Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic presented in Belgrade on Tuesday an action plan on cooperation between the two countries in 2016, which envisages Austria's support to Serbia in the opening of new policy chapters in the country's EU entry talks, the continuation of cooperation in the management of the refugee crisis and further development of bilateral economic relations.
Speaking at a joint news conference after talks with Kurz, Vucic said that Austria supported Serbia in opening talks not just on the policy chapters 23 and 24, which concern judiciary and human rights, but also on the chapters 5, 15, 25 and 26, which concern public procurement, energy, science and research, and education and culture.
Kurz said he was confident that Serbia would soon open new chapters in its EU membership talks, and even though he could not state a specific date, he stressed that Belgrade was on the right track.
The Austrian minister said that Serbia was demonstrating a marked reform pace and that on its path to EU membership it could overtake other candidate countries, if it continued that way.
He added that the action plan signed by the two countries would contribute to a better and stronger cooperation between the two countries.
Speaking of the refugee crisis, Kurz said that the situation could change and that the EU was prepared to help Macedonia and Serbia reduce the refugee influx.
That must be our common goal, Kurz said, adding that Western Balkan countries and Austria had to work together on that because this year Austria would be able to accept "a maximum 37,500 people."
The Austrian minister commended the Serbian government for reform processes that have been launched, telling Serbian citizens that they had to shoulder the burden of those reforms because they were necessary also for the process of integration with the EU.
Serbia enjoys extraordinary political and economic support from Austria, said Vucic, adding that owing to Austrian investments around 2,000 new jobs were expected this year.
He described the Austrian delegation's visit as exceptional and Austrians as true friends of Serbia. "Stefan Kurz was the only one to attend all conferences on Serbia," said Vucic.
The two countries will continue their dialogue at the level of deputy ministers so as to be able to coordinate their activities at any time, including the creation of conditions for the fight against terrorism and risks threatening modern Europe.
The action plan envisages cooperation in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, in maintaining regional stability, and in developing better relations in the Western Balkans.
Vucic recalled that Austria was the biggest investor in Serbia, where around 500 Austrian companies were active, and that one of Serbia's goals was to increase bilateral trade to one billion euros and attract new investors from Austria.
Cooperation will be stepped up also in the development of dual education, banking, insurance, freight forwarding and logistics.
"We want Austria to be even more present in the region and in Serbia - both on the political and on the economic front," Vucic said.
On Monday evening, Kurz participated in a Serbian-Austrian business forum. His two-day visit also includes a meeting with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic.