At the invitation of Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his Italian counterpart Gentiloni, the Foreign Ministers of the Western Balkans met in Berlin on Tuesday, 24 November. The main focus of the talks was the current refugee crisis. The Ministers also discussed economic issues regarding investment and economic growth in the region.
The refugee and migrant crisis does not just pose a major challenge for the European Union but also for the countries in the Western Balkans.
With the large number of refugees passing through, the capacities in many Balkan countries are stretched to the limit. This is why Foreign Minister Steinmeier believes it is now so important to “affirm our commitment to a Europe of solidarity”.
And this also includes the countries in the Western Balkans. “European solidarity doesn’t begin with accession. We are already connected by our readiness to share burdens to deal with the refugee crisis”, as the Foreign Minister continued.
Not leaving the Western Balkans in the lurch
Steinmeier outlined that the temporary accommodation needed for 50,000 refugees en route should be created quickly and exchange of information between transit countries stepped up. He went on to emphasise that the refugees must “be guaranteed humane treatment no matter the circumstances”. Steinmeier pledged Germany’s support to his colleagues: “We must not and will not leave the Western Balkans in the lurch when it comes to transit migration”. Here, the Minister was referring to financial support for humanitarian assistance and help with developing structures, as well as securing external borders in Southeast Europe.
New ways for people to migrate to work
Alongside the refugee flows from Syria and other countries of the Middle East, the large number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans was also addressed.
Steinmeier pointed out that this was a phenomenon which we need to bear in mind. He explained that the German Government was endeavouring to make plain in the Western Balkans that asylum applications by people primarily seeking a job and better living conditions were generally not successful. The Foreign Minister announced that from January 2016 Germany was going to create new ways for people to migrate legally to Germany to work. This would give people better prospects to discourage them from lodging asylum applications which were going to be rejected.
By way of conclusion, Foreign Minister Steinmeier paid tribute to the progress the countries had made in drawing closer to the EU. For him, the European Commission progress reports made this clear.