As an active member of the United Nations and especially with regard to the current membership in the UN Security Council, Austria has always put special emphasis on promoting and strengthening the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy and necessary to assure the participation by all members of the society in decision-making.
SEEMO’s essential role in supporting the freedom of media in the Western Balkans and its objective to create a bridge between international media activities and the media developments in the region have already been established in 2000, when representatives of 23 media organisations in nine South Eastern European countries agreed to form an umbrella organisation in Zagreb.
It is my pleasure to congratulate SEEMO to its 10th anniversary - an organisation whose members were and are inspired by the common recognition that their contribution is necessary to ensuring a promising development of the region. The process has not always been easy and it has not yet reached its goal: the integration of all countries in South Eastern Europe into the European family. Yet, we are on the right path and will continue our common efforts.
For reasons of security, stability and economic opportunity it is in our own best interests to complete the Western Balkans’ rapprochement with the European Union as soon as possible. The current financial and economic crisis must not serve as an excuse for slowing down this process. We must prevent a renewed ‘enlargement fatigue from spreading within the EU, since it would inevitably lead to a ‘reform fatigue’ in the Western Balkans. The damaging consequences of such a development would not only be felt by the people of the region, but also within the European Union. Therefore the EU has to keep its word and advance step-by-step the accession of each country of the region to the European Union. At the same time, the process of rapprochement with the EU will continue to require major efforts by our partners in the region, in particular in areas such as justice or the fight against corruption.
Next year we will pass again a milestone in our relationship with the Western Balkan. With the adoption of the European Strategy for the Danube region we will for the first time have at our disposal a macro-regional policy encompassing the whole region including non-EU Member States. Today the river Danube is not only a natural link between many of our countries, with enormous potential and vast unemployed resources, it is also a symbol for the new Europe after 1989. We live through a period of change, and Austria and the countries of Eastern Europe could provide additional momentum through a successful Strategy for the Danube Region, promoting cross-border cooperation.
Let me conclude in expressing again my appreciation for the work and results SEEMO has achieved in its first 10 years of existence. I am proud that the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs and SEEMO have been partners for several years and I trust that SEEMO will continue its mission and important task in the interest of all of us.
Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria