The Western Balkans – A Priority of Austrian Foreign Policy
Due to the tradition of cultural, economic and political relations, Austrian foreign policy has always attached particular importance to the Western Balkans. In terms of the Enlargement Policy of the European Union, the “Western Balkans” covers the states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The primary goal of Austrian foreign policy is to support the transformation of the Western Balkans area into a zone of stability. From the Austrian perspective there is only one option for the Western Balkans: a full European integration of the region. This also presents the best incentive for the countries of the Western Balkans to speed up their respective national reform process. These countries can thus themselves determine the pace of EU rapprochement through their own progress, while they are nevertheless supported in their efforts by the European Union.
EU-membership negotiations with Montenegro are in progress since June 2012, with Serbia since January 2014. Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) are in force with Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The SAA with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was signed in 2008, could not yet enter into force due to a lack of full implementation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in the case of Sejdić-Finci. Kosovo is currently negotiating such an agreement. These Agreements are tailor-made to answer the specific needs of each individual country in the course of its process of economic, political and social reform, thus optimising both the individual reforms and the approximation efforts undertaken by the respective country.
The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between Albania and the EU was signed on June 16, 2006 and entered in force on April 1st, 2009. On April 28, 2009 Albania applied officially to become a member state of the EU.
The Foreign Affairs Council of the EU announced on December 17, 2013 that Albania will be granted candidate status in June 2014 provided that Tirana will intensify its efforts to combat corruption and organized crime. In order to start with the negotiations the Council demanded further reforms in key areas such as public administration, justice and protection of basic rights.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Dayton Agreement put an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. This agreement stipulates a complicated state structure with institutions on state level and two entitites – the Republika Srpska and the Bosniac-Croat Federation.
In 2011, a Stabilization and Association Agreement between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EU was ratified but did not enter into force because two preconditions of the EU are not fulfilled - in the first place the implementation of the sentence of the European Court for Human Rights of the Sejdic-Finci case and secondly the constitution of an EU-coordination mechanism for the implementation of EU programs.
Since December 15, 2010 bearers of biometric passports do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area.
Since March 2009 the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko is the High Representative. The EU prepares for the planned transition of the functions of the High Representative to an enhanced presence of the EU. This follows a decision by the Steering Committee of the Peace Implementation Council, by which the Office of the High Representative (OHR) shall be closed upon fulfilment of the stipulated criteria and all its responsibilities will be transferred to the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Austrian Major General Heidecker is the head of the EU Military Mission EUFOR/ALTHEA.
After the war of 1999 Kosovo was administered by the United Nations (Decision of the Security Council 1244/1999). UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented in March 2007 a proposal for solution which provided sovereignty under international monitoring. Since the mediation efforts between Belgrade and Prishtina started in summer 2007 by the troika Russian Federation-USA-EU did not meet success, the Parliament of Kosovo asserted the independence of Kosovo on February 17, 2008. The constitution of Kosovo entered into force on June 15, 2008.
In the meantime more than 100 states, among them 23 member states of the EU, have recognized the independence of Kosovo. Within the EU, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain and Romania have not yet recognized the independence of Kosovo. Austria recognized Kosovo on February 28, 2008 and started diplomatic relations on March 20, 2008 by converting the then existing Office in Pristhina into an Embassy.
In February 2008 the EU decided to deploy a European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) which reached full operability in March 2009. EULEX is the biggest civilian mission of the EU ever.
The European Council agreed on June 27/28, 2013 to start negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The negotiations were concluded on May 2nd, 2014.
The foreign policy priority of Macedonia is joining the EU and NATO. Both aims are blocked by the name dispute with Greece. Greece does not accept the name “Macedonia”, fearing territorial claims by Macedonia to a Greek province of the same name. As a member of the United Nations, Macedonia therefore bears the name of “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM). Bilateral talks to solve the name issue have not been successful so far.
Macedonia was granted candidate status for EU membership in December 2005. Since December 2009 citizens of Macedonia can enter the EU without visa.
On June 3, 2006 Montenegro declared its independence by which the state union Serbia and Montenegro which had existed since 2003 was dissolved. The relations to Serbia which had been strained after the declaration of independence have since been normalized.
The independence of Montenegro was recognized by the EU member states on June 12, 2006. Austria started diplomatic relations with Montenegro by opening an Embassy in Podgorica on June 12, 2006.
Montenegro strives for good-neighbourly relations as well as for integration into EU and NATO.
In the beginning of 2008 agreements with the EU are in force which provide for visa facilitation and readmission; since December 19, 2009 citizens of Montenegro can travel visa free to the EU.
Montenegro was granted EU membership candidate status in December 2010, membership negotiations are conducted since June 29, 2012.
Since the beginning of 2008 agreements between Serbia and the EU on visa facilitation and readmission are in force, since December 19, 2009 citizens of Serbia do not visa to enter the EU.
Serbia applied for EU membership in December 2009 and was granted candidate status in 2012. As a precondition for granting the candidate status the European Commission demanded that Serbia enters into a dialogue with Kosovo. This EU facilitated dialogue started in March 2011 under the mediation of High Representative Catherine Ashton.
Serbia and Kosovo signed a basic agreement which provides amongst others the creation of a union of municipalities with a Serbian minority. This union shall enjoy limited autonomy in the fields of police and justice and enhanced autonomy in the fields of economy, education, health and planning.
In January 2014 the European Council started membership negotiations with Serbia.