German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Belgrade on Monday she had discussed domestic policy with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic, adding the country needed reforms for the opening of new chapters in negotiations with the European Union, and stressed the importance of progress in the legal system in Serbia, while Vucic thanked her for everything she did for his country and the region.
„I am glad to hear that Serbia is intensively dealing with judicial reforms, and the EU is here and must assess that,“ Merkel said.
She added she would have the meeting in Tirana on Tuesday with the prime ministers of other Western Balkans countries, and recalled the importance of the role of the Berlin Process.
„The Berlin Process should by no means replace the accession process, but it should connect the countries of the Western Balkans… We have achieved a lot. We will soon have a meeting in Slovenia with the countries of the Western Balkans and maybe we will take a step further there,“ Merkel said.
Merkel also answered a question about the Rio Tinto lithium mine in Serbia, which caused great concern among the country’s environmentalists, saying the EU would undoubtedly deal with the issue.
„Serbia has something really valuable, but there are concerns whether the exploitation will be in line with environmental standards,“ she said.
Merkel added she thought „the EU has good standards, the member states will certainly deal with that issue because climate neutrality in Europe is a significant issue.“
She added the two „talked about Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, many topics. I believe in sincerity in talks and the ability to listen to the other side and develop benefits. That is what characterises our relationships.
„Vucic does not make false promises, but tries to implement them, and that is why I thank him for his cooperation and encourage further steps in the rule of law and pluralistic society. Economic successes should be an incentive that EU membership is a worthwhile goal,“ she said.
Merkel mentioned some concerns about the functioning of the EU, adding that was why the French president Emmanuel Macron initiated reforms by introducing a new cluster methodology.
„Sometimes the perception is that the process is slow and that the European side is making new demands, but we see results and progress. The Berlin process has increased connectivity in the region, which helps the accession process. The geostrategic interest is for all countries to join the EU,“ the Chancellor said.
She added Germany and Serbia were closely connected.
„I saw a historical collection of documents showing we had relations for a long time in different areas – economy, culture, politics. In the economy, we have a success story behind us, we also have an anniversary – 80 years of the Wehrmacht’s attack on Yugoslavia. I can announce 500,000 euros for reconstruction as an important sign for reconciliation and remembrance. I am glad an agreement is to be reached in culture, on war memorials. These are important steps,“ she said.
Joining her and the news conference, Vucic that he owed her sincere gratitude for everything she had done for Serbia and the Western Balkans.
„I am proud that, after many years of cooperation, I had the opportunity to be one of the participants, the host who will welcome Chancellor Merkel at the end of her term,“ he said.
„Angela Merkel is the undisputed leader of Europe. She could pick up the phone and call any of us and influence events in the region. I wonder who from Europe will call us and say that we must be more responsible about instead to argue,“ Vucic said, adding he was afraid of how he feared what Europe would look like after Merkel.
Vucic specified they talked about Serbia’s European integration and the harmonisation of Belgrade’s foreign policy with the Union’s, adding that in the last four months, it had increased from 46 percent to 62.5 percent.
„Serbia still has a lot of work to do in the field of the rule of law,“ Vucic said. „We are committed to constitutional reform, judicial reform, reform of the media and the entire political sector,“ he added.
He added that „we know very well“ that resolving the Kosovo issue, i.e., the relations between Belgrade and Pristina, as a condition for Serbia’s accession to the EU, and that a frozen conflict was not the solution.
Vucic said he and Merkel also discussed the concrete results of the Berlin Process and the Open Balkans initiative, which would be more talked about during the dinner.
As he added, they also tackled all other regional issues.