Thank you very much, first of all, to the Chancellor personally for hosting and organising this meeting. It is for me a pleasure to be back in Vienna; the last time I stayed here was very successful –it was in July for the Iranian talks. And we didn’t have the chance – I didn’t have the chance – to publicly thank you personally, Chancellor, as well as the Austrian Government for the hospitality and support on that occasion. I take this chance to do that, hoping that Vienna can host many successful negotiations – we need that dramatically in these times.
So, I am happy to be back in Vienna and I am also glad to bring to bring to Vienna a piece of good news. We also need desperately good news in these difficult times, which is the something that both Chancellor Faymann and Chancellor Merkel referred to, the signing last Tuesday of four very difficult and very important agreements by Prime Minister Vučić and Prime Minister Mustafa, with the facilitation of the European Union. But they were the brave ones, the committed ones, the dedicated ones that showed leadership and courage, delivering for their people and for the people of the region on four difficult issues: on energy, telecommunications, the establishment of an association community of Serb majority municipalities, and on the freedom of movement and the Mitrovica Bridge. Four difficult issues, on which we managed to build understanding and open the way forward, not only to bilateral understanding and cooperation, but also setting, I think, an example to the whole region of what kind of cooperation the Western Balkans need. Cooperation that is very pragmatic, very concrete and that can deliver, for the benefit of the people in their everyday lives.
Let me also say that all the participants today, the Prime Ministers, the Foreign Ministers, the Energy Ministers, everybody acknowledged the leadership, the courage and the commitment and the hard work of the two sides, Serbia and Kosovo, on this difficult path. So, I think it is more than fair to report this to the biggest audience because when we have good news; it is good to stress them. It doesn’t happen so often but they deserve it, and we owe it to them.
And obviously this opens the way for further, not only regional integration, but also European integration of the region. This is conference is key, thanks to the German initiative last year, thanks to the availability and the willingness to continue on this way of the Austrians. And next year will be France and Italy. This is not a purely European Union initiative but it is in support of the European Union path of the Western Balkan countries and of the region.
And let me say that this is why it is so important for me personally and for the European institutions to be present today to stress how key the partnership, the relationship, between the European Union and the Western Balkans is.
We need to be consistent, coherent and strong on a new push, not only to regional integration in the Balkans, but also on the European integration path of all Western Balkans countries. The two processes go hand in hand and it is a clear objective of the European Union institutions to make both processes work and move forward: the regional Western Balkans integration path and the European path.
We need concrete results, for the benefit of the people, and most of all for the benefit of the young people of this region, who are the ones facing the most challenging times. Obviously, this is the main responsibility of the leaders of the countries of the region, and I have to say we are dealing with a generation of leaders in the region that are extremely committed and extremely brave in their work in this respect. But also we know that the European Union has part of the responsibility and we have to be substantial, concrete, coherent and consistent in offering concrete steps in this way, and I am here for that.
I see strong political will, both in the region and in Europe, to make this happen.
Let me say this is a common interest of the European Union citizens, of the citizens of the Western Balkans and of the leadership of our people in Europe, because we have common challenges. The tragedy that we learned of today of 50 people that died in a truck is just a sad reminder of that, as it is a sad reminder of the fact that we should strengthen the fight against radicalisation and against terrorism in the region.
We have some few happy moments to celebrate, like the agreements we signed and the cooperation we have managed to establish; but then we have a lot of very difficult, very tragic challenges we have to face together, because there is no doubt – for anyone who knows a little bit of basic geography or history – the Balkans belong to Europe. And the challenges we have are European ones. And when we say European challenges, we don’t only mean European Union challenges; we also mean challenges of our continent, starting from the one of migration and of the refugee crisis.
We have, especially coming to the refugee crisis, a moral and legal duty to protect them. This is an international duty that we, as Europeans, value as the priority number one.
These people come to Europe, and come to Europe for protection. They need Europe to protect them and we need to live up to our standards of human rights and respect of international obligations to protect them.
We need a European approach, and everybody says so. We need a European approach. The problem is that everybody understands Europe in a different way.
Now, Europe is together Brussels, and the Brussels-based institutions, the Member States and also our neighbours, especially in this region.
So, what we are ready to do, is to continue working on putting on the table proposals that need to be supported and implemented by different actors, being them European institutions – and we are doing our part on different levels -, being them the Member States, being them our partners, starting from the Western Balkans, but also our neighbouring countries, both East and South.
We are working also on new proposals; we are working on a proposal for a common EU safe countries of origin list. And also we are working on a proposal for a permanent relocation mechanism, which is basically the proposal to establish a structural exception to the “Dublin rules”.
Now, this is not the place and the time to elaborate more on that, but we understand very well that we cannot continue like this, with a minute of silence every time that we see people dying.
We know that we have a responsibility in this respect to protect, obviously also to fight illegal immigration and the smugglers and the traffickers of people, as Chancellor Faymann mentioned.
We have strengthened a lot our work in fighting smugglers and trafficker’s networks, especially when it comes to the Mediterranean routes, but we can do much more when it comes to the Western Balkans routes, and we know that very well.
For doing that, the precondition is taking responsibility – taking responsibility in solidarity – and moving from the blame game to the real cooperation, implementing the measures that are on the table.
There is no magic solution, there is no magic event that can solve issues from one day to another but the road we can follow to start making things work is very well-known.
We just need to take the consequent political decisions, which are difficult everywhere in Europe – and not only in Europe – but if we want to stop the tragedy and if we want to stop paying minutes of tribute and silence in front of the victims, this is what we need to do; to take responsibility and take our responsibilities in solidarity.
And I know that I can count – we can count – not only on our Member States, but also on our friends in the Balkans to share this responsibility and solidarity.
Question on migration
Let me also say that I think it was right to take the decision to increase the level of Search and Rescue activities at sea, because we have saved so many lives in the Mediterranean (…). And let me also take this chance to say that right in this moment the Commander of our naval operation in the Mediterranean, which started in June to fight the traffickers and smuggler’s networks, is briefing in Brussels the Ambassadors of the Member States to propose the transition to phase 2 of the operation, which will allow the operation to act in the high seas to tackle the criminal networks in a more effective way.
Obviously, we will discuss this with Ministers of Defence and of Foreign Affairs of the European Union next week. I will have them in Luxembourg at the end of next week.
This is an example of how if we act in time and consistently, we can both save lives, and tackle criminal organisations and prevent tragic losses. […]