Athens, Skopje, 22 January 2010 – „Austria and Greece are bound by a common interest in the Western Balkans. We do not wish to have any blank areas on the EU map between our countries. Therefore, I am happy that Athens and Vienna are now jointly setting a new and targeted impulse for the Western Balkans“, said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger during his visit to Athens. The Foreign Minister met with Greek Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Giorgos Papandreou and with Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas. Spindelegger and Droutsas will outline the central tasks for the coming year in a joint letter to the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and demand a stronger focus on the region.
„Together with its partners from the Regional Partnership, Austria has repeatedly campaigned to fill with life the EU perspective of each individual Balkan country. As the Southern neighbor in this Region, it is important that Greece also fully backs this engagement. This is a good start for a successful ‘Western Balkans Year 2010’“, the Foreign Minister continued.
„The EU rapprochement of the states of the Western Balkans represents the central foreign policy mandate of the European Union for the coming years. Last year a number of positive steps were taken, such as the unblocking of the accession negotiations with Croatia and the entry into force of the Interim Agreement with Serbia. This has created a new momentum that we must actively exploit. The Western Balkans must be at the top of the EU Agenda“, stressed Spindelegger. „Our common objective is clear: to be able to welcome all the Balkan states as members of the EU in the not so distant future. We should achieve this objective by the end of 2020. It is in our very own interest to create a zone of stability and prosperity in our neighborhood“, the Minister continued.
Foreign Minister visits Macedonia
Following his visit to Athens, Foreign Minister Spindelegger continued his journey to Macedonia, where he met with Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, Parliament President Trajko Veljanovski, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, and President Gjorge Ivanov.
„The abolition of the visa obligation last December shows that Macedonia's reforms are on the right track. I hope that we can achieve decisive progress in the EU rapprochement process in the coming months“, said Spindelegger, emphasizing that Austria clearly supports the recommendation of the Commission to begin accession negotiations.
In connection with the name dispute with Greece, Spindelegger underscored that this is first and foremost a bilateral matter: „We are aware that this is a sensitive matter for both sides. This, however, must not be an obstacle to Macedonia’s course toward Europe. It is up to Greece and Macedonia to muster the political will to finally find a mutually agreed solution to the name dispute. Dialogue and understanding between neighbors are an indispensable prerequisite for this. “
The Foreign Minister’s meetings in Skopje focused on deepening bilateral relationships. For instance, a bilateral framework agreement on development cooperation was signed by the two Foreign Ministers. Spindelegger used the opportunity to address once again the unsolved dispute between the Macedonian Government and EVN, and to urge the Government to quickly find a solution in compliance with the rule of law. „The handling of the issue concerning EVN as an important foreign investor will have a strong signaling effect for other foreign investors“, stressed the Foreign Minister.
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