German Ambassador to Serbia, Axel Dittmann: We are very closely following the investigation into the Savamala case

There are no new prerequisites that Serbia needs to fulfill when it comes to Kosovo, but the relations between the two sides have to normalize before the EU accession negotiations end. We support dialogue but we are also focusing on supporting the reforms in Serbia, especially those required in the Chapter 23. They are of crucial importance for the Serbian citizens. Germany will remain a fair and reliable partner to Serbia and will continue supporting Serbia on its way to the EU membership – says in an interview for the Blic daily the German Ambassador to Serbia Axel Dittmann.

Opening of the chapter that regulates the rule of the law is one of the most important things that Serbia has done in the EU accession process.

“The chapter 23 plays the main role in everything because it contains the EU’s core values like democracy, independent judiciary, freedom of expression, and fight against corruption. This is important for Serbia’s path towards the EU and primarily for Serbia itself. This chapter is also crucial for sustainable economic development. You need to have a stable investment climate in order to draw investors in. It is also important for the people of Serbia to have an independent judiciary and stable institutions. Furthermore, it is vital to pick up pace in implementing the reforms pertaining to the rule of the law and to see the results of that in practice”, the Ambassador adds.

Has any progress been made in this area or are we still making baby steps?

  • The pace of the reforms varied in the first half of this year. You had an election campaign, then the election, than the formation of the new government. Now, it is important to forge ahead with the reforms and we would like to closely cooperate with your government on that. The relevant Action Plan that Serbia has devised together with the EU is a very demanding one and it covers issues like depoliticization, higher efficiency of courts and fighting corruption. Furthermore, the Action Plan envisages amendments to the Constitution which should happen in 2017.

Do you think that the cases like the demolition of houses in Savamala is something that would be efficiently handled in a country where the law rules? What did exactly this case demonstrate?

  • The events in Savamala open up the core issues of the rule of the law. Shedding light on this event, including the work done by the relevant authorities, is very important. The State Attorney’s Office has launched an investigation and we are closely monitoring how is this going to unfold.

Do you think that the events in Savamala will be included in the EU’s report on Serbia’s progress this year?

  • The European Commission is going to publish the report on 9th The report will reflect on the current situation with the reforms in all areas. The chapters 23 and 24, which stipulate the rule of the law, will certainly play an important role. These are the most important topics for the society’s transition and modernization. We will have to wait for 9th November to see the details.

Legally binding agreement with Pristina

Would you give Serbia a passing mark when it comes to the chapter 23?

  • Serbia has fulfilled all the prerequisites for opening of the chapter 23. This is very important but that doesn’t mean that the job is now done. The reforms will be considered finished once we close this chapter. Until then, a lot has to be done. Serbian judiciary remains the focal point and you should work on improving its independence, impartiality and efficiency.

In the last month or so, the events surrounding the official dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina have reached the boiling point. Is this dialogue the most important condition for Serbia joining the EU?

  • Axel Dittmann 2The aim of the dialogue is to reach comprehensive normalization of the relations between   the two sides with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of the people living in Kosovo and in  Serbia, including the Kosovo Serbs. It’s good that both sides will meet in Brussels on 16th November again. Now, the most important thing is for everything that had been agreed so far to    be implemented, starting with telecommunications and energy and moving onto all other agreements like forming the Union of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. This requires both sides to do the required work. The dialogue simply has to continue. The EU members and Serbia met   in 2014 and agreed on the joint negotiation framework which sets the main topics of the accession talks and the way in which the process should unfold. The dialogue between   Serbia and Kosovo should be taking place at the same time as the accession negotiations and Serbia and Kosovo have to fully normalize their relations before the accession negotiations end.

So, are there any new conditions that Serbia needs to meet when it comes to Kosovo? Does no dialogue mean no opening of new chapters?

  • There are no new conditions and the joint negotiation framework was agreed on back in 2014. We want to see Serbia progress on its way towards the EU membership and become a full-fledged member of the EU. This requires conducting reforms and making tough decisions. The conditions for opening of new chapters are set out in the join negotiation framework. Apart from making progress in certain chapters, it is also very important to make progress in the dialogue and these two processes should take place simultaneously. Based on how much have these prerequisites been fulfilled, the EU will make a decision on opening of new chapters.

Do you think that Serbia will have to recognize Kosovo’s independence at the end of its EU accession process?

  • The joint negotiation framework is very clear about this issue and the goal is for the two sides to fully normalize the relations and for this to be done in a legally-binding agreement. Apart from that, there are no new prerequisites.

“Germany will be fair towards Serbia”

Do you think that the Serbian Prime Minister has a valid argument when he says that “Pristina is doing whatever it pleases, and Brussels is not reacting at all”?

