Check against delivery
“Europe and the Arab World –
Connecting Partners in Dialogue”
Joint Initiative of Austria and the League of Arab States
Ministerial Round Table
Vienna, 19 December 2008
Statement by H.E. Michael Spindelegger
Austrian Federal Minister for European and International Affairs
Dear Secretary General,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to all of you to the conference “Europe and the Arab World – Connecting Partners in Dialogue”. I am glad that so many of you have followed the joint invitation of Austria and the League of Arab States.
My special thanks go to my Co-Chair Amre Moussa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States for his personal efforts and his commitment to make this joint conference a success.
Let me also thank my predecessor Ursula Plassnik for having taken the initiative for this conference.
My thanks also go to the workshop participants, the experts from governments and civil society who worked hard in the last two days to feed their recommendations into this meeting.
The timing of this conference bears significance for the objectives of our meeting today: Just last week, Muslim communities around the world celebrated Eid Al-Adha, in two days time the Jewish communities will light the first candle of Hanukkah, and in a few days, we will celebrate Christmas, an important religious holiday for Christians all over the world. Let me therefore thank all of you again that you have come to Vienna at this time dedicated to families and friends. I am also particularly grateful to the religious representatives present today.
Religion is an important part of our cultures, but our dialogue efforts must go beyond the mere sphere of religion. We should raise awareness for the importance of civil society and the numerous people actively contributing to fighting poverty and discrimination, marginalisation and injustice. As believers or non-believers, they often take great personal efforts and risks.
Austria hosts this conference out of a long and successful tradition of dialogue and mediation – with our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Western Balkans, and in particular with Muslim communities both in Europe and in the Arab World. We maintain strong ties with the Muslim and the Arab World, aiming to build bridges by engaging in interreligious and intercultural dialogue. The official recognition of Islam in Austria dates back to 1912.
In recent years we hosted two meetings of European Imams as well as international conferences on “Islam in a Pluralistic World” (2005) and “Islam in Europe” (2007). During the Austrian EU-Presidency, we initiated a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Denmark and Islamic and Christian leaders in 2006 to help mitigate the effects of the so-called “cartoon crisis”. These contacts showed how much common ground exists. Upon our efforts, the EU Council adopted conclusions rejecting violence and calling for mutual tolerance and respect.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is no confrontation between Europe and the Arab or Muslim World. What we see – and what we need to strengthen – are changes, transformations and reforms both within Europe and the Arab World.
In our time of globalisation and growing interdependence, we share a number of common challenges, such as:
Coping with the financial and economic crisis and securing employment, especially for young people;
- Keeping pace with the necessary educational reforms to accommodate the requirements of knowledge based societies;
- Promoting women’s participation and enhancing their contributions to the economy, society and politics;
- Achieving integration and fruitful co-existence with immigrants;
- Strengthening social cohesion, preventing radicalisation and securing peace.
The Barcelona process and the Union of the Mediterranean have revived the process of defining common interests and areas for cooperation. The EU-Arab League Meeting in Malta last February has institutionalised dialogue between European and Arab states, including those of the Gulf and the African continent.
For Arab and European decision-makers discussing the importance of dialogue and partnership, there is no bigger challenge than to contribute to a fair and lasting peaceful solution of the Middle East conflict, the one issue in the region with the highest political stakes.
The Arab Peace Initiative adopted in 2002 in Beirut and reconfirmed at various occasions is a prime example ofhow the Arab League can provide an essential input by speaking with one voice. Its focus on the – “just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East as the strategic option of the Arab countries” – has become a pillar of Arab Middle East policies. Its value has repeatedly been acknowledged by the Middle East Quartet, by the European Union, and just three days ago by the UN Security Council in its Resolution 1850.
Ever more frequently, leading representatives of the Israeli political leadership seem to realize that this initiative is an important basis for further peace negotiations – President Peres just recently declared at the UN interfaith dialogue meeting in New York that “the Arab Peace Initiative must be considered a serious opening for real progress in Middle East peace”.
I am convinced that a decisive boost will be given to the realization of peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East, if the implementation of this valuable initiative can be started by concrete political steps of the parties concerned.
What do we want to achieve today? In the last two days, experts from governments and civil society have elaborated the three sets of recommendations distributed to all of you. We should now seek for ways and means to follow up on these ideas and implement them.
Our meeting today should bring about concrete ideas and projects for further cooperation,ideas how to intensify our dialogue on state and society level and what next steps should be taken from here.
As a political, social and cultural necessity, strengthening dialogue between Europe and the Arab world lies in the interest of our people, regions and countries.
I wish all of us a fruitful discussion on these issues!