Dublin, 24 May 2013 – "Rapprochement of all states in the Western Balkans to the EU is and will remain a priority objective of Austria's foreign policy. Enlargement must be kept high on the EU agenda. Austria shares the standpoint of the Irish EU Presidency in this matter", State Secretary Reinhold Lopatka said at the Western Balkans conference in Dublin. "The future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union. We stand by this objective that was laid down at the EU summit in Thessaloniki in 2003. The agreements on Northern Kosovo that have recently been reached between Belgrade and Pristina are a major success of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton's intervention and negotiations and a major step towards further normalisation of relations between the two neighbouring countries", Lopatka continued.
"We have to benefit from this momentum in the enlargement process by setting the course for further action at the upcoming EU summit in June. If the implementation of the agreement of 19 April gets under way by the summit in June, Austria will support Serbia in obtaining a concrete date for initiation of accession negotiations. Austria will also advocate negotiations about a stabilisation and association agreement with Kosovo", the State Secretary said.
Experience has shown that the perspective of joining the EU promotes reforms and acts as a catalyst for transformation processes. 2012 saw major progress concerning the enlargement process in the Western Balkans: Croatia's accession to the EU is imminent, negotiations with Montenegro have begun and Serbia was granted candidate status. "We have to bring this momentum forward to 2013 and must not delay accession negotiations with Macedonia any longer. Albania's prospects of receiving candidate status within the course of the current year are intact after elections that were up to the standards and now that a stable government has been formed", Lopatka said.
"The price of a stall in the enlargement process is high. Those in favour of non-enlargement risk a strengthening of nationalist movements and growing radicalisation in the Western Balkan countries. Our goal, however, must be the preservation of sustainable peace, stability and prosperity in the region. This is why it is so important that the necessary reforms of the legal system and rule of law proceed swiftly. A credible EU perspective is the right incentive for this."
"Our personal and economic ties to the Western Balkans are particularly close because of the history we share and due to the geographic proximity of the Balkans to Austria. Austria is one of the leading investors in the region, and moreover the number 1 investor in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. A continuation of reforms is the best guarantor for quick EU integration of the Western Balkans as well as for economic involvement and investment", Lopatka said.
At the Western Balkans conference, State Secretary Lopatka consulted with EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle and Irish Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton about the next steps in the enlargement process.
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