The opposition accuses the German chancellor of being close to authoritarians.
The heads of government of six Western Balkan states posed at a safe distance on Tuesday in Albania’s capital Tirana for the last group photo with Angela Merkel. “Nobody” understood the Western Balkans better than the German Chancellor, said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who was quickly rewarded with an Albanian medal. Merkel will miss the region: she is “a friend of the Balkans, the Albanians and all the peoples of this region”.
Similar to Rama, Serbia’s omnipotent national father, Aleksandar Vučić, seemed to be plagued by wistful fears of loss at the last meeting with Merkel. The foreman of the national populist SNS confessed that he was “a little afraid of what will happen to us”. “Who will call us from Europe and say that we have to build more roads instead of arguing with each other?”
Merkel could be “very proud” of what she left behind in the Western Balkans, assured Vučić and expressed his “gratitude”. The Chancellor, too, has noticeably achieved little in terms of enlargement in 16 years of office: Only Croatia managed to join the EU in 2013. The EU candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, on the other hand, seem further away from Europe’s prosperous alliance.
“Go at last”
Merkel did not come up with catchy concepts for accelerating the enlargement, which she described as the “absolute geographic interest” of the EU. Instead, she repeated her credo of the open EU doors and the “long road” that the candidates still had to overcome. When journalists asked about the authoritarian tendencies in the region, she diplomatically spoke of “setbacks, but also progress”, urged “further steps towards the rule of law” and politely praised her Serbian host: she “got to know Vučić as a person who made no false promises . “
Aside from the praise, Merkel’s farewell trip was also criticized. While officials praised her commitment to EU enlargement, the media and opposition members critical of the government accused her of uncritically joining forces with dubious political princes, which would indirectly encourage authoritarian tendencies in the region.
Merkel’s legacy is “corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the Balkans,” said opposition politician Mlađan Ðorđević, for example. “You finally go to Ms. Merkel”, demanded a German-language protest poster from the Preokret (“U-turn”): “You have been supporting the dictatorship for nine years.”