The annual meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the countries of the Visegrad Group (V4) and the Western Balkans organized under the Czech Presidency of the V4 was held on February 27, 2020, in Prague. The meeting was also attended by the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, and the Secretary General of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria.
The meeting in Prague provided the V4 ministers with the opportunity to express their long-term and unequivocal support for the efforts of the Western Balkan partners to join the EU. The V4 remains committed to preserving and reinforcing the credibility of the EU enlargement process that is the best tool for ensuring stability, security, and prosperity in the region. EU membership of the Western Balkan countries is a joint strategic goal of the region and the EU.
The V4 continues to back the EU membership aspirations of all the Western Balkan partners. In the run-up to discussions on EU enlargement in the Council of the EU and the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb, the V4 ministers assured the partners of their strong and determined support for the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Both countries have met the conditions set by the EU and a positive decision of the Council in March is the only just way forward. Taking this step is crucial for reaffirming the EU’s commitment to the prospect of EU membership for the whole region.
The V4 ministers welcomed the European Commission’s Communication on enhancing the accession process. The V4 fully supports the intention to make the accession process more effective and credible by allowing the Western Balkans to move forward based on real progress in fundamental reforms. The V4 ministers commended the governments in the region for accomplishing significant achievements over the past years. At the same time, they expressed hope that the Western Balkan partners would fully embrace the adjusted accession process and make the most of the opportunities it offers while addressing the shortcomings that are hampering their efforts to integrate into the EU. Making headway in the reform areas set out by the Commission and gradually aligning with EU policies is essential.
The participants in the meeting were briefed by the Executive Directors of the International Visegrad Fund and the Western Balkans Fund on projects aimed at strengthening civil society in the region and on the ongoing cooperation between the two institutions. Furthermore, the ministers took stock of the achievements and plans for the future development of the Western Balkans Fund that is a unique institution of regional cooperation based on the successful model of the International Visegrad Fund. The V4 remains committed to supporting the Western Balkans Fund and its mission in the region. In Prague, the V4 ministers and the partners witnessed the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding that will allow the technical assistance provided to the Western Balkans Fund via the International Visegrad Fund to continue in the period ahead.