German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government called on Kosovo to end a trade war with Serbia, signaling resurgent European concern about Balkan tensions that threaten years of reconciliation efforts.
Germany publicly entered the fray after Serbia, which opposes its neighbor’s recognition as an independent state, led an effort to deny Kosovo a seat at Interpol, the international police network. Kosovo responded last week by taxing imports from Serbia.
“The thing for which we have zero understanding is that Kosovo imposed a 100 percent tariff on Serbian products,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s spokesman, told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday. Germany also would have preferred Serbia to allow Kosovo to join Interpol, he said.
Merkel’s government has helped prod both sides for years toward a settlement, seeking to entice Serbia with the prospect of eventual European Union membership. Serbia and Kosovo fought a 1999-2000 war that ended with NATO air strikes that forced Serb troops out.
Backed by Russia and China, Serbia has obstructed its neighbor from joining international organizations, including the United Nations, since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.
Also unresolved is the option of a land swap to end the conflict. While the U.S. floated the idea and National Security Adviser John Bolton said Tuesday it’s time for Kosovo and Serbia to make a deal, Merkel has focused on the risk that border changes could inflame conflicts.
She has emphasized that “the territorial integrity of all Western Balkan countries is enormously important,” Seibert said. Even so, Germany would support a mutually acceptable normalization of relations if it’s “durable,” he said.
“We hope that both sides quickly return to dialogue,” Seibert said. “We appeal to all sides to avoid an escalation.”