Belgrad, 17. January 2007 Press release

Plassnik: "Accompanying Serbia on its path to Europe as a good friend and neighbour"

17.01.2007

Foreign Minister meets with President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic prior to Serbia's parliamentary elections

Belgrade, 17 January 2007 - Foreign Minister Dr. Ursula Plassnik is travelling to Serbia today to meet Serbia's President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic and the regional representative of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, Bojan Pajtic. Together with Bojan Pajtic, the Foreign Minister will sign a three-year aid project by the Austrian Cooperation with Eastern Europe aimed at the economic development of Vojvodina, for which five million euros have been endowed.

"Following the installation of Austria's new Federal Government, I have chosen the focus of my first two visits very deliberately in order to express our solidarity with our neighbours in the Balkans: last Monday, we welcomed Slovenia as the first of the new members within the Eurozone, which was a joyful occasion on both sides of the Karawanken mountain range. I am convinced that Serbia, too, will take its place as a member of the EU family when the time comes," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

"Next Sunday Serbia will elect a new parliament, and has thus arrived at a decisive parting of the ways. The Serbian electorate will decide whether or not their country can pursue its rapprochement with Europe with determination and without delay. I am confident that Serbia's population will vote in favour of a European future; after all, Serbia's place is in Europe as a member of the European peace community. We shall support its European course both politically and through concrete projects, but Serbia has to do the walking itself. It is my objective that all Balkan countries should have a contractual relationship with the EU by the end of the year," said Plassnik. However, at the same time full cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague was indispensable for Serbia. Personalising responsibility was a necessary part of Serbia's required reconciliation work and part of the rule of law standards characterising the European community of values.

"For Serbia, the European perspective must be credible and concrete. We have to corroborate it with practical measures, for instance in the visa field, where the EU will start negotiations on visa facilitation agreements for Serbia in the coming weeks. With this decisive step, the European rapprochement will become more tangible for the people: you have to keep in mind that over 70% of the Serb population have never left the country and that since the beginning of the year they also need entry visas for their neighbouring states of Bulgaria and Romania," stated the Foreign Minister.

"It is especially important to me to create specific offers and perspectives for the young people; after all, it is they who have to be given the opportunity to experience the European path themselves. This is why Austria supported last year's "Travel to Europe" project by issuing 300 visas free of charge. During a trip that took several weeks young Serbs had the opportunity of getting to know at first hand the countries of the EU and the values that constitute Europe. We want to pursue this Austrian dedication. I am also looking forward to today's exchange of opinions and an open discussion with Serb students at the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade," said the Foreign Minister.

In its Cooperation with Eastern Europe, Austria is setting thematic priorities in supporting sustainable, socially balanced economic development and the modernisation of the Serb university and occupational training systems, as well as promoting areas such as good governance, strengthening of the rule of law and democratisation.

"By signing the three-year support project for the regional development plan of Vojvodina, for which five million euros have been endowed, we are setting a further priority in promoting employment and improving training and professional qualifications, which will open up concrete new perspectives for the people of Serbia," stated the Foreign Minister.

Asked to comment on the future status of Kosovo, the Foreign Minister said that "we are supporting the efforts undertaken by Martti Ahtisaari, the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. What is important to us at any rate, is a multi-ethnic Kosovo in which all people can live together in peace and security, no matter what their language, religion or culture. Another decisive issue in our view is that the future of Serbia and Kosovo must lie in our common Europe," concluded Plassnik.

Contact:
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