Austria is a clear and strong supporter of Serbia’s bid for EU membership and considers Serbia as a part of Europe. However, in order to join the European Union Serbia will have to apply the entire set of EU legislation including strong attention toward implementation of the rule of law
“Austria clearly supports Serbia’s EU path and commends the government for its bold stand towards reforms”, says newly appointed Austrian Ambassador to Serbia, H.E Nikolaus Lutterotti, emphasizing that over the last years Serbia has shown great ambition and determination to embark on reforms of the country so as to move ahead towards EU membership. He also points out that there is a mutual interest of the European Union and the countries in the region for the accession process to be successful. “The European Commission made it clear that Serbia’s EU accession is not only a strategic goal of Serbia but also a firm objective of the EU itself”, says H.E Lutterotti. However, he notes, the successful accession process means that all candidate countries will have to solve their bilateral disputes. “Serbia has shown commendable efforts in this regard so far and we are confident that the leadership of the country is determined to continue on this path”, says our interlocutor. Mr. Lutterotti spent his diplomatic career in the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Austrian Embassy in Beijing, Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations, as a Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of the UN General Assembly, as Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry for European and International Affairs, and Foreign Policy Advisor for various ministers and PMs in Austrian Government including Sebastian Kurz. Therefore our first question was focused on that part of his work.
As a foreign affairs adviser to the former Austrian Foreign Minister and now Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, how much of your work was dedicated to this region and Serbia?
— From the very beginning of his tenure as Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs in December 2013 and now as Federal Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz has focused much of his time and efforts to this region of Europe, particularly to Serbia. Austria and Serbia have strong human, cultural, economic and historic ties. Austria, therefore, has a clear interest in the stability and prosperity of the region and of Serbia in particular. Even though we do not share a common border we consider Serbia as a neighbouring country. Austria is one of the EU members that has always emphasized that it strongly supported Serbia’s bid for the EU membership and the policy of regional stability.
How successful is Serbia in implementing these two plans?
— It is true that Austria is a clear and strong supporter of Serbia’s bid for EU membership, precisely for the reasons that I mentioned before. Serbia is part of Europe. But in order to join the European Union Serbia will have to apply the entire set of EU legislation. Over the last years we have seen that Serbia has shown great ambition and determination to embark on reforms of the country so as to move ahead towards EU membership. As far as regional stability is concerned, all accession countries will have to solve their bilateral disputes. Serbia has shown commendable efforts in this regard so far and we are confident that the leadership of the country is determined to continue on this path. Although there has been talk about expediting the country’s entry into the EU, Serbia has not opened a single chapter for a long time, while the relations between official Belgrade and Priština are again taking precedent.
How optimistic are you about Serbia achieving progress in this matter?
— The European Commission has issued a very encouraging strategy in which it clearly and unambiguously reconfirmed Serbia’s and the region’s European perspective. It also made clear that Serbia’s EU accession is not only a strategic goal of Serbia but also a firm objective of the EU itself. And Serbia clearly is a frontrunner here. This in itself is an important and positive message. The pace of accession is primarily determined by Serbia’s own pace of reforms. It is also clear that if Serbia and Kosovo want to move ahead on their respective paths towards the EU they have to make progress in normalizing their relations. I am still optimistic and Austria is certainly willing to continue to lend its support whenever and wherever needed.
What are the priorities of the Austrian presidency over the EU in the second half of the year?
— We will take over the Presidency on 1st July from Bulgaria and we will continue to implement the Programme that the so called Troika (Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria) has set itself in June 2017. In general, the overall theme – as presented by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – will be: „A Europe that protects“. This in our view requires (1) to invest in security, such as protecting Europe’s external borders, (2) in securing our prosperity through investing in Europe’s competitiveness and (3) finally to invest in the political and economic stability of our neighbourhood, which includes the Western Balkans region. Austria will therefore put particular emphasis on supporting stability in Southeastern Europe. We want to see progress in the respective EU accession processes, including Serbia. We strongly believe that stability in this part of Europe is in the EU’s and in the region’s core interest.
In which European integration segments can Austria support Serbia the most in terms of the country’s reforms?
— There are several areas in which we are happy to offer our support. Dual education is one of these areas where we are already very active and will continue to do so. Other areas have been in the field of public administration and e-government, the fight against corruption and environmental protection, including „green energy“.
Numerous visits of the highest Serbian and Austrian officials have taken place in the previous period, and several joint economic and infrastructure projects have been launched. What are your priorities when it comes to further development of bilateral relations?
— Our bilateral relations are excellent, both on a political, economic as well as cultural level. As for our political relations I hope that we will see a continuity of the depth and intensity of political visits – in both directions. The visit of President Vucic in Austria in February this year was very positive and reflected the excellent state of our bilateral relations. As far as economic relations are concerned there is still a huge potential for both Serbia and Austria to intensify bilateral trade well as foreign direct investments. The interest of the Austrian business community is very high and I am convinced that the more structural reforms will be undertaken in Serbia, in particular in the field of rule of law, the more investments will follow. There is also a huge potential in working with the diaspora of about 300.000 people of Serbian origin in Austria. In the cultural field, I am glad that our relations are also excellent, that there is a lot of fruitful exchange and that the number of Austrian artists coming to Serbia to participate in festivals, exhibitions and other cultural events has been increasing for years.
The Balkan route and generally the attitude towards migrants were one of the important topics in the talks between the two countries. How high is this issue on your agenda today?
— The issue remains high on our agenda. The informal EU Leaders meeting during the Austrian presidency will focus on the issue of security and migration. In the meantime, Serbia has been emulating Austria in many segments, primarily in education and the way in chambers of commerce are organized.
How much has this cooperation contributed to better recognition of common economic interests?
— I would rather say that the recognition of common economic interests has led us to invest increasingly in the field of education. Also reforms in the area of the rule of law and the functioning of the state and its institutions will have a great impact – not only on the quality of life of Serbian citizens – but also on boosting further economic activity in Serbia.