European Western Balkans

Austrian MFA Schallenberg: We want all countries of the Danube Region to become part of the EU in the next five years

Press conference of the EU Strategy for the Danube; Photo: EWB

VIENNA – The new European Commission will be elected soon and we want all EU candidate countries that are part of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) to become the EU member states in the next five years, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said at EUSDR forum which is taking place on 20-21 June in Vienna.

Schallenberg pointed out that Austrian support to the Western Balkan countries on the European path “has nothing to do with altruism, it is also in our interest”.

He added: ”We have a human bridge to this region and significant economic cooperation”.

“Every platform for cooperation, including the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, is good for candidate countries, we want all states that are brought together by the EUSDR and are not members of the EU to join the bloc. We expect their integrationinto the EU to be at the top of the agenda of the new European Commission,” said Alexander Schallenberg.

The EUSDR is a macro-regional strategy launched by the European Commission in December 2010 and endorsed by the European Council in 2011. It brings together 14 countries, including members and candidates for EU membership – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, parts of Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, BiH, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine.

The presidency of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region is rotating among its members. Austria took over the presidency from Slovenia in December 2023.

“Russia and China want to control part of the region, the geopolitical situation is not black and white”

According to the Austrian Foreign Minister, Russia and China want to establish as much control over a part of the Danube region as possible, “we must resist this, by listening to each other and cooperating”.

“The situation is no longer black and white, in geopolitical terms there are many shades of grey,” Schallenberg underlined.

The Foreign Minister pointed out that it is necessary to reform the European Union, because “we cannot remain frozen”, but noted that these internal reforms should not slow down the enlargement process, and that he advocates the gradual integration of candidate countries into the EU, which would mean that they become part of the common market as soon as possible.

“The Russian aggression against Ukraine has shown us that enlargement is the best geopolitical tool. Who would have hoped that the EU will remain united when it comes to Ukraine, two and a half years since the beginning of the Russian aggression,” he said.

Schallenberg expects that Ukraine’s accession negotiations with the EU would be opened next week, and reiterated that the Danube region would play a very important role in the reconstruction of that state.

Commissioner Ferreira: Co-operation is the answer to the challenges

Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reform, said: “Europe is facing fundamental change today.

“We have geopolitical changes. The digital revolution. Transitionto a carbon-neutral economy. Demographic changes, including an increasing proportion of the elderly population and an increasing risk of brain drain. Many of these changes are opportunities. For example, it is estimated that two million people will find jobs in recycling, and in the domain of renewable sources. But, as you know, these changes also pose risks,” Ferreira said in a video-address to the participants of the EUSDR in Vienna.

The European Commissioner pointed out that the EU Strategy for the Danube region is a very important resource for cooperation.

“The answers to the challenges lie in collaboration. Using the natural connections of the Danube macro-region, you should implement as broad an innovation as possible, which will benefit everyone,” said Elisa Ferreira.

Further topics of discussion at the meeting in Vienna were the ways for improving stability and security in the Danube Region, as well as the EU perspective of the countries from this area and strengthening business skills and opportunities.

Borrell behind the closed doors with foreign ministers

The European Commission has officially announced the arrival of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, to Vienna. Borrell will hold closed-door talks with the foreign ministers of the states of the Danube Region and will also meet with Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen, while he is not scheduled to address the media.

Some of the participants of the EUSDR conference are the City Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig, European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn, nine foreign ministers, many leaders of cities from the Danube Region, representatives of civil society, as well as the representative of the Ministry of European integration of Serbia Sanda Šimić.

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