At the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna, Germany and Austria have pledged the Western Balkan states their support. Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the migration situation to be tackled "in line with the European spirit".
The summit was overshadowed by the refugee situation in Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel declared her conviction that Europe can cope with the refugee crisis and find common solutions. "Just as we have solved all the problems facing the European Union over the last few years – the international financial crisis, the euro crisis and others – in a spirit of solidarity, we must do the same again now."
The world, she said, is looking to Europe. Europe can fairly share the burden imposed by the refugee crisis, but "not by playing one nation off against another – only by acting together".
Austria’s Chancellor Werner Faymann had invited the heads of government from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia to Vienna’s Hofburg Palace for talks. The EU was represented by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. France and Italy, which will be hosting the next Western Balkans Summits, were also repesented.
Angela Merkel was appalled by the news of the refugee tragedy in Austria. "We are all deeply shocked by this horrific news. These were people on the way to seek protection and security, instead of which they have died such a tragic death," she said in Vienna.
Refugees are entitled to protection and help wherever they earn this and where they need it in desperate situations, she added. "This is a warning to us that we must tackle the issue of migration swiftly in line with the European spirit. And that means on the basis of solidarity. We must tackle the problem and we must find solutions."
At the summit it was agreed that countries that are already conducting accession negotiations with the European Union or that are about to begin such negotiations will be designated safe countries of origin. People from these countries applying for asylum have practically no chance of being granted asylum in Germany.
Angela Merkel praised the dynamic nature of cooperation with the Western Balkan states. One main factor she said was the launch of talks between the Western Balkan states to discuss problems and identify solutions. This has made it possible, for instance, to resolve bilateral problems between Kosovo and Serbia in the run-up to the conference.
Common projects to improve infrastructure and reduce youth unemployment are a sign of hope. "We must support hope, we must support the future in these countries," said Angela Merkel. The Western Balkan Summit in Austria demonstrated, she said, that the EU is prepared to underpin its intention to give the Western Balkan states accession prospects.
The Western Balkans Summit was created last year in response to an idea of the German government. It will be held annually until 2018 to continue the joint work, realise common goals and unpin these with specific projects. The initiative aims to underline the European prospects of all Western Balkan states. Over a period of several years, open questions in the region are to tackled and new impetus put into resolving these. The focus will be on stepping up cooperation among the states of the region, and supporting them.
After the summit Angela Merkel met Austria’s Federal President Heinz Fischer and Chancellor Werner Faymann for bilateral talks. At the Federal Chancellery Werner Faymann awarded the Chancellor with the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Sash. This is the second highest honour that can be conferred by the Republic of Austria.
In the early evening the Chancellor attended the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the German Chamber of Commerce in Austria at the Palais Ferstel where she also spoke.