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Chancellor Schuessel (L) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, 2 December 2005 (epa)
1 January 2006 -- With the New Year, Austria has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union and Belgium has assumed the leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Promising to give "more impetus to Europe," Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel pledged in a statement that Austria's chief priority will be to revive moves toward deeper cooperation among the 25 EU member-states. He also said that Austria wants to use its six-month presidency to "bring Europe closer to the citizens again."
In a separate statement, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said Austria will "do everything possible" to bring countries in the Balkans closer to the EU.
Vienna faces numerous challenges, including breathing new life into the stalled EU constitution and implementing the 2007-2013 budget.
In an interview in the Austrian magazine Profil, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, declared that the constitution "must not be buried."
Belgium has pledged to use its yearlong presidency of the OSCE to press for progress toward the settlement of long-running conflicts in the former Soviet Union, including the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Transdniester conflict in Moldova, and the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia.
Belgium takes over the chairmanship of the OSCE from Slovenia.
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