to the territory.

Meanwhile, Vucic has vowed to continue his rapprochement with neighboring Kosovo.

He reiterated that he would do anything to reach a compromise.

In the evening, direct talks between Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who was also a guest at the chancellery a few hours earlier, were to take place in the German capital.

Although Kosovo has not yet applied for membership, it is also aiming for membership. Kurti emphasized in Berlin that there was no alternative to the EU and NATO for his country. Chancellor Scholz promised his support, saying "the Western Balkans are part of Europe."

Since Russia launched its war on Ukraine, concerns about destabilization in the Western Balkans have also grown within the EU.

The war also played a central role in Scholz's talks, and differences of opinion also emerged here, according to German news agency DPA.

Vucic explained that Serbia had a different attitude on the subject of sanctions. He pointed out that his country itself had been the victim of sanctions for a decade. Although Serbia had condemned the war on Ukraine at the UN General Assembly, it rejected economic sanctions against Russia.

The EU suspects Moscow also of fueling unresolved conflicts in the region and thus thwarting possible EU membership for the Balkan countries. In this context, Kurti lamented factors in the Western Balkans that were directed by the Kremlin.

“This poses a threat to peace and security. We are concerned but not afraid,” he said.

At least 3,238 civilians have been killed and 3,397 others injured in Ukraine since the war with Russia began on Feb. 24, according to UN estimates. The true toll is feared to be much higher.

More than 5.6 million people have fled to other countries, with over 7.7 million people internally displaced, data from the UN refugee agency shows.

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