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Austria unveils ‘Friends of the Western Balkans’ group, wants speedy EU accession

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg will present the “Friends of the Western Balkans”, a group of seven EU member states keen to speed up EU accession for Western Balkan states during the Europa-Forum Wachau in Lower Austria on Friday, his ministry announced Wednesday.

Austria, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic will be known as the “Friends of the Western Balkans” and are determined to take resolute action, the Austrian Foreign Ministry announced.

The European Union must “finally push ahead decisively with the enlargement process for South-Eastern Europe”, the Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, APA reported.

“With all the right focus on Ukraine, the EU must not lose sight of the states of South-Eastern Europe,” the statement added.

Schallenberg had invited three Central European counterparts to the forum: Miroslav Wlachovský (Slovakia), Jan Lipavsky (Czech Republic), and Gordan Grlić Radman (Croatia). The US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, will also attend, along with key members of Bosnian civil society and the diaspora in Austria.

Foreign ministers from the “Friends of the Western Balkans” group aim to endorse the “Göttweig Declaration”, which emphasises the need for stronger EU integration of the Western Balkan and the need for a “gradual and accelerated integration” before full EU accession, the Ministry added.

Austria pushing for the new group comes as EU and Western Balkan leaders reflected on the promises of quick accession made at EU-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki in 2003 as it was the summit’s 20th anniversary Wednesday.

Greens not happy with Meloni’s invite

However, the Greens have already criticised Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s invitation of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to the Europa-Forum Wachau.

While European Greens spokesperson Michel Reimon pointed to it being a “dangerous signal of escalation,” Monika Vana, head of the Green delegation in the European Parliament, called it “shameful and worrying how cavalierly the conservatives are now pandering to the extreme right.”

Conservative ÖVP MEP Lukas Mandl branded the Green’s criticism as “completely clueless”. “Giorgia Meloni has done a good job as head of government so far: Pro-European and constructive. Not a single one of the adjectives used by the Greens to describe Meloni is justified by Meloni’s policies as head of government,” he said.

Nehammer met with Meloni in Rome in May to discuss cooperation on irregular migration, with the two leaders sharing similar views on the need for a new approach.

Source: Eura CTIV

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