Wien, 6. December 2005 Press release

Winkler: “The future of the Balkans lies with the European Union”

06.12.2005

State Secretary Winkler at the Conference of the Ministers of Justice of the countries of South-Eastern Europe

Vienna, 6 December 2005 - "The gradual rapprochement of the countries of the Balkans with the European Union provides strong incentives for reform and makes a decisive contribution to peace and prosperity in the region," said State Secretary Hans Winkler in his speech at the Conference of Ministers of Justice of the countries of South-Eastern Europe in Vienna.

"As part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, a further rapprochement of the countries in the Balkans with the EU will be a priority of Austria’s Council Presidency," emphasised Winkler. The State Secretary spoke of the progress made by the various countries towards membership of the European Union. He also pointed out, however, that the countries must take energetic steps to continue and implement the democratic, constitutional and economic reforms in the region.

There are also some difficult political questions to be solved. "The definition of the status of Kosovo under international law is of particular importance for the future development of the region," continued Winkler. Both during and after termination of the negotiations, the role of the EU in Kosovo needs to be strengthened. The assumption of additional responsibility by the EU should, however, be considered and well prepared. "The Austrian Presidency will encourage intensive discussion in this respect."

A further major political issue is the future of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. "We regard a stable and functioning state union and the continuation of reforms as the best framework for rapprochement with the EU," said Winkler. If the government in Montenegro holds a referendum on independence, it must be assured that it is carried out in accordance with internationally recognised standards. "The holding and result of the referendum will set the course for future relations with the EU," concluded Winkler.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has made considerable progress in its reform process in the last few months, permitting negotiations on further rapprochement with the EU (stabilisation and association process) to be commenced. "The next step will be to strengthen local forces and institutions and to gradually reduce the international presence," said Winkler, outlining the future course of action in the development of a more efficient and autonomous state.

In his speech, Winkler also spoke about Macedonia and Albania. "These countries have already made good progress towards a rapprochement with the European Union, but they still have to work hard to reach their goal," said Winkler, calling on these countries to continue energetically in the implementation of reforms.

Regarding Croatia, the State Secretary mentioned the screening process currently being carried out to verify the country’s ability to take over and implement the EU acquis. "This process will continue during our Presidency," said Winkler.

The State Secretary assured Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro of Austria’s targeted support in their rapprochement with the European Union. "The EU rapprochement process also calls for an intensification of regional cooperation. Good-neighbourly relations are the basis for our joint European actions and for this reason Austria will continue to support its partners in south-eastern Europe in their endeavours in this respect," said the State Secretary.

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