Belgrade, 3 October 2011 – A few days before the eagerly awaited opinion of the European Commission as to whether accession negotiations with the Republic of Serbia will be started or not – State Secretary Dr. Wolfgang Waldner is paying an official visit to Belgrade. The visit revolves around political talks with Deputy Prime Minister Bozida Djelic, the Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, the State Secretary in the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ivan Mrkic, the head of the Serbian European Integration Office, Milica Delevic, the Serbian chief negotiator for the Kosovo dialogue, Borko Stefanovic, and members of parliament.
“Austria is of the opinion that Serbia deserves to be granted candidate status even though there are still major challenges to overcome – such as returning the relations with the Republic of Kosovo to normal and reaching European standards in terms of the rule of law”, Waldner said expressing his optimism. As far as the decision of the EU Commission is concerned he stressed: “The status of candidate to accession should be an incentive to initiate further reforms and to take the recommendations of the European partners seriously, so that negotiations for accession can be commenced in the foreseeable future.”
He said that the example of Croatia illustrated how a realistic perspective of EU membership could significantly accelerate a country’s reform efforts. The Republic of Serbia would have to copy this role model and stay on the current reform track.
With regard to the current situation in Northern Kosovo, the State Secretary urged Belgrade and Pristina to resume the dialogue as soon as possible and to seek a sustainable compromise solution. “The independence of Kosovo is a reality; separation is no option. What the Serbs in Kosovo need are the rule of law and stability“, the State Secretary said outlining the Austrian position to his Serbian discussion partners. It was regrettable, he continued, that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina which had developed positively was interrupted last week by activities of irresponsible forces.
The Austrian representative also addressed the topic of human rights that is of great importance to Austria and that attained sad relevance by the forced ban of the Pride Parade in Belgrade last Sunday. “The imperative of non-discrimination is part of the shared European set of values and I hope that sustainable steps for awareness-creation can be taken in the future, based on the applicable Serbian Law on Non-Discrimination”, Waldner said.
Apart from political talks, the State Secretary also opened the Belgrade Economic Summit. Austria, as the biggest foreign investor in Serbia, is greatly interested in seeing further improvement of the investment climate: “More than 300 Austrian companies are represented in Austria; not a single one of them has left the country during the financial and economic crisis. This goes to prove yet again that Austria and its companies view the future of Serbia to be positive. These companies, on the other hand, also expect a reduction of red tape, increased legal certainty and the combat of corruption.” The current economic data illustrate the close economic links between the two states: To date, Austrian companies have invested 2.7 billions euro in Serbia; Austrian exports to Serbia rose by 22.5% in the first five months of 2011 and imports by 44.6%.
At the end of his visit, State Secretary Wolfgang Waldner will attend a discussion forum with creative artists on the topic of “Cultural industries and social media in a transition country”.
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