The Western Balkans – A Priority of Austrian Foreign Policy

Due to the tradition of cultural, economic and political relations, Austrian foreign policy has always attached particular importance to the Western Balkans. In terms of the Enlargement Policy of the European Union, the “Western Balkans” covers the states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The primary goal of Austrian foreign policy is to support the transformation of the Western Balkans area into a zone of stability. From the Austrian perspective there is only one option for the Western Balkans: a full European integration of the region. This also presents the best incentive for the countries of the Western Balkans to speed up their respective national reform process. These countries can thus themselves determine the pace of EU rapprochement through their own progress, while they are nevertheless supported in their efforts by the European Union. 

EU-membership negotiations with Montenegro are in progress since June 2012, with Serbia since January 2014. Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) are in force with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. These Agreements are tailor-made to answer the specific needs of each individual country in the course of its process of economic, political and social reform, thus optimising both the individual reforms and the approximation efforts undertaken by the respective country.

Albania

The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between Albania and the EU was signed on 16 June 2006 and entered in force on 1 April, 2009.

On 28 April 2009 Albania applied officially to become a member state of the EU and was granted candidate status on 24 June 2014. With the adoption of justice reform on 21 July 2016, Albania made an important step for the next goal, the start of accession negotiations. On 15 December 2010, the Schengen visa requirement for Albanian biometric passport holders was lifted. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Dayton Agreement put an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. This agreement stipulates a complicated state structure with institutions on state level and two entities – the Republika Srpska and the Bosniac-Croat Federation.

The Stabilization and Association Agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EU was signed on 16 June 2008 and entered into force on 1 June 2015.

Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for EU membership on 15 February 2016. On 15 December 2010 the Schengen visa requirement for biometric passport holders from Bosnia and Herzegovina was lifted.

Since March 2009 the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko is the High Representative. The Austrian Major General Friedrich Schrötter is the current head of the EU Military Mission EUFOR/ALTHEA.

Kosovo

After the war of 1999 Kosovo was administered by the United Nations (Decision of the Security Council 1244/1999). In March 2007 UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented a proposal for solution which provided sovereignty under international monitoring. Since the mediation efforts between Belgrade and Pristina started in summer 2007 by the troika Russian Federation-USA-EU did not meet success, the Parliament of Kosovo asserted the independence of Kosovo on 17 February 2008. The Constitution of Kosovo entered into force on 15 June 2008.

In the meantime more than 100 states, among them 23 member states of the EU, have recognized the independence of Kosovo. Within the EU, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain and Romania have not yet recognized the independence of Kosovo. Austria recognized Kosovo on 28 February 2008 and started diplomatic relations on 20 March 2008. The then existing Office in Pristina was transformed into an Embassy.

In February 2008 the EU decided to deploy a European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) which reached full operability in March 2009. EULEX is the biggest civilian mission of the EU ever.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Kosovo and the EU was signed on 27 October 2015 and entered into force on 1 April 2016.

Macedonia

The foreign policy priority of Macedonia is joining the EU and NATO. Both aims are blocked by the name dispute with Greece. Greece does not accept the name “Macedonia”, fearing territorial claims by Macedonia to a Greek province of the same name. As a member of the United Nations, Macedonia therefore bears the name of “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM). Bilateral talks to solve the name issue have not been successful so far.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Macedonia and the EU was signed on 24 November 2000 and entered into force on 1 April 2004.

Macedonia applied for EU membership on 22 March 2004 and was granted candidate status for EU membership on 16 December 2005. Since 2009, the European Commission has recommended the start of accession negotiations. Due to the name dispute with Greece, they have, though, not started yet.

On 19 December 2009 the Schengen visa requirement for Macedonian biometric passport holders was lifted.

Montenegro

On 3 June 2006 Montenegro declared its independence by which the state union Serbia and Montenegro which had existed since 2003 was dissolved. The relations to Serbia which had been strained after the declaration of independence have since been normalized.

The independence of Montenegro was recognized by the EU member states on 12 June 2006. Austria started diplomatic relations with Montenegro by opening an Embassy in Podgorica on 12 June 2006.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Montenegro and the EU was signed on 15 October 2007 and entered into force in May 2010. Montenegro applied for EU membership in December 2008 and was granted EU membership candidate status in December 2010. Accession negotiations started on 29 June 2012.

On 19 December 2009 the Schengen visa requirement for Montenegrin biometric passport holders was lifted.

Serbia

Serbia applied for EU membership in December 2009 and was granted candidate status in 2012. As a precondition for granting the candidate status the European Commission demanded that Serbia enters into a dialogue with Kosovo. This EU facilitated dialogue started in March 2011 under the mediation of the then High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Serbia and Kosovo signed a landmark agreement which provides amongst others the creation of an association of municipalities with Serbian majority.

On 21 January 2014 accession negotiations started.

On 19 December 2009 the Schengen visa requirement for Serbian biometric passport holders was lifted.