VIENNA – Austria’s Defence Minister Gerald Klug said after a meeting with his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic on Friday that Serbia was making excellent progress towards EU membership, adding that Austria would continue to support Belgrade.
The talks between Belgrade and Pristina are an important step towards the EU, he told a joint news conference in Vienna.
Austria has to and will advocate that the Western Balkans remain in the EU agenda for integration, he stated, stressing that he was particularly glad that Gasic had picked Austria as the destination of his first visit abroad, thereby confirming that the relations between the two countries were excellent and friendly.
Klug pointed out he had discussed security and political development in Southeastern Europe and possibilities of cooperation with his Serbian colleague.
A Central European disaster response unit should be created and Serbia, as a partner country, could take part in the unit’s training and exercises, he underscored.
According to Klug, the goal of the meeting with Gasic was to emphasise the importance of peace in Europe in the context of marking the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.
The Austrian military has the most troops in Kosovo serving within KFOR out of all the countries that are not members of NATO, thereby helping stabilise the Balkans, he remarked, adding that the Austrian contingent would soon be enlarged from 400 to 500 troops.
Gasic said the relations between Austria and Serbia were at their highest point at the moment, best in 100 years and possibly in the entire history.
He said he had thanked Klug on behalf of the Serbian government for Austria’s assistance during the May floods in Serbia.
Austrian firefighters came with their equipment, lorries and boats to help the flooded areas, Gasic stated, adding that he had witnessed for himself the high level of skill and dedication of the team from Salzburg.
There has also been significant aid coming from the Austrian citizens, serving as another proof of the excellent relations between the two nations, which are based on shared history, cultural similarities and geographical proximity, he said.
Gasic thanked Austria for its support reagrding Serbia’s top priority in foreign policy, that is EU integration, and invited Klug to visit Belgrade in early 2015.
Since Serbia used Austria as a model in creating a modern country, it can use it today as well in creating a modern and functional military, Gasic stated, adding that the Defence Ministry needed Austria’s experience.