The Hegemony over Southeast Europe
BERLIN/BELGRADE (Own report) -The "Western Balkans Conference", opening in Berlin today, is overshadow by the dispute over sanctions against Russia and criticism of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). Serbia, a participant in the conference, has declared, it will not join the EU's sanctions. Serbian enterprises are therefore not affected by Russian countermeasures and are even replacing agricultural products, whose importation from the EU has been banned by Moscow. The German government is attempting to prevent this. Berlin, in turn, has been forced to admit that, for years, the BND had systematically spied on Albania. Albania, Germany's NATO ally, will also attend the conference. Berlin has initiated the "Western Balkans Conference" to shore up the hegemony over Southeast Europe, which it had acquired in the 1990s against the growing influence of China, Turkey and, particularly, Russia.
Western Balkans Conference
The German government has invited the heads of states and governments of eight Southeast European nations, as well as their ministers of foreign affairs and economy, to attend the "Western Balkans Conference," which begins today in the German capital. Representatives of Slovenia and Croatia - EU members since 2004 and 2013 - as well as Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are attending. Leading politicians of Kosovo, which had seceded from Serbia in 2008 - in violation of international law -, will also attend. The Chancellor and ministers of foreign affairs and of economy will represent Germany. In this context, the German Ministry for the Economy is also organizing a "Western Balkans Business Meeting," in cooperation with leading German business associations - including the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, the East and Central Europe Association (OMV) and the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK). High-ranking business representatives are expected.
Russia's ostentatious growing influence in Southeast Europe is one of the reasons why Germany is organizing the "Western Balkans Conference." In recent years, based on solid economic relations, Moscow has succeeded in expanding its relations with Belgrade, its traditional ally. Russia is Serbia's third largest trading partner, following Italy and Germany and a major investor. On May 24, 2013, Moscow and Belgrade concluded a "strategic partnership", with Russia pledging multibillion-dollar investments and loans. On November 13, 2013, the two countries also signed a military agreement for 15 years, which will include Serbian officers being trained in Russia, a closer cooperation of the armed forces and general staffs, as well as joint maneuvers. Cooperation in the framework of UN mandated interventions and the intensification of arms cooperation are also planned.
Shoring up Hegemony
Reacting to this development in Southeast Europe and to the growing influence of other countries - particularly China and Turkey - Berlin has taken the initiative to try to reinvigorate ties with the non-EU member countries of the region - of course, without promising rapid EU membership. At present, the German government does not feel that their becoming members would tangibly enhance Berlin's power. Chancellor Angela Merkel had already taken part in the July 15 "Western Balkans Summit" in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Southeast European countries that participated at that summit will return to today's conference in Berlin. Today's "Western Balkans Conference," which Merkel had promoted during the summit, is slated to further reinforce the ties. A successor conference, in Austria, is already planned, which is why Austrian government officials are awaited in the German capital. Numerous German companies are transacting their Southeast European businesses via Austria. France is supposed to be won over to support the third "Western Balkans Conference." Ministerial officials in Paris should, therefore, also participate in today's event. However, it remains uncertain, whether the French government will, in fact, support the project. Since the 1990s, Germany, for the most part, had successfully imposed its hegemony over Southeast Europe, squeezing France out in the process. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Since then, Paris has no longer shown great interest in activities in the region.
In the controversy over the current sanctions imposed on Russia, the spotlight falls on the importance of Berlin's efforts to shore up German hegemony over Southeast Europe in competition with a reinforced Moscow. Belgrade has made it clear that it will not participate in the sanctions. It is, therefore, not affected by Moscow's countermeasures. Since Moscow banned imports of agricultural products from the EU, Serbian agricultural enterprises have significantly expanded their exports to Russia. In the course of the current year, Belgrade intends to increase the volume of its agricultural exports from US $172 million to approx. $300 million. Serbia's military and arms cooperation with Russia remain undaunted. German media have recently carried reports of Serbian soldiers participating in a military contest in Moscow. That event was held in mid-August - right in the midst of escalating tensions between Russia and the EU.
The Consequences of Joining
Berlin and Brussels are exerting massive pressure to persuade Belgrade to join their sanctions. The EU is also calling on Serbia, at the least, not to subvention, in any way, those agricultural enterprises exporting to Russia. Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has come to accept this demand. Last Friday, Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, personally reassured his German counterpart that Belgrade did not seek to exploit the situation "for the benefit of its companies or for business." It is also regularly reminded in Berlin that, Serbia entered negotiations for EU membership, last January. The EU makes a common foreign policy a precondition for membership. Therefore, it is assumed that Belgrade will not be able to uphold its degree of sovereignty.
On the other hand, the EU apparently has nothing against companies of EU member states seeking to evade the effects of the sanctions on Russia by relocating their sites to Serbia. Media have begun to report on enterprises beginning to have the final touches to their products applied in Serbia - in the hopes of circumventing Russia's ban on EU agricultural products. "There are an enormous number of companies in the EU, now searching for packaging facilities in Serbia," an Austrian businessman is quoted to have said.
The "Western Balkans Conference" will not only be overshadowed by German attempts to put an end to all Serbian prerogative towards Russia, but also by reports of hegemonic practices of the German BND intelligence service. According to these reports, the BND considers Albania to be a "key state" of its intelligence activities, carrying out operative "espionage." These activities are allegedly aimed at "organized crime." Albania is Germany's NATO partner, as well as - since June 24 - an official candidate for EU membership. However, this has not prevented spying by the espionage agency of Germany, the hegemonic power.
 Wirtschaftskonferenz zum Westlichen Balkan. www.ost-ausschuss.de.
 See No Tandem.
 Serbien profitiert von Russlands Sanktionen. www.handelsblatt.com 22.08.2014.
 Serbischer Außenminister: Sanktionen gegen Russland zurücknehmen. www.moz.de 22.08.2014.
 Kotányi weicht nach Serbien aus. kurier.at 27.08.2014.
 Geheimdienst-Zielliste: BND überwacht seit Jahren weiteren NATO-Partner. www.spiegel.de 23.08.2014.