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Meeting of the EU-Western Balkans Forum in Brussels

Following today's (12 February) General Affairs Council, the Foreign Ministers of the 27 Member States, the High Representative for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, met with the Foreign Ministers of the Western Balkan states Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as Turkey. The meeting was also attended by the Head of UNMIK, Joachim Rücker, as well as the EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, and the EU Special Representative for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Erwan Fouéré.

The annual Foreign Ministers' meeting focused on taking stock of relations between the EU and Western Balkan states. Federal Minister Steinmeier said that these relations were developing very positively. He went on to say that the meeting was another milestone in the implementation of the Thessaloniki Agenda and confirmed the region's European perspective.

Stabilization and association agreements are currently being negotiated with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as with Montenegro. An agreement with Albania was signed in June while those with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Croatia have been in force for several years now. These agreements are aimed at strengthening democracy and supporting reforms in these countries, as well as creating a free trade zone between the EU and the country in question. Through this, as well as the obligation to partially adopt the European legal framework, they foster closer ties with the European Union. It is crucial that these closer ties with the EU are also visible to ordinary citizens.

This is intended to strengthen regional cooperation among Western Balkan states so that the countries in the region can gradually assume greater responsibility for carrying out the tasks of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. These include promoting economic cooperation in the region, strengthening democracy and human rights, as well as fostering cooperation on security issues. A Regional Cooperation Council will be created to this end.

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Date: 15.02.2007