Sofia, 23 Mai 2003 - "Right from the outset, Austria has promoted the intensification of Bulgaria's EU accession process and has particularly supported a substantial increase of the financial aid provided in the context of the pre-accession programmes. I am pleased that the EU has confirmed 2007 as target date for Bulgaria's accession to the EU and I am delighted to see the progress achieved in the course of Bulgaria's accession negotiations, where 23 of 31 chapters have already been completed", Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner stated today after meeting her Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Passy for working talks in Sofia.
In the context of EU enlargement, Ferrero-Waldner welcomed the fact that the Bulgarian government has already shut down reactor blocks 1 and 2 of the Kosloduj nuclear power plant and plans to close down blocks 3 and 4 in 2006.
In addition, both foreign ministers discussed issues concerning the future of the EU as are currently being addressed by the EU Convention. "Bulgaria and Austria have adopted similar positions. In a recently published paper signed by Austria, Bulgaria and most of the other smaller EU Member States we clearly pointed out that the interests of all current and future Member States must be taken into account when dealing with the delicate issue of institutional balance in the EU. Thus I would welcome a close co-operation with Bulgaria at the EU's next Intergovernmental Conference", Ferrero-Waldner said.
With regard to regional co-operation, Ferrero-Waldner and Passy especially spoke about their collaboration in the context of the Danube Co-operation and the Danube Commission. The Danube Co-operation was launched in Vienna last year by Romania, Austria, the European Commission and the Stability Pact. The initiative aims at re-establishing co-operation and networking within the Danube region, which was severely affected by the war in former Yugoslavia. The Danube Commission focuses on efforts to ensure free and unhindered navigation on the Danube, as this water route is increasingly gaining in economic significance.
Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner also explicitly approved of the fact that Bulgaria will take over the chairmanship of the OSCE in the coming year. "Because of Bulgaria's commitment in the OSCE and its efforts to promote stability and security in South-Eastern Europe, Austria has always supported Bulgaria's candidacy for the OSCE chair. Since Austria chaired the OSCE in 2000 and Bulgaria will take over the chairmanship in 2004, we agreed to establish a joint working group to exchange experiences", stated Ferrero-Waldner.
According to Ferrero-Waldner, the economic relations between Austria and Bulgaria showed a positive development, with the bilateral trading volume increasing by 7% in 2002. "It is quite remarkable that with investments of 424 million euros in 2002 Austria was the fifth largest foreign investor in Bulgaria", the Foreign Minister said.
Further issues discussed on this occasion included co-operation in the field of police work and the joint fight against organised crime and trafficking in human beings and drug trafficking. A Stability Pact seminar for judges and public prosecutors which was recently held in Sofia and was chaired by the former Austrian Minister for Women's Affairs clearly proves Bulgaria's intentions to tackle these problems.
"Moreover, Bulgaria is a focal country of Austria's Eastern Co-operation. Since 1998, the Austrian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Chancellery spent a total of 3.4 million euros on projects in Bulgaria. The main projects currently include the financing of a business support centre in Russe, the establishment of a health-care centre for Roma living in Facultate, a suburb of Sofia, and a training programme for women entrepreneurs in Sofia and Vratsa", Ferrero-Waldner explained.
"The relations between Austria and Bulgaria in the sphere of culture and science are traditionally at a very high level. You only have to think of the two Austria libraries, one in Sofia and one in Veliko Tarnove, and the branch office of the Austrian Institute for Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in Sofia. Another interesting fact is that Bulgarian students constitute the largest group of non-German speaking students at Austrian universities", the Foreign Minister stated.
As regards the Western Balkans, Austria and Bulgaria specifically place their hopes in the success of the "Balkans Summit", which will take place in Thessaloniki in June. "Bulgaria and Austria share a common interest in the stability of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Bulgaria plays a central role in this respect", the Foreign Minister said.