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H.E. Johannes Eigner, Ambassador of Austria to Serbia

AUSTRIA: Serious Test for Europe in 2016

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The sheer number of people has forced governments to improvise and partly set aside agreed rules. In quite a number of instances, the national skin was nearer than the European shirt. Forgotten borders have regained their significance, the viability of the entire Schengen system has been placed in doubt.

Austria and Serbia have been, and still are, very much at the centre of this flow of a million people: Serbia as a transit country and Austria as both a transit country and a final destination for, to date, close to 100,000 asylum-seekers.

Only with some delay were efforts made to try to differentiate between those who need and merit full protection and those who are in search of a better life but whose acceptance would overstretch all possibilities and, thus, endanger the country’s very capability to protect.

The year to come will require more determination to mitigate and control the flow of refugees and migrants, a refined search for a balance between a resolute defence against terror and an equally resolute upholding of fundamental freedoms and values, and a clear understanding among all major players involved that action against terror on the ground must not lead to new destabilising situations

Equally, with some delay, more emphasis was placed on tackling the root causes of the mass exodus, in particular from Syria, not least also as a consequence of massive terror attacks, in Paris and elsewhere.

The year to come will require more determination to mitigate and control the flow of refugees and migrants, a refined search for a balance between a resolute defence against terror and an equally resolute upholding of fundamental freedoms and values, and a clear understanding among all major players involved that action against terror on the ground must not lead to new destabilising situations, such as the Russian-Turkish conflict.

For Serbia and its relationship with the European Union, 2015 has brought, despite all difficulties, literally a new chapter, with the opening of the first negotiating chapters and, thus, the beginning of accession talks in substance.

More chapters will follow in the next year – Serbia has definitely embarked upon the road towards EU Membership. Austria will continue to be a reliable partner to, and strong supporter of, Serbia along this road.