BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Angela Merkel begins a two-day tour of the Balkans on Wednesday, visiting three countries whose ambitions to join the European Union have been complicated by the Greek crisis and their mutual rivalries.
The German chancellor — who is the most influential and respected Western politician in the Balkans — plans to visit Albania, Serbia and Bosnia.
All three states have declared their desire to join the EU, but in the wake of the Greek bailout turmoil Merkel and other EU leaders are likely to be more wary of admitting countries with troubled economies.
Serbia and Bosnia fought a war in the 1990s that left at least 100,000 people dead and millions homeless. Their relations are still tense and are squabbling even over whether to call the massacre in Srebrenica of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops in 1995 "genocide" — although it has been branded genocide by two U.N. courts.
Serbia refuses to recognize the independence of its former ethnic Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo — something enthusiastically supported by Albania — even if that could mean the end of Serbia's EU dream.
Here is what Merkel is likely to discuss during her visit:
ALBANIA — Merkel's visit will only be the second by a German chancellor to one of the poorest countries in Europe since 1999. Albanian officials will press her on their desire to launch full EU membership talks as soon as possible. Merkel is likely to respond with a demand for a crackdown against crime and corruption that has traditionally plagued the former communist country. She is also expected to tell the Albanian leaders to forget the Albanian nationalist dream of crating "Greater Albania" that would include territories outside its borders that have ethnic Albanian populations, especially Kosovo.
SERBIA — The country has been split among those who want to join the EU and those who want to get closer to Russia, Serbia's traditional ally. Merkel is meeting both the pro-EU Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and pro-Russian President Tomislav Nikolic. She is likely to tell them that Serbia cannot join the EU before it forges "good neighborly" relations with Kosovo and Bosnia. That is always perceived in Serbia as tantamount to the formal recognition of Kosovo's statehood and abandoning the Bosnian Serb brethren in Bosnia. Kosovo and Serbia officials have been holding marathon EU-mediated talks on their future relations, but the results have been sparse.
BOSNIA — Merkel will urge Bosnians to launch social and economic reforms that would create jobs and bring the country closer to EU membership. Although Muslim Bosnian, Serb and Croat leaders signed a joint declaration in January expressing readiness to implement all EU reforms that were initially proposed by Germany and Britain, the Bosnian Serbs revoked their commitment in June. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said his government refuses to privatize the energy sector and objects to other reforms proposed in the document. Merkel is also expected to pay tribute to the Srebrenica victims ahead of the July 11 ceremony marking two decades since the worst carnage in Europe after World War II.
AP reporters Aida Cerkez from Bosnia and Llazar Semini from Albania contributed.