Without the Western Balkans, the European Union would be incomplete
By Sebastian Kurz and Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Albanian Daily News
Published August 26, 2015

20 years after the wars in the Western Balkans the region is peaceful
and all the countries of the region strive to become EU-members. The significant
progress achieved, however, should not be taken for granted. The region's
stability still rests on shaky foundations, and largely depends on support by the
European Union. The prospect of EU membership has so far been the single most
important incentive for the implementation of tough but necessary reforms and
for sustained efforts towards reconciliation in the region. Our commitment to
giving the Western Balkans a European perspective remains key to ensuring
lasting stability in the region and to completing the transformation of the
political systems, economies and societies in the region. Peaceful, stable, and
democratic Western Balkans countries are in the strategic interest of the European

The Berlin Process, initiated in 2014 by Germany and carried forward this
year by Austria, adds renewed momentum and reaffirms our commitment to this

The Vienna Summit on 27 August is the second in a series of five summits
planned until 2018. Like the first summit in Berlin, the Vienna Summit will
bring together Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ministers for Economic
Affairs of all Western Balkans countries as well as all relevant stakeholders
from the European Union and international institutions. Its objective is threefold:
first, to highlight the substantial progress achieved in the region, second, to
reconfirm and reinforce the European perspective of all countries of the
region, and third, to accelerate reforms, enhance economic opportunities and
encourage cooperation in the region.

Last year in Berlin, we agreed to focus on concrete projects, simply because
the people of the Western Balkans expect tangible benefits from the path
towards the European Union, in areas such as connectivity, employment,
education, human rights, rule of law and democracy.

As a backbone of economic development, the regional leaders agreed upon
a regional core transport network and corresponding corridors. The European
Commission is ready to commit 1 billion Euros until 2020 in support of this
endeavour. This will help the Western Balkan countries better connect with each
other and the EU. We also want to help in creating new economic perspectives
for young people in the Western Balkans. Austria as well as Germany can offer
effective expertise in this field, for instance through their dual vocational
education systems. A regional youth exchange initiative, based on the highly
successful Franco-German and Polish-German models, will be presented at the
Summit. It should contribute to tearing down the still existing walls in the minds
of young people and foster reconciliation.

A vibrant civil society and free media are core pillars of any modern
and successful democracy. Our Civil Society Forum will highlight their added
value as forums for debate and peaceful settlement of social issues, as well as
their vital role in holding governments to account.

No doubt, a lot remains to be done, as the regrettable incidents in
Srebrenica this year as well as the newly emerged migratory challenges show. Yet,
there are a variety of impressive success stories. The EU has brought Serbia
and Kosovo to the negotiation table. They have achieved impressive progress on
the path to a comprehensive normalization of their relations. As a lot of questions
still have to be tackled, we encourage Serbia's and Kosovo's leadership to keep
up their commitment. †Recent good
services by Commissioner Hahn in Skopje have led to an agreement between the
main political parties. We call upon the parties to now pave the way for free
and fair elections next April by swiftly and completely implementing the
necessary internal reforms, thereby creating more equal opportunities for all
political contenders. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the renewed EU approach
contributed to focusing the attention on socio-economic reforms of which all
people in the country will benefit. These examples show that the European
Union's engagement has a positive impact in overcoming the most difficult

The conference will also pay particular attention to the fact that the
Western Balkan route has become the primary route of a growing number of refugees
seeking protection in Europe. The recent events at the Macedonian border town
of Gevgelja are a testament to this. These developments create significant
challenges for border management and asylum systems in some Western Balkan
countries as well as in EU Member States. Western Balkan countries too will
have to assume their responsibilities to address these challenges. But they are
not alone: We will discuss in Vienna how the European Union as well as
individual EU member states can support Western Balkan countries in their
efforts to improve border management and asylum systems. †

On the 27th of August, we will renew our firm commitment to
the European perspective for all the Western Balkan countries and pledge our
continuous support for this region. The door to the European Union must remain
open for the Western Balkans region in order to ensure that the European Union
remains the most successful peace project in the world. Without the Western
Balkans, the European Union is clearly incomplete.

We are confident that the Vienna Summit and the continued Berlin Process
will contribute to the ultimate goal of EU membership of all Western Balkan
countries. Austria and Germany will wholeheartedly continue to support all
efforts in that regard.

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