Germany’s Scholz backs more Balkan states joining EU

Chancellor says it is in Germany’s and Europe’s interest for Bosnia and others to join Croatia in bloc

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has said it is in the interests of Germany and Europe for the remaining Balkan states to become EU members, and welcomed the decision to grant Bosnia candidate status.

“It is in our German and our European interest for the rest of the Balkans to become part of the European Union,” Scholz told MPs in an address at the Bundestag in Berlin.

Supporters of the EU’s eastward expansion argue that the bloc’s engagement with the western Balkans is vital for protecting European security in the face of Russian aggression.

On Tuesday, diplomats in Brussels agreed to accept Bosnia as a candidate for membership. EU heads of government are expected to endorse that decision at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Bosnia joins four other western Balkan countries: Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania – as well as Turkey, Moldova and Ukraine in the queue for membership. Moldova and Ukraine’s candidacies were confirmed in June. The process of joining can take decades.

Croatia is currently the only western Balkan state that is an EU member. Though it is not yet a member of Schengen, it was recently green-lit to join the passport-free travel area as of the start of 2023.

In his Bundestag speech, Scholz also reiterated Germany’s sceptical stance towards an EU-wide cap on gas prices. Europe’s largest economy has repeatedly voiced concerns that setting too low a cap could incentivise providers to sell their gas elsewhere, creating supply shortages.

“There are no instant solutions,” Scholz said. “For example, we mustn’t interfere with prices so that less gas ends up being delivered to Europe.”

Berlin wants the measure, known as a “market correction mechanism”, to kick in only when gas prices hit €220 per megawatt hour. Other states such as Belgium, Greece and Italy seek a price cap of €150 per megawatt hour.

“Artificial price caps can lead to the wrong incentives if they are carelessly conceived”, one German government adviser said this week.

The European Commission originally suggested a price cap of €275 per megawatt hour, but only if the price remained above that level for at least two weeks and if the price for liquified natural gas (LNG) went above €58 for 10 days within that two-week period.

Scholz praised Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s aggression as “the real story of this year”. “None of Putin’s plans have worked out”, he said, and Moscow had “fundamentally miscalculated”.

“He believed he could dry out Europe’s solidarity by switching off the gas tap,” Scholz said, condemning a “vile way of war” that involved Moscow targeting energy networks and water supplies in Ukraine.

The opposition leader Friedrich Merz, of the Christian Democratic Union, criticised the government for continuing to decline to support Ukraine’s defensive campaign through the delivery of tanks.

“Almost 10 months since the start of this war, you are still hiding behind Nato partners, which you claim don’t want to deliver either,” Merz said to Scholz. “By now we know that this is wrong. It is mainly your personal fault that Ukraine isn’t getting this support.”

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) called for an end to economic sanctions against Russia, saying they were “an instrument that damages Germany and its citizens in the long term”.

This article was amended on 14 December 2022. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Austria had recently blocked Croatia from joining the passport-free Schengen travel area; Croatia is due to join the Schengen zone on 1 January 2023.


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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