Wien/Gödöllö, 31. October 2013 Press release

Lopatka: "The EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans is decisive for Austria"

Tangible results for Serbia, Albania and Macedonia are called for at the European Council in December

Vienna/Gödöllő, 31 October 2013 – "The Western Balkans are of central importance for Austrian foreign policy. Together with our neighbouring states Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland we want to bring back more elan to the EU accession negotiations with the Western Balkan states", Austrian State Secretary Reinhold Lopatka said at a meeting in Hungary of the foreign ministers of these four countries (the Visegrád Four) with their foreign minister colleagues from the Western Balkan states at the invitation of Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martony. This was followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in which 18 Central and East European countries participated.

"It is entirely clear to Austria that the Western Balkans belong to Europe", Lopatka said. "The EU enlargement process must not be allowed to stall following the EU accession of Croatia. It is a decisive issue for Austria that support is given to all the states of the Western Balkans in their reform efforts towards stability and the rule of law, not least because the costs of an ‘enlargement failure’ would be enormous. Not only would the stability of the region as a whole be put at risk, but cross-border crime and the collapse of the economy together with investment opportunity losses due to the inadequate legal security for Austrian companies are all to be feared from failure”, Lopatka said and added: "Developments of this kind would bring very real negative consequences for Austria. With over 400 companies operating in Serbia, Austria is the top investor in the country, and it is also the number one investor in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Macedonia Austria is the second most important investor with 150 companies."

The European Commission Progress Report of mid October pointed to an overwhelmingly positive development, with the exception of the failure to achieve progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "Following on from the remarkable progress that has been made in the relations between Serbia and Kosovo. EU negotiations with Kosovo for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement began this week.  Austria intends to give its full active backing to the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia and for a start date in January 2014 at the latest, while it is also giving full support to Macedonia. When states fulfil their obligations, the EU must also make the moves it has promised", Lopatka said and added: "Albania is well on the way to finding its place in Europe and this country should thus also be given candidate status and this still within the current year. We intend to press for the implementing of these essential steps in the EU in a joint support initiative with our neighbours Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. There should be tangible results at the coming European Council meeting in December."

"Austria will also be putting close links to the countries of the Western Balkans into focus in the scope of its work when Austria takes the chair of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in 2014", Lopatka said. Austria will press for using the role of the CEI as a bridge between the European regions and for the creation of synergies with other international and regional organisations. "Austria and the CEI member states can make an especially decisive contribution to the implementation of EU projects in the smaller states of the Western Balkans with all the know-how they have at their disposal", Lopatka concluded.

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