  • The dialogue on normalization is important, but I would also like to point out that both sides will be judged by their results and that Kosovo’s decisions or actions cannot block Serbia’s road  to the EU.

 What do you think about the Trepca Law?

  • We need to make a clear distinction between two things here. The first one is Trepca, which is something that Belgrade and Pristina don’t see eye-to-eye on. The second thing is the dialogue about the normalization of relations. It is important for this dialogue to continue and for all the issues that are opened independently from the dialogue not to hinder the process.

Is Germany one of those countries that have blocked the opening of the chapter 5 about public procurements because of this dialogue?

  • The guidelines for opening of negotiation chapters are contained within the joint negotiation framework. If the prerequisites set out in this framework have been fulfilled, the EU will make a   decision to open a chapter. I do hope that this will happen sooner rather than later. Germany is and always will be a fair and reliable partner to Serbia and will continue to provide strong support to Serbia on its road to the EU membership.

Do you think that this chapter will have been opened by the year end or maybe in 2017?

  • It is Serbia and the pace of its reforms that determine the moment when the chapter will  be opened. If the conditions and criteria stipulated in the joint negotiation framework are met, the EU will make such decision. I hope that this will happen very soon.

What is Germany’s stance on the Serbian-Russian joint military drill, and on the overall relations between the two countries? Is Berlin bothered by this obviously very strong bond?

  • Axel Dittmann 3Serbia has made a strategic decision to join the EU and the country has our full support in this matter. The EU and Serbia have a very close political cooperation in issues like resolving the problems stemming from the refugee crisis and improving the stability in the region. The EU is Serbia’s biggest economic partner and we also have very close cultural ties. There are 300,000 people from Serbia living in Germany. Serbia also has good relations with other countries and this is perfectly acceptable. We don’t have a problem with that but the fact remains that the EU membership does carry certain importance. The EU is a union of joint values and more Serbia becomes integrated, more it will have to adhere to those joint values.

Does that mean that Serbia will have to harmonize its foreign policy with that of the EU and distance itself from Russia?

  • Further Serbia integrates itself in the EU, more the country will have to take on the joint foreign policy of the EU. Once the accession process ends, this is non-negotiable.

What is your view of the regional relations between Serbia and its immediate neighbours – Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina?

  • Regional stability and reconciliation are very important and Serbia plays the key role in them. In case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is important that Serbia has sent a clear signal about supporting the integrity of the state. We also appreciate Serbia’s strong engagement in the Berlin Process. An initiative by the Serbian and Albanian PMs for the young people in the region to cooperate together, which is supposed to be launched in January 2017, is also very important. All of this is relevant for the regional reconciliation and further development of the entire region.

Several days ago, Prime Minister Vucic said, while visiting Hamburg, that if he were a German, he would definitely invest in Serbia. Would you recommend Serbia as an investment destination for German companies?

  • Of course I would. That’s something I do all the time. Serbia is an attractive investment destination and there are over 350 German companies here which have invested 1.8 billion EUR and created over 33,000 new jobs. In the last two weeks, I was present at the official opening of two new facilities of German companies in Serbia. Over 90% German companies operating here are satisfied with their operations and would make the same decision all over again. The investment climate in Serbia is good and more German investors are interested in coming here. If the investment climate is further improved, especially in the rule of the law segment, Serbia could attract even more investors.

The situation regarding the weapons found near the Prime Minister’s home and the possibility that they were going to be used in an attempt to assassinate him is still not calming down. What is your take on this situation?

  • We have been very carefully monitoring the developments in Serbia but we don’t comment on them. I am often amazed by all the conspiracy theories in your media, like, for instance, the one about the alleged involvement of the Western states in all of this. I see reality differently. Serbia is working on accomplishing its strategic goal which is the EU membership, and the EU member states support Serbia in that, as does the U.S.

You have been here for almost a year. Could you compare what was Serbia like when you came here and what is it like now?

  • I feel very good in Serbia, as does my family. We have received a warm welcome, have made many friends and I am really fascinated by the warmth and irresistible hospitality shown here.   Politically speaking, Serbia has made crucial progress on its way to the EU and I am glad that the government has made this a strategic goal which is something that I wholeheartedly support  too.

(Blic, 06.11.2016)

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One Reply to “German Ambassador to Serbia, Axel Dittmann: We are very closely following the investigation into the Savamala case”

  1. jvcdd says:

    Can Serbia make progress in hygienics ? It is wonderful to hear Serbia may one day become part of the EU before the EU is over but, the fundamental question should be; Will Serbia one day learn to use soap and wash hands before preparing food and meet the EU standard on hygiene including clean public WC and clean roadway WC and lifestyle basics before it can leave the dark-ages?

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