The Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Visegrad Group (V4) and Western Balkan countries took place in Prague on November 4, 2011 under the Czech Republic’s Presidency of the Visegrad Group. This meeting followed the tradition of meetings dedicated to the Western Balkans held under the previous Hungarian and Slovak Presidencies. Special guests invited for this occasion were the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy and the European External Action Service Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia.
The meeting proved that the Visegrad Group, Slovenia and Western Balkan countries share similar objectives—ensuring stability, democracy, economic prosperity and regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. The Visegrad countries and Slovenia reiterated their strong commitment to furthering the EU enlargement process. Moreover, the discussion with the Western Balkan partners reaffirmed the existence of common ground for broader cooperation in the region.
The Foreign Ministers of the Visegrad Group and Slovenia exchanged views on the current situation in the region and discussed the document “Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2011–2012”, recently published by the European Commission, which evaluates the progress made by individual Western Balkan countries on the road towards EU membership. The Visegrad Group countries and Slovenia welcomed the European Commission progress reports on the candidate countries and potential candidates as a detailed, precise and balanced assessment of the situation. All ministers highlighted the success of Croatia as a moment of historical significance for Croatia and the region as well as for further EU enlargement. The ministers expressed their confidence that Croatia would continue to fulfil its obligations and join the EU on July 1, 2013.
The Visegrad Group countries and Slovenia considered the Commission’s recommendations well-founded, especially with regard to the start of the accession negotiations with Montenegro and Macedonia and to the granting of candidate status to Serbia, and expressed their hope that these recommendations can be reflected in the Council Conclusions and confirmed by the European Council in December 2011. They also reiterated that a significant move in the EU integration process would be beneficial not only to the countries concerned but would also represent an important signal and encouragement for other countries of the region.
The Visegrad Group countries and Slovenia expressed their continuing support for the European Commission and the European External Action Service and highly appreciated their strong commitment to the enlargement process as well as their contribution to the resolution of regional problems.
The Visegrad Group countries expressed their will to strengthen relations between the V4 and the Western Balkans. They noted that in this context they will use various instruments at the disposal of the International Visegrad Fund including the “Visegrad+ programme”, the role of which is to support transformation processes in selected countries. The Visegrad Group countries are also ready to share their experience of regional cooperation gained through the work of the International Visegrad Fund. This particular form of V4 cooperation has led to the enhancement of bilateral and regional people-to-people contacts and to the development of a very practical dimension of the V4 format. The interaction through the International Visegrad Fund has provided the Visegrad Group countries with an opportunity to intensify cooperation at the local level as well as to promote confidence-building among neighbours. In this regard, the Visegrad Group countries suggested that their Western Balkan partners build on the positive example of the International Visegrad Fund and establish a similar mechanism for cooperation between state institutions and civil society in the region.
The Visegrad Group countries also suggested that such a regional instrument should be guided by the same principles as the International Visegrad Fund—i.e., European democratic values and principles; regional ownership and responsibility; non-political, non-partisan, non-religious character; inclusiveness for all partners; focus on community-level projects and flexibility in defining common interests and goals. In case the idea meets with a positive response from the Western Balkan countries, the Visegrad Group is ready to assist with its experience in creating a fund designed for the Western Balkans.
The Visegrad Group countries reiterated their commitment to look actively for solutions supporting the Western Balkan countries on their way to joining the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Future meetings with the Western Balkan partners will also contribute to this end.