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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement of President Barroso following his meeting with Mr Tomislav Nikolić, President of Serbia
14 June 2012
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome President Tomislav Nikolić to the European Commission today.
This is President Nikolić's first official visit abroad since taking office and I see his presence here in Brussels as a clear sign of the priority the President and Serbia attach to their European reform agenda.
We just had a productive meeting where we discussed the state of play and the way ahead on Serbia's path towards the European Union.
The European Union and Serbia already enjoy strong ties. Indeed, we are, by far, Serbia's biggest trading partner and the main provider of foreign direct investment, grants and loans.
But we want to go further. The Commission is strongly committed to helping Serbia advance on the road towards the European Union.
Serbia obtained EU candidate status in March. This recognized past progress, but also brings clear responsibilities for the future. As a Candidate Country, Serbia must now re-energize an ambitious reform agenda – and we believe this is also in Serbia's own interest.
Therefore, President Nikolić's leadership and the constructive cooperation among all Serbian leaders are key: For the rapid formation of a new, stable government, for a strong, national consensus across parties on Serbia's EU agenda, and especially for credible reforms on the ground.
I reiterated to President Nikolić that we look forward to working closely with Serbia on key areas such as judicial reform, anti-corruption policy, the fight against organised crime, media freedom, the protection of minorities, and not least structural economic reforms because we know how important it is to promote economic progress in Serbia, for the young people in Serbia, for those who are now trying to find a job also in Serbia.
All these reforms are vital for Serbia - we believe they will be necessary with or without the European accession - as they are in the interest of Serbia and we believe there is no time to lose, especially in the current economic climate. Moving ahead brings its challenges, but I think going ahead in this reform path is good for Serbia's citizens, good for the nation's European path and good also for the future of relationship between Serbia and the EU..
We also had the opportunity to discuss the very important role Serbia plays in South Eastern Europe.
I expressed my confidence that Serbia will continue to engage positively and constructively in regional cooperation and reconciliation, building on the good work of the past years. Once more, President Nikolić's personal leadership and unambiguous commitment will be crucial for good relations with all of Serbia's neighbours.
In this vein, I also underlined that the normalisation of Serbia's relations with Kosovo remains an absolutely central condition for moving to the next stage of the EU process. In other words, this will be crucial to make it possible for the Commission to eventually recommend the opening of accession negotiations to our Member States.
To conclude, I want to reaffirm our determination to see Serbia moving forward in its European integration project. The Serbian people clearly want to build a more prosperous future with and within the European Union. I am confident that their leaders will continue to support this aspiration.
Mr President, thank you for coming to Brussels and coming to the European Commission. I look forward to the continuation of our dialogue - we had a very open and constructive exchange of views just now - and I am looking forward to an even closer relationship between the EU and Serbia.
I thank you for your attention.