"Dialogue with Priština ended isolation"
By starting the dialogue with Priština in 2012 Serbia pulled out of isolation in which it had found itself, German Ambassador Heinz Wilhelm has said.
Speaking for B92 TV's Kažipst program on June 12, as Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić was visiting Berlin, the German diplomat said Chancellor Angela Merkel's invitation was "a clear signal that Germany sees in Serbia a key partner in the Balkans."
"This visit is a signal that the government's efforts since 2012 have been rewarded, especially in the context of the dialogue with Kosovo, which was the decisive step. There is also the fight against corruption and an ambitious reform agenda," said Wilhelm.
The ambassador added that Germany assessed all these efforts as being very good, and that this contributed to Merkel's invitation to Vučić to visit Berlin "only six weeks after he took office as prime minister."
Speaking about the fact the trip came just days after the election in Kosovo, Wilhelm pointed out that Serbia's "constructive attitude towards Priština was one of the key steps."
"The beginning of the dialogue that former Prime Minister Dačić began in October 2012 was a significant sign for Serbia to get out of the isolation in which it, in a way, had found itself. It was a precondition for starting (membership) negotiations with the EU, as well as one of the reasons for the invitation of Merkel. The constructive attitude of Serbia toward Priština, but not only that - also toward the entire region, is very important. The government has done much to improve relations in the region, the president of Croatia was in Belgrade, Vučić was in Sarajevo, Serbia is now considered a constructive and important partner in the Balkans," said the ambassador.
He added that the dialogue with Priština was "going well" and that open questions included the forming of a community of Serb municipalities, and the judiciary.
"Everything is on track, we hope for a new round, but it now depends on developments in Kosovo, where there have been dramatic developments after the elections," said Wilhelm.
He pointed out that the issue of Kosovo was "an elemental part of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the EU," and that the dialogue with Priština and negotiations with the EU are "connected and intertwined processes."
"Without the full implementation of the Brussels agreement chapter 35 will not be opened," he explained.
As for the demand the German parliament put before Serbia to "sign a legally binding agreement with Priština on the road to the EU," the diplomat said it "remains in force":
"In the meantime, the Brussels agreement has been concluded, which is the first agreement on the basic principles of normalization. In the end some kind of final agreement between Belgrade and Priština will have to be reached. The Bundestag says that it must be legally binding, but does not define what it should contain," said he.
Merkel sent a message to Vučić during his visit that Germany finds the rule of law, Kosovo and economic harmonization to be important issues, while the order in which she presented these points "was not important," the diplomat remarked.
"These are all important questions. For German companies, the important question is the rule of law, because it is expected that procedures are swift, that there is no political influence on the courts," Wilhelm said, and added that Serbia is "in a good position, it is attractive for investment, which is evidenced by 400 German companies that are already operating in the country, "but also by the results of a survey which showed that 92 percent of those companies would invest again in Serbia.
Wilhelm however, stated that he had no information as to whether German companies were "interested in EPS or Telekom."
The ambassador noted that he was not surprised by the questions regarding media freedoms posed to Vučić while in Berlin, "considering the lively discussion on this topic in Serbia during the past days." However, Wilhelm apparently does not share the concerns of some of his colleagues posted in Serbia:
"Of course I spoke with (EU representative) Michael Davenport. We have regular meetings. I cannot say anything about what the OSCE presented as its criticism, and which Vučić strongly rejected, but I can say that criticism must be proven. Hackers can bring down websites from San Francisco, or from Berlin. That there had been manipulations and deletion of pages, does necessarily mean that the government was behind it. I'm no detective, but I think that evidence is necessary. It is important that the government should investigate and this is a requirement. Freedom of the media is an important issue in the (EU) accession negotiations and will remain open issue."