Brussels, 17 May 2004 - For the Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner the Balkan region will remain a focal point of Austrian foreign policy in the future. "I will be visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Macedonia before this summer," Ferrero-Waldner announced today between sessions of the European Council of Foreign Ministers in Brussels.
The two visits have been prepared through ongoing political contacts with the region at the level of the Secretary General for Foreign Affairs and the Political Director, who also acts as the Foreign Minister's chargé d'affaires on Balkan issues. A visit by the Secretary General to Belgrade and Pristina is planned as a next step. "I have invited my new colleague in Serbia and Montenegro, Vuk Draskovic, to pay a visit to Vienna in the next few weeks," Ferrero-Waldner said.
In the opinion of the Foreign Minister, international discussions about the future status of Kosovo - not least owing to the events in March - are currently playing a "particularly important role." "At present we are endeavouring to settle this issue through close consultation within the framework of the Regional Partnership. The crucial element in this situation is naturally the issue of security: the safety and security situation of the Kosovo Serb population must be decisively improved. This is one of the prerequisites for the urgently required involvement of the Kosovo Serbs in substantial political dialogue. Without safety and security and without political involvement, the goal of preserving a multi-ethnic Kosovo will not be achievable," Ferrero-Waldner stated.
In order to further this goal, as the Austrian Foreign Minister pointed out, the people within the Kosovo population responsible for the recent violence had to be caught immediately and called to justice as a contribution to "reducing distrust and fear in the relationship between the two ethnic groups." Moreover, the buildings and churches destroyed in March had to be repaired as soon as possible. In the opinion of the Foreign Minister, KFOR had rendered "excellent services" during the March unrest. "However, the troops must be in a position to take quick and effective action to prevent any further escalations. This requires that KFOR forces be equipped with the necessary instructions and equipment enabling them to use the necessary force in quelling violence as it occurs," Ferrero-Waldner said.
In political terms, Ferrero-Waldner continues to consider the Standards for Kosovo and the UN SC Resolution 1244 as the basis for the international community's further approach in Kosovo. "To achieve a stabilisation of the political situation, however, the economic development in Kosovo is of crucial importance too: An improvement of the energy supply and the infrastructure are essential to attract a higher share of investments and thus create new jobs."
In the opinion of Austria's Foreign Minister, the March violence in Kosovo also showed that further deliberations about the future of Kosovo will be needed. A sustainable stabilisation of Kosovo requires constructive ideas and proposals: "In my view, the discussion about decentralisation is of particular relevance. What would be required in my opinion is a decentralisation option that accommodates the local situation in Kosovo. Elements of territorial and personal autonomy should be combined in a single package. As regards the issue of Kosovo's status, I would like to underline the responsibility of the UN Security Council to find a practicable solution within a foreseeable period of time. We all have a keen interest in long-term stability in Kosovo. I have already spoken out in favour of a decentralisation of Kosovo before the EU Council of Foreign Ministers on several occasions. After all, this concept primarily aims at the protection of the minorities in Kosovo, and I am glad that it is now gaining ground at EU level," Ferrero-Waldner said.
By way of conclusion, Ferrero-Waldner commented on the report on the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP Report). Under this process, the EU maintains very close relations to Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia (FYROM). The annual report on developments in this region as well as the first report on European Partnership serve the objective of focussing efforts towards a further rapprochement to EU standards in these countries. "For five years now, the Stability Pact for South East Europe headed by Special Coordinator Erhard Busek has been making a major contribution to the stabilisation of this region and its rapprochement to the EU. To underline the importance of this process for Austria, I will be taking part in the event (Regional Round Table Meeting) being held to mark the Pact's five-year anniversary in Portoroz, Slovenia, on 8 June. The Stability Pact has contributed to a great degree to the stabilisation of this region, and Austria has benefited in particular in terms of regional cooperation, notably with regard to economic issues and combating cross-border crime," Ferrero-Waldner stated.