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Switzerland will take over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014, followed by Serbia in 2015. Both countries are coordinating their working plans, in which the institutional, thematic and geographic priority areas are defined for their respective chairmanships. In talks held today in Belgrade between Federal Councillor Burkhalter, the Serbian President Tomoslav Nikolić, Prime Minister Ivica Dacić and Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkić, the coordination of these working plans was one of the topics under discussion.
One of Switzerland's priorities for its OSCE chairmanship is the reform of the organisation itself. The goal is to make the OSCE politically and institutionally stronger in order to prepare it for future challenges (“Helsinki+40”). Another aim is to strengthen the involvement of civil society in promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Switzerland and Serbia are in agreement about the need for arms control and confidence-building measures in the military area. The two-year working plan for the successive OSCE chairmanships in 2014 and 2015 will be presented by Switzerland and Serbia to the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna at the end of June. During both these years a Swiss special envoy will be responsible for the mission and the projects of the OSCE in the Western Balkans.
Within the framework of his working visit, Federal Councillor Burkhalter discussed a range of bilateral themes with his Serbian interlocutors, amongst them economic cooperation as well as cooperation in relation to migration and cooperation with the police. In addition, Switzerland has been supporting the transition process in Serbia through a cooperation programme since 1991. The main focus here is on economic development and employment, strengthening the rule of law and democracy as well as the integration of disadvantaged groups. Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter took the opportunity offered by today's visit to Belgrade to visit the project 'Roma Inclusion' in the vicinity of the Serbian capital. The project, supported by Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, helps children from the Roma minority to gain easier access to the education system.
Federal Councillor Burkhalter had also discussed the OSCE chairmanship and other bilateral themes the day before during his working visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In talks in Sarajevo with members of the Presidency as well as the Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija, Federal Councillor Burkhalter discussed the possibility of intensifying bilateral relations. Today, close cooperation already exists across a range of areas including vocational training, healthcare, migration and justice. In the economic area, Switzerland and Herzegovina are currently negotiating a double taxation agreement, in addition to which negotiations are currently under way between Bosnia and Herzegovina and EFTA regarding a free trade agreement.
During his visit, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter emphasised Switzerland's support for regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. Amongst other things he underlined the importance of the EUFOR Althea peace mission, as part of which 20 experts from Switzerland are deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Mr Burkhalter’s view, EUFOR Althea makes an important contribution to the security and stability of Europe. Security and stability in the region also helps Switzerland's cooperation with the Regional Cooperation Council, in which all countries of the Western Balkans are represented. This cooperation will be strengthened over the coming year when Switzerland takes over the chairmanship of the OSCE.
Commitment to security and stability is a central priority of Swiss foreign policy. For this reason, Switzerland has long been providing support for a number of projects in the Western Balkans to help overcome problems resulting from the war in the Balkans. In this connection, Federal Councillor Burkhalter visited a demining project in Blagovac in the vicinity of Sarajevo that is receiving financial support from the FDFA. The project includes training dogs to detect mines. Over 2.6 percent of the total area of Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to be infested with mines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of the war, which makes it impossible for people to return to these areas and means that agricultural land lies fallow.