news 28 Aug 15

Vienna Summit Binds Balkan States to Broad Reforms

Summit declaration obliges Balkan countries not to misuse the EU accession process against each other, calls for civil society to play a greater role - and welcomes EU pledge to help resolving outstanding bilateral disputes.

Igor Jovanovic
BIRN
Belgrade
                       Vienna summit. | Photo by Beta

The six Balkan nations meeting in Vienna obliged themselves in the final declaration of the Western Balkans Summit, issued on Thursday, to refrain from “misusing outstanding issues in the EU accession process” and welcomed the EU pledge to support them in resolving bilateral disputes.

The summit was a part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process started last August and marked by yearly summits held to underline the EU's commitment to enlargement.

The initiative focuses on the six Balkan countries that are not yet EU members: Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Austrian and German leaders hailed the summit as proof of the EU's commitment to the region, announced support for key infrastucture projects and pledged solidarity over the ongoing refugee crisis affecting several Balkan states.

The participants also welcomed the conclusion of four important agreements in the EU-led talks between Serbia and Kosovo.

They also greeted the signature of a border agreement between Bosnia and Montenegro on the margins of the conference.

They further stated that efforts need to be intensified to find a compromise in the dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter's name, to which Athens objects.

Balkan leaders and EU officials concluded that more efforts are needed to accelerate reform processes, notably in the areas of rule of law, economic governance and public administration as well as in the fight against corruption, organized crime and terrorism.

“The participants are convinced that the threat posed by radicalisation, terrorism and violent extremism and in particular by foreign terrorist fighters travelling via or from Western Balkan countries to Syria and Iraq, requires strengthened cooperation and increased exchange of information,” the document reads.

It is also said that the EU considers the Western Balkan countries key partners in combating violent extremism and terrorism.

The influx of mainly Middle Eastern refugees to the EU via Balkan countries was one of the most important topics of Vienna summit.

The participants agreed that recent developments posed significant challenges for border management and asylum systems in Western Balkans countries.

To try to overcome the situation, Balkan states committed themselves to step capacities in the areas of border management, in particular the fight against trafficking and strengthen cooperation over aslyum procedures.

The six Balkan nations also stated that further reforms and economic development would be among their strategic goals in the coming period.

“Improving living conditions in the region, especially giving youth a real perspective for their future and increasing their trust in well-functioning institutions, is the ultimate aim of the reform process,” it was stated.

The Vienna summit also welcomed the role played by civil society organisations on the margins of the summit and their contributions to the summit.

“It is a voice which needs to be nurtured and present in the EU integration process of the Western Balkan countries. The participants welcome the proposal to make civil society an additional important element of the Berlin Process,” the final declaration stated.

Civil sector groups from the six Balkans countries urged political leaders to secure freedom of expression and media independence, and asked to be given a greater role in their countries' EU integration processes.

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