The Western Balkans Conference Which Led to Row Over Worsening Refugee Crisis

Published: February 26, 2016; 18:00 · (FriedlNews)

Convened on the initiative of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and Austrian Minister of the Interior Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the Western Balkans conference “Managing Migration Together” was held at the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Vienna. 18 foreign and interior ministers from the Western Balkans attended the conference. The participants included the foreign and interior ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.

Kurz and Mikl-Leitner: 18 Foreign and Interior Ministers from the Western Balkans met at the Federal Ministry of the Interior / Picture: © Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs

Alongside Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the Foreign and Interior Ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia took part in the conference, which sought to promote the closest possible coordination with the affected countries regarding the current migration challenges.

“The refugee crisis is the greatest challenge currently facing the European Union. Close cooperation and quick decisions are therefore essential”, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz stressed.

Border management and cooperation with third countries

The topics dealt with in the conference’s first panel discussion, which mainly focused on internal security, included effective border management, combating people smuggling and fighting extremism.

The second panel discussion focused primarily on foreign policy issues, such as measures aimed at addressing the root causes of migration and people fleeing their home countries, cooperation with third countries as well as information and awareness-raising activities in countries of origin.

Two weeks ago Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz visited the Western Balkan states, where he engaged in an intensive exchange of views and experience inter alia with his counterparts on current challenges in the context of the refugee crisis. In order to intensify the Austrian engagement in the Western Balkan countries, Austria has presented together with all 6 countries for the first time bilateral action plans for 2016 containing concrete supporting measures on their path towards EU membership. The action plans cover areas such as economical and educational cooperation, support for the EU accession process and cultural and civil society collaboration.

The conference marked a further step towards addressing these challenges, but led to Athen's decision to call to Athens for consultations its Ambassador to Vienna, H. E. Mrs. Chryssoula Aliferi.