Zagreb, 16 November 2006 - "Croatia is on a clear course towards EU membership," stated Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik with satisfaction on the occasion of her visit to Zagreb on 15 November. "Croatia is a pioneer for the entire region of the Western Balkans on its way to the EU. The example of Croatia shows that the European perspective is not only a piece of paper but a tangible and real offer. This is also a stimulus and encouragement to the other partners in the region," said Plassnik.
Plassnik referred to the European Commission's latest progress report according to which negotiations with Croatia can be continued without delay. "The Commission's positive assessment makes Croatia's great progress visible in the most objective manner. The accession negotiations are on a positive course. Croatia can be proud of what it has achieved," said the Austrian Foreign Minister. It was now important to continue the courageous reform process, in particular addressing the key areas defined by the Commission, such as administration, the judiciary and the fight against corruption. "After all, these reforms are not only in the interest of the accession negotiations but mainly for the benefit of the Croatians themselves. They have to be congratulated on the progress achieved so far. It is to their merit that they have covered such a long distance on the European reform path in such a short time," the Foreign Minister stressed.
The Foreign Minister recalled the successful endeavours undertaken by the Austrian EU Presidency to initiate substantial accession negotiations with Croatia and complete the first chapter of negotiations. Plassnik reasserted Austria's willingness to support Croatia at the bilateral level in its rapprochement with the EU. "Joint projects are currently under way in the fields of public administration, customs and taxation, and the creation of a functioning judiciary. We have agreed to further intensify this cooperation in the future. Croatia may count on our support as a reliable friend and advocate within the EU," emphasised Plassnik, referring to the special trustful relationship between Croatia and Austria that exists between the governments, administrations and citizens alike. "We placed our trust in Croatia. And this investment of confidence has paid off - for Croatia, for Austria, and for Europe at large. This trust and confidence will also remain the basis for our intensive good neighbourly relations," continued Plassnik.
The talks with President Stjepan Mesic, Foreign Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and the Chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee in the Sabor, Gordan Jandrokovic, also highlighted regional cooperation as an important criterion in the process of rapprochement with the EU. Plassnik expressed her hope that the regional free trade agreement (CEFTA) could be signed by all participating countries in the region this December. "Such an agreement is not only a tool for promoting trade relations but also an important sign of good neighbourliness in practice and an expression of the willingness to cooperate effectively in the region," said the Foreign Minister. "The strength of good neighbourly relations is also demonstrated by the support for third countries. For this reason both Austria and Croatia are interested in pro-actively promoting the rapprochement of South-Eastern Europe, thus contributing to the re-unification of Europe," stated the Foreign Minister.
On the occasion of Plassnik's visit to Zagreb and in the presence of Foreign Minister Grabar-Kitarovic and Minister of Culture Bozo Biskupic she was presented with an award by the Croatian-Austrian Society as a thankyou for her efforts in connection with Croatia's accession to the EU.
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