Vienna, 20 November 2006 - Today, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik met with the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia, Gabriela Konevska-Trajkovska. The Deputy Prime Minister, who in the new government is also responsible for questions of European integration, was in Vienna to participate in a symposium entitled "Dialogue with the Candidate Country" organised by the European Commission.
The talks focused on the European perspective for the Balkan state. "Macedonia has a future within the EU. Austria pro-actively supports the Macedonian course of rapprochement with Europe. However, much will depend on the persistent efforts of Macedonia itself. In order to ensure that these efforts are successful in the long run, they have to be based on a serious national dialogue comprising all sectors of the population," said Plassnik. In this context combating corruption and assuring stability of the law are of special importance. "Progress in these areas primarily benefits the people in Macedonia themselves. Moreover, improvement of the framework conditions for foreign investments will contribute to higher economic growth and job creation," continued the Foreign Minister, referring to the increased interest of Austrian companies in the Macedonian market.
Regional cooperation was also addressed as an important aspect of the process of rapprochement with the EU. "The EU and, especially, Erhard Busek as Special Co-ordinator for the Stability Pact - consistently advocates the development of effective regional cooperation. The issue here is not only the promotion of trade relations; it is also about sending out an important signal of good neighbourliness in practice," said Plassnik, referring to the regional free trade agreement (CEFTA) which is to be signed by all participating countries in the region in December.
The Foreign Minister stressed that the enlargement process of the Union had to be steered carefully and responsibly, if it was to remain successful in future: "What we need is prudence, circumspection, but also persistence. Peace and stabilisation throughout South-Eastern Europe are clearly in Austria's interests. However, we have to set realistic goals, not raise false expectations. The most important thing is to consistently continue the course of reforms. After all, it is these that will create the necessary framework conditions for the rapprochement with Europe," said Plassnik.
Plassnik also referred to the negotiating mandates for visa facilitation agreements with the Balkan states approved by the latest EU External Relations Council Meeting . "We must counteract the feeling of isolation, and the young people are of particular concern to me in this process. They have to experience Europe for themselves. They should also be given the opportunity of obtaining the necessary education outside their national borders in order to bring their home country forward on its path to Europe," said Plassnik, showing herself convinced of the advantages of this decision. The future visa agreements will be linked to readmission agreements and will make it easier for selected groups to obtain visas, while facilitating the return of people who crossed the border illegally.
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