Joint Statement on promoting the European Perspective
On the occasion of today’s meeting of the Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Samuel Žbogar, with the Austrian Minister for European and International Affairs, Dr. Michael Spindelegger, the two ministers discussed in detail the situation in the Western Balkans.
The year 2010 is set to become the year of the Western Balkans for the European Union. Considerable progress has already been made since seven years ago when the EU members agreed in Thessaloniki on a perspective of full EU integration for all of the countries in the region. There is now a growing sense within the member states that this perspective has to be translated into facts.
The two ministers expect that by 2011 all Western Balkans countries will have reached a new, more advanced level of approximation in their relations to the EU.
The ministers stress that a pronounced sense of regional ownership is crucial for a true European consciousness to be developed among the people of the Western Balkans.
The two ministers call upon the countries of the Western Balkans to actively engage with the EU and one another in all aspects of political and civil life in order to enhance their European perspective.
Further support the visa liberalization process for the Western Balkans
Free mobility for the people of the region is essential for the development of a European consciousness. The liberalization of the visa regime for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia in December 2009 was a milestone along this road. Providing the opportunity to travel and engage with people in other countries, without the restriction of a visa regime, is one of the tangible positive impacts of the region`s orientation towards Europe.
Austria and Slovenia have, together with their regional partners, been on point in promoting the free visa regime within the EU , always considering that there are clear benchmarks as defined in the relevant roadmaps that need to be met.
Building on this recent success, we will remain strong advocates that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania should join the free visa regime as soon as the required proposal is made by the European Commission - if appropriate proposals are made in time, visa liberalization should be swiftly implemented.
Together with their European and regional partners, Austria and Slovenia will also continue to build on European Commission proposals regarding a possible phased and structured visa liberalization approach for Kosovo.
The EU Strategy for the Danube Region which is currently being developed by the European Commission embraces a number of countries of the Western Balkans as equal partners. We should work together to make the resources of this strategy available for the development of regional coherence and mobility.
Pay special attention to the mobility and networking of young people
Young people of the Western Balkans are, as across all Europe, an important cornerstone of social and cultural progress. Supporting networks among young people in civil societies is crucial for the promotion of social movements leading to a more open and pluralistic society. In this regard, Austria and Slovenia will continue to support young people in the Western Balkans, will further promote their mobility and help strengthen regional networks of civil society organizations. Additional endeavors will be made to raise awareness among EU Member States concerning the need to enhance structural and sustainable support for the co-operation of civil society organizations, especially cultural operators, within the region, as well as with the EU.
Therefore, Austria and Slovenia recognize the importance of independent initiatives for financial support for civil society organizations, such as, inter alia, the Balkan Incentive Fund for Culture. We welcome their efforts to support the independent organizations, fragile cultural infrastructure and networks in the region.
In the framework of the Regional Partnership, Austria and Slovenia have worked together for years on all political levels to actively support the countries of the Western Balkans on their way into Europe. At the last ministerial meeting on the 19/20 May 2009 in Brdo, Slovenia, the member states of the Regional Partnership committed themselves to extend their support specifically to the young people of the region, by dedicating a certain number of already existing academic scholarship schemes to citizens from the Western Balkans.
The Central European Exchange Program for University Studies (CEEPUS), to which all members of the Regional Partnership as well as all countries from the Western Balkans, are also party, presents a well established instrument for academic mobility in central and south-eastern Europe.
With the negotiation of the third CEEPUS agreement (CEEEPUS III) well on its way, we will soon have a reinforced legal framework to address the needs of young academics from the Western Balkans in the spirit of the Brdo proposal.
Austria and Slovenia agree to participate actively in CEEPUS and to encourage the other partner countries, and especially those of the Western Balkans, to do the same in order to meet the political and legal objectives.