Wien, 24. November 2010 Rede/Interview

Eröffnungsrede des Außenministers am 1. Arab-European Young Leaders Forum in der Diplomatischen Akademie

Eröffnungsworte des
Bundesministers für europäische und internationale Angelegenheiten
Michael Spindelegger

1. Arab-European Young Leaders Forum
Mittwoch, 24. November, 12:00 Uhr



Dear Secretary General,
Dear State Secretary Chrobog,
Dear Participants,
Dear Guests,

Let me warmly welcome all of you to the First “Arab-European Young Leaders Forum” in Vienna. It is a pleasure to see this initiative taking ground as one of the concrete results of the conference “Europe and the Arab World – Connecting Partners in Dialogue”, a joint initiative of Austria and the League of Arab States. I welcome and thank the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Mr. Amre Moussa, for his personal efforts and his commitment to our joint activities.

I am very happy that we have found partners with great expertise and invaluable assets. Let me warmly welcome and thank former State Secretary Jürgen Chrobog of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt in Germany for his important contribution. I also take great pleasure in welcoming and thanking Mr Suleiman Al Herbish, Director General of the OPEC Fund for International Development for his great support.

I also warmly welcome you, young leaders from more than 20 countries from the European Union, Turkey and the League of Arab States!  Your are important opinion leaders and bridges-builders who have much to contribute to tackle the challenges in today’s relations between the European Union, Turkey and the Arab world.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

The Arab Human Development Report of 2009 on “Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries” outlines seven challenges in the Arab world: the environment; the state and the security of the people; vulnerable groups, namely women and refugees; unstable growth, high unemployment and poverty; hunger and food insecurity; health and finally, occupation and military intervention.

Human security, modernisation and reform in the Arab world are of great concern to Austria, to Europe and to the international community as a whole. It is for that reason that the Forum’s participants have been selected from almost all of these areas. Also Europe and Turkey face challenges be it in the field of the environment, democratic participation, unemployment, or the issue of migration and integration.  But let me also make this clear, it is neither culture nor religion that separates us but our different experiences and problem solving capacities.  This is where dialogue must start! This is why we are here today.

Let me briefly draw your attention to three key notions that are important to this Forum:

(1) First, reform needs participation

(2) Second, pluralism needs responsible leadership

(3) Third, integration needs dialogue


1. Reform needs participation

In all 3 key notions, it is the concept and reality of identity and citizenship that is at stake. “The more identities a person has, the greater will be the comfort zone when moving between the various communities of membership”, states the Arab Human Development Report. It is indeed our task as governments to protect and foster such comfort zones for all individuals through good governance, the full respect for human rights and the rule of law. But also on the horizontal level, from co-citizen to co-citizen, we as individuals will need to foster and engage in civic values of cooperation, co-existence, respect and good neighbourliness.

 The Arab Human Development Report shows that trust in state institutions seems rather low. Citizen’s interest in political participation has constantly decreased. In Europe, our democracies have faced serious challenges brought about by people’s frustration about the reform capacities of the modern welfare state. Extremist and populist movements have been on the rise and need to be fought through innovative forms of democratic participation. But it is also a question of responsible leadership of individuals and institutions that count.


2. Pluralism needs Responsible Leadership

In the European Union, there is a vivid debate with regard to the estimated 15 million Muslims, other large minority groups such as the Roma and about integration of immigrants in general. We have this debate because, admittedly, a lot of mistakes have been made. For decades we have overlooked the problems. There is still a lot of homework to do and we are ready to talk about these challenges. This is certainly not easy. It can be hurtful at times, but there is no alternative to this dialogue.

I am equally very much concerned about the hardship situations, including attacks on religious minorities, in particular Christian communities, and individual believers in Turkey, in the Middle East and North Africa. In order to secure the comfort zone of multiple identities for all individuals, people need to see that their human rights are respected. That applies particularly to the principle of non-discrimination, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. For this to happen, we need leadership. The motto of this first Forum is “Responsible Leadership”. We need responsible leadership in pluralism and in promoting human rights.

3. Integration needs dialogue

Austria has also a long tradition in dialogue, in particular with the Muslim world and Islam in Europe. In 2012, Austria will celebrate 100 years of legal recognition of Islam in Austria. The situation of the official Islamic Community in Austria, its rights and privileges, is still unique in Europe.  However, with about 1,5 million people with immigrant background in Austria, including 450.000 Muslims, and with immigrants forming between 5 – 25% of the population in various EU member states, full integration and participation into European societies is an overall challenge. Young leaders are crucial in this process of managing diversity, fostering integration and supporting education and social upward mobility of immigrants.

I am also glad to hear that the Arab-European Young Leaders present in Vienna for the coming days will go and visit Austrian projects dealing with integration. Indeed, we need further international and regional dialogue and cooperation in this field.  I, therefore, took the initiative for a conference in spring 2011 together with my colleagues, MinisterDavotoglu from Turkey and Minister Westerwelle from Germany. This Conference will be about our partnership in developing best practices and leadership on integration in Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Dialogue needs commitment! I wish the first Arab-European Young Leaders Forum plenty of success. I have the strong hope for a follow up together with the League of Arab States, the BMW Foundation and OFID as our strong partners in the near future.

Thank you!