Vienna, 6 November 2007 - "The EU accession programme must not be allowed to slow down. At the same time, as the progress reports indicate, EU accession is not an automatic process." These conclusions were drawn by Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik from the European Commission’s enlargement strategy and progress reports presented today.
"The reports contain a clear wake-up call for the Balkan states. The enthusiasm for reform must not be allowed to slow down. Everyone must realise that there are no short-cuts or discounts in the process of rapprochement," said Plassnik. The Commission had clearly identified the building up of state structures and governance as the key areas in which further reforms were urgently required, continued the Foreign Minister. Austria would continue to encourage and support each of the Balkan states in their endeavours. "We want the entire region to speed up its progress towards Europe. An important step would be for all states, including Serbia, finally to sign an agreement with the EU." In this context Plassnik also explicitly welcomed the Commission’s inclusion in its report of two Austrian initiatives: the further development of the strategy set forth in the Salzburg declaration last year during Austria’s EU Presidency, and the initiation of dialogue on visa liberalisation so as to encourage human contacts.
The Minister praised the remarkable progress made by Croatia in its accession negotiations. "In the past year Croatia has made a breakthrough in its negotiations with the EU. Discussion has started on almost half of the chapters. This shows that systematic reform endeavours are paying off. Croatia is an encouraging example for the entire region," said Plassnik, although the Foreign Minister also mentioned the remaining deficits, particularly in terms of judicial and administrative reform and in combating corruption.
Plassnik regretted that this year’s report showed no sign of progress in Turkey’s reform plans. The elections had given the Turkish government a strong mandate to carry out the essential reforms demanded by the EU. "Turkey must realise that reforms are imperative if the negotiations are to proceed," stressed Plassnik. It was vital to ensure full freedom of expression, genuine equality of all religious communities and a reform of the constitution in line with the EU’s idea of democracy. "At the start of the negotiations the European Union already made it clear that the attitude to neighbouring states would also form part of the global EU assessment," concluded Plassnik.
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