"Friends of the Western Balkans" Call for Concrete Steps towards the Integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union

(Archived from "Friends of the Western Balkans" Call for Concrete Steps towards the Integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union – BMEIA - Außenministerium Österreich)

On 23 June, Foreign Minister Schallenberg, together with his counterparts from Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Croatia, presented the "Göttweig Declaration" on the side-lines of the Europa-Forum Wachau. In the declaration, the "Friends of the Western Balkans" called for a gradual and accelerated EU integration of the region. During his time in the Wachau, the Foreign Minister also engaged with participants of a workshop focused on strengthening Bosnian civil society and participated in a panel discussion on EU enlargement.

The core group "Friends of the Western Balkans," initiated by Foreign Minister Schallenberg, aims to decisively advance the enlargement process of Southeast Europe. Twenty years after the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki, it is time to take decisive action. With the Göttweig Declaration, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, together with his counterparts Miroslav Wlachovský from Slovakia, Jan Lipavský from Czech Republic, and Gordan Grilić Radman from Croatia, intends to give weight to this demand. In addition to the foreign ministers present in Wachau, Italy, Slovenia, and Greece are also part of this newly established Austrian initiative.

As 'Friends of the Western Balkans,' we are a strong voice for Western Balkans of prosperity and security. The group of friends will be a driving force for a region to which we have been committed for over 20 years, to become part of the EU family. The Western Balkans is surrounded by EU member states, and without them, the European Union is incomplete,

emphasized Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg talking about the role of the core group.

The Göttweig Declaration calls for an accelerated integration of Western Balkan states with concrete implementation steps. They should be more closely involved in European policymaking and forums even before full membership. Especially in the context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, it is in the EU's interest to engage much closer with its Western Balkan partners in the fields of foreign and security policy. Problems that arise in Southeast Europe have an immediate impact on us as well.

To promote the Euro-Atlantic integration process at the civil society level, the Foreign Ministry, in collaboration with the US Department of State, organizes workshops for representatives from politics, civil society, and the diaspora of Western Balkan states. The first workshop, focused on Bosnia and Herzegovina, aimed to develop concrete solutions, perspectives, and recommendations for the country's European path. On the second day of the workshop, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, together with US Special Representative for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar, engaged with the participants, emphasizing the important role of the Bosnian diaspora in Austria as a bridge between Bosnia and the EU.

The exchange between Bosnian groups and new approaches to cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina are more important than ever to commit the country to the Western value system in the long term and drive the reform process forward. I am particularly pleased that the United States has initiated this joint initiative with Austria. This provides a platform for the next generation to envision their future,

said the Foreign Minister after the successful launch of the joint project.

During a panel discussion at the Europa-Forum Wachau, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg stressed that while the EU rightly focuses on Ukraine, it cannot afford to lose sight of the states in Southeast Europe. If EU member states send a signal to their neighbours in the East, they must also fulfil their geopolitical responsibility towards Southeastern Europe.