Sarajevo, 2 June 2010 – “This summit delivers a clear NO to any notion of ‘Balkan fatigue’. Today’s unambiguous reaffirmation of the European perspective for each Balkan state is not only a sign of encouragement, but proof that the European Union keeps its promises,” stated Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at the foreign ministers’ conference, which brought together all EU and Western Balkan states in Sarajevo. Ten years after the Zagreb summit, and seven years after the Thessaloniki agenda, this conference again demonstrates the EU’s solidarity with the Western Balkan states. “Austria is, and remains, an advocate of its Balkan partners. The Vienna seminar, held on 12 May, was Austria’s practical contribution to the preparation of this conference,” continued Spindelegger.
The Foreign Minister emphasised that against the background of the economic and financial crisis, the very fact that this Western Balkan summit came about constitutes a strong political signal: “The EU demonstrates that it is not launching a new stage of self-contemplation, but that it accepts its European responsibility. The economic situation is no excuse for slowing down the process of integration. We must not snatch the EU card from the hand of pro-European forces. A ‘waiting room policy’ towards the Western Balkans would act as a brake on reforms. Its direct negative impacts on business, stability and security would also be felt in Austria.”
Spindelegger reminded his audience that the prospect of EU membership was one of the most effective stabilisation tools and a cohesion factor in the Balkans: “We therefore need a policy of positive signals and a new spirit of optimism in the Balkans. This is not about an artificial acceleration of the process of rapprochement, but rather about intensified support for the transformation of these countries. The Balkan train bound for Europe must not be shunted into a siding, halfway to its destination.”
The Foreign Minister stressed, however, that the outcome of this conference on the Western Balkans was by no means a carte blanche. “On the contrary, the declaration adopted by the conference contains an unequivocal request that the accession candidates increase the pace of the reform. They must consistently maintain their course towards Europe. This requires major endeavours from all states in the region, particularly in areas such as justice, the adjustment of national legislation to EU law, and the fight against corruption. The EU shall only become a reality in the Balkans if these requirements are met consistently, step by step.”
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