Minister Stefanović at Graz Format Conference: Serbia sees its future in European Union
Addressing the Graz Format Conference of Defence Ministers in Krems, Austria, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Nebojša Stefanović, PhD, said today that Serbia sees its future in the European Union and that full membership in the EU is our country's foreign policy objective. He pointed out that the European integration process is one of the key catalysts for social and economic development, which also contributes to the overall improvement of national security and defence.
At the very beginning, Stefanović thanked the Austrian Ministry of Defence and Minister Klaudia Tanner for the warm welcome and continuous support that Austria, as a member of the European Union, provides to the countries in the region.
- If there is a country in the European Union that has continuously provided support to our region on the path to European integration, it is certainly Austria. I want to thank you for constantly showing new energy, for paying attention and supporting all initiatives aimed at helping all countries in our region to become full members of the European Union. Serbia supports the commencement and completion of EU accession negotiations with all countries in our region. We think that is the key thing, not only for security, but also for the economy - said Minister Stefanović.
Stefanović pointed out that many modern security threats, most of which are transnational in character, create the need for cooperation between all countries in the region and Europe.
- One or a group of countries cannot respond to hybrid threats, terrorism, religious extremism, and especially to challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and migration, by working alone. That is why Serbia recognizes the importance of this multilateral format, based on the principles of open and constructive dialogue, aimed at capacity pooling, building trust and bringing the region closer to European integration processes - the Minister of Defence said.
According to him, in addition to being one of the main catalysts for social and economic development, the European integration process contributes to the overall improvement of national security and defence. As a candidate country for EU membership, we have harmonized certain aspects of the National Security Strategy with the Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy.
- I can proudly say that next year marks the tenth anniversary of the first deployment of members of the Serbian Ministry of Defence to EU peacekeeping missions and operations. In that period, we provided support for carrying out six different EU-led missions and operations, and today Serbia participates in three EU missions and operations. When it comes to joint defence capacity building, Serbia has established close cooperation with EU members in areas such as the improvised explosive device disposal, standardization, helicopter training, etc.
Cooperation with the EU is reflected in the active participation of Serbian representatives in the European Union Military Committee meetings, EU force generation conferences, as well as the Coordination Conference and the EU Battlegroups meetings in Brussels, the Minister said. Among the important projects that have contributed to regional cooperation, Minister Stefanović pointed out the establishment and functioning of the Balkan Military Medical Forces, which have achieved full operational capability during Serbia’s mandate.
- When it comes to the future cooperation between the Republic of Serbia and the EU, the Ministry of Defence is following with great interest the decisions of the European Union which strengthen its security and defence dimension through various integration processes and initiatives. Serbia sees its future in the EU. We are firmly committed to that path. In addition to what we must do, we hope that Austria will call on other EU members, especially the hesitant ones, to support the countries in our region on their path to European integration. We need stronger support! - said the Minister.
He also said that Serbia is establishing an increasingly intensive cooperation in all aspects with the countries in our region, because we are aware that we must build economically strong states which are good places to live.
- The Open Balkans initiative that President Vučić launched, together with other heads of states in our region, is an example of a powerful incentive for further economic development of our region. This type of economic initiative opens up additional opportunities for our countries - said the Minister.
Stefanović once again thanked the Austrian Ministry of Defence, whose Graz format is a regional initiative.
- I believe that all my Western Balkan colleagues and I will do our best, by participating today in the Graz Format Conference, to make sure the results of our defence activities are visible in our countries and that Austria can offer arguments when speaking to the EU, saying "these people have made significant progress compared to the previous period - said the Minister.
The Austrian Minister of Defence, Klaudia Tanner, said that the European Union remains incomplete without the Western Balkans. She concluded that Austria will continue to strongly advocate the continuation of European integration, and that the forms of cooperation agreed upon by the defence ministers today will support the resilience building in the Western Balkans.
The Ministers of Defence of Austria, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia signed a Joint Declaration today, that will give impetus to cooperation and dialogue in the field of security and defence in the coming period.
Closer cooperation is expected through joint projects and by making national capacities available to other countries participating in this format. This form of cooperation, the ministers estimated, will indirectly contribute to the EU integration in the region.