Do Paris and Hague think South East Europe is Europe?

Despite the "enlargement fatigue" in France and the Netherlands, South East Europe must not be abandoned, says Austria's Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl.

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(EPA-EFE, file, illustration)
(EPA-EFE, file, illustration)

Kneissl told a press conference summarizing her country's foreign policy in 2018 that she was satisfied with the fact that during Vienna's EU presidency, new chapters were opened in Serbia's and Montenegro's EU accession negotiations.

However, she pointed out that it was not easy to garner support in the Netherlands, or in France, for "the European perspective" of the countries of South East Europe, such as Serbia and Albania.

"The fatigue that is already present is already known. I personally felt in the talks I had since the spring with my European partners in Western European countries, that European Parliament elections were very close. To us this (SE Europe) region is geographically, historically and humanly closer, which is not the case with the Netherlands or with France," Kneissl said.

She underlined that it was "very difficult to convince the Dutch and the French that South East Europe is a part of Europe."

"I never speak about 'the Western Balkans', because I do not like that term, it's is an artificial notion. In addition, the Balkans is perceived negatively - unless it's about food. Politically it has a negative connotation. I'm consistently talking about South East Europe and for me the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade is a part of Europe, the Sarajevo Philharmonic is a part of Europe. I feel perhaps more attached, based on the geographical position, to that region than someone, for example, in Belfast," explained Kneissl.

She added that her "European political heart" clearly states that South East Europe "cannot be left on the sidelines in a vacuum" - but added that at the same time she understands that there are different views in the Netherlands and in France.

The Austrian official said she was "appealing on her French and Dutch colleagues to recall the past."

"You were the ones who have always been thinking in broader categories geopolitically. I would recall (former French president) Mitterrand in the 1980s. At that time, nobody wanted the countries of the Mediterranean, which had just emerged from military dictatorships. The French were the ones who introduced them into the EU, they were the ones who worked hard around Romania, too. It is always necessary to apply that practice which already exists," she said.

Kneissl also emphasized that Europe should be understood as "a cultural space, and one should act based on that."

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