Germany’s Merkel to visit Serbia, Croatia

BELGRADE - Agence France-Presse

Talks on Croatia and Serbia’s EU prospects will be on the agenda during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel starting Monday, when she will also press for a cooling of frictions between Belgrade and Kosovo.

 The leader is embarking on the trip despite the financial crisis currently engulfing Europe, seen by many as a strong sign of Germany’s diplomatic commitment to the region. It is the first time since 2003 that a leader of the German government has visited Zagreb and Belgrade. And at a time when Europe’s economic problems are likely to threaten EU enlargement, the trip is perceived in the region as an important demonstration of the major EU and eurozone player’s interest in the Balkans. Croatia is due to the join the EU in summer 2013.

 Kosovo will meanwhile be the main topic of discussion with Serbian officials in Belgrade on Tuesday. The visit takes place a few days ahead of the resumption of EU-mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels on September 2 and almost a month after violent scenes in Kosovo’s Serb-majority north. Although it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Belgrade considers Kosovo a southern province. “One of my tasks will be to convince Serbia that it must resume dialogue with Kosovo,” said Merkel in her weekly podcast broadcast on the Chancellory website on Saturday.