Austria supports regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and integration into the European Union

19/11/2018. Prime Minister Edi Rama is on a visit to Vienna, Austria, to attend a meeting hosted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, bringing together the Prime Ministers of the six Western Balkan countries and the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. Speaking at a joint press conference with the Chancellor Kurz and Commissioner following the morning meeting, Prime Minister Edi Rama said: “I have to thank Chancellor for hosting us here and I have to say that for the Western Balkans being her in Austria is always like being home. This is clearly a very nice day for all of us. I don’t want to take long, because I know that the Chancellor has better things to do than listen all the speeches from the Western Balkan after having had one hour and half with all of us, but I want to simply say two things. First, we are very much committed to the regional cooperation and very grateful for the tutorial work of Commissioner Hahn and, secondly, that we are facing the challenges of cooperation and understanding that it is a process where nothing is easy and nothing comes for granted, but I am sure we will be able to overcome the problems and be able to give our people what they deserve. And to finish, I am personally, and on behalf of the Albanian people, grateful to Chancellor Kurz for his very clear stance on the European perspective of all Balkan countries and also for his desperate battle of nowadays to open up for the Kosovo visa liberalization, which I very much hope it will come at least after the European elections. Thank you very much!”

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. Austria is a strong partner for the Western Balkan countries. We have string historic, economic, political, cultural and human ties and we think that the European Union is only complete when the Western Balkan countries are part of the European Union. That’s why we support the Western Balkan countries on their path to the European Union and we have a special focus on the region during our presidency of the European Union. Today we had the opportunity to focus on three, I think, important issues. First, the region’s path to the European Union, and, second, the necessary regional cooperation and, third, solution of the bilateral conflicts.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn: As you know, enlargement of the Western Balkans is one of the key priorities of the Austrian Presidency and I am very grateful for having first chosen this as a priority, but also second, not only have chosen it, but also for the concrete steps forward and the today’s meeting is another proof of this very strong commitment. One of the topics today was clearly to work on a regional economic area as a first step into the further integration into the European single market. For this, it is important to remove barriers, formal and informal ones, but to introduce also other elements, also the cooperation in the energy sector. What is important is to increase the inter-regional trade volume. We could see for the first time from 2016 to 2017 a slight increase which is promising, but I have to tell you that in the last ten years the trade volume of the six countries with the European Union has doubled to up to 46 billion euros. So it indicates how much potential there is in the region, also having in mind that the region is growing a double of the European average. But in order, so to say, utilize this potential it is important to move faster than it is currently the case on the joint cooperation.

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