Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner at the European Forum Wachau
"The Europe of 25 - New Perspectives for Regional Partnerships"
delivered by the
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner
European Forum Wachau
"The Europe of 25 - New Perspectives for Regional Partnerships"
5 June 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since the first of May the biggest enlargement in the history of the European Union has been completed, finally removing the artificial line of separation which had been drawn across Central Europe and prevented the Eastern part of our continent from participating in the process of European integration.
After almost one century of separation Central Europe has again become an area in which free movement is no longer restricted by customs barriers. Once again we can trade and invest, travel and conduct cultural exchange without hindrances. And as we are living at a time which is mainly dominated by economic considerations, I would like to place special emphasis on this last fact, namely unhindered cultural exchange. Because I regard it as particularly noteworthy that an area which shared a common destiny over centuries is now renewing old ties and establishing new ones at the intellectual and cultural levels too. In other fields like access to labour markets and services, where there are still restrictions or where such restrictions had to be introduced, strict timelines for their expiration have been defined. But what is of the utmost importance is that the countries of Central Europe are for the first time sovereign partners with equal rights in a political Union in which they have chosen to participate of their own free will.
Of course, the unique nature of the epochal project we have thus accomplished is often all too easily overlooked in the business of our day-to-day political work. And so the problems the Union is currently facing again dominate the daily headlines of the public political debate.
The difficulties associated with the elaboration of a new constitution, the question of which is the correct economic and fiscal policy, even the debate on the expense accounts of the members of the European Parliament, push the decisive success of the process of European integration out of the limelight: today Europe stretches as a single zone of peace from the Algarve to the Bug, from Lapland to Malta - something which has never been achieved on our continent before.
Complaints about the problems confronting Europe are certainly justified - after all, which project of the dimension of the European Union is perfect - and in democratic communities like ours everyone has the right to criticize. But a word of recognition for this peace process, which is the result of decades of committed efforts at the foreign policy level, is today equally justified!
Let me stress one thing in this connection: now that the new European Union covers almost the entire continent, its democratic legitimisation is of especial importance. Thus the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament, which are being held for the first time in 25 Member States, are of particular relevance. The citizens of Europe have to assume their share of the responsibility for the Union, and the European Parliament requires a solid basis for its work. This is imperative for the successful continuation of our path towards a Europe of citizens. It was in this spirit that I joined Michel Barnier and the other EU foreign ministers in appealing to the Union’s citizens to go to the polls, hoping that the citizens of the Union’s old and new Member States will clearly demonstrate their interest in Europe.
And this brings me right to the core subject of today’s meeting.
After all, one of the decisive questions the European Union is facing today in spite of all the awareness raising and public relations efforts is: where are the positive results of the process of European integration from the citizens’ point of view? How can we find ways and means of regional and local cooperation that are based on the sovereignty of the partners, use the opportunities offered by the European Union, and - most of all - are actually tangible for the citizens?
Over the last few years these issues have often been on our agenda and we have also discussed them here in Göttweig.
The approach we chose was to form the Regional Partnership, which was set up in 2001 and involves the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Austria.
The first phase of this Partnership consisted in assisting Austria’s neighbours on their pre-defined way into the Union, and it was successfully completed with the recent enlargement of the EU. All the partners have now become members of the European Union with equal rights.
This process has also reached the citizens. Anyone who witnessed or participated in the first of May enlargement celebrations held directly on the borders between the old and new Members States saw that concrete cooperation at the regional and local levels is not only supported by the citizens, but indeed enthusiastically welcomed. Especially here in the Province of Lower Austria, which shares common borders with two new EU Member States, Province Governor Erwin Pröll has launched some remarkable cross-border initiatives.
Thus it is no coincidence that the European Forum is held here in Lower Austria, this year’s conference being the tenth in succession. This Province not only hosts political discussions - it also launches concrete political initiatives.
The success of the Union becomes particularly visible here in Lower Austria. In the immediate neighbourhood, in the regional cooperation that Province Governor Pröll has just illustrated to us so impressively. Here the citizens can see whether policy makers are really willing to overcome historical prejudices. Here the citizens can see the concrete value and benefits the EU enlargement brings for every single individual.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now that the enlargement has been successfully completed our Regional Partnership is charged with specific new tasks:
- the representation of common interests within the European Union on the one hand;
- and the joint work on the next steps to be accomplished by the project of European integration on the other.
The Regional Partnership has already launched political initiatives aimed at the Union’s New Neighbours, and particularly, at the Western Balkans, which from my point of view currently represent the most important regional challenge for Europe.
Thus we must work at both levels in order to further intensify this dual approach.
Let me start with the Western Balkans: I believe that it is above all this region’s neighbours - and here I do not only refer to neighbours in the strictly geographical sense - who have a role to play in this context, because the complex backgrounds of the problems facing the Balkans require a great deal of know-how, close personal contacts and trust.
In the next few weeks I will again be travelling to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia to hold further talks and as early as 16 June I will be meeting the new Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic in Vienna. And since I attach particular importance to exchanging views on these meetings at regional level, I am pleased to see that some of my regular discussion partners, like the foreign ministers of Slovenia and Croatia, have also come to Göttweig today.
On their road towards Europe the Western Balkans require:
- a functioning civil society,
- mutual trust between the ethnic groups and
- most of all, an economic and social perspective for their citizens.
In all these three areas the Union has already achieved substantial results: however, it can, and indeed must, do much more still. The recent clashes in Kosovo have very clearly demonstrated that there is still much potential for conflict and that this region continues to represent a threat to stability in South East Europe - right on our doorstep. Therefore, we - i.e. the European Union - have to elaborate and offer concrete proposals to resolve this problem, at the same time making available sufficient means to enable the actual implementation of such proposals.
Let me in this context point to the conference to mark five years of the Stability Pact which will be held in Portoroz next Tuesday. This initiative too should be given more attention in the future.
Moreover, it is clear that the problems faced by the Balkans cannot be solved on the government level alone, but require the involvement of the citizens.
Any considerations made in connection with the Balkans naturally also give rise to the question of where Europe starts - or ends: which goes hand in hand with the question of whether there are, in principle, limits to the enlargement of the European Union.
Especially now that the elections to the European Parliament are just a few days away, these questions are of immediate, topical interest. The questions of where the borders of the European Union should be drawn, and whether Turkey could become a member of the EU have become burning issues during this electoral campaign, issues which are of real concern to the citizens.
But is it really possible to reduce the question of Europe’s borders to the criterion of current or potential future membership in the EU? In the final analysis such an approach will surely only lead to a narrowing of our view. After all, Europe ends neither at the current nor at the potential future external borders of the European Union.
In this spirit it is important to free the borders that actually exist today from the notion of separation. The fact of the matter is that the EU will need to cooperate with its neighbours in the east and also those on the southern shores of the Mediterranean in order to be able to successfully tackle the challenges of the 21st century - including, among other things, new threats to security, environmental protection and migration.
Under the European Neighbourhood Policy some important approaches have been developed in order to meet this goal, to which Austria has already made some very concrete contributions - for instance last autumn, when we, together with Hungary, presented a concept on how this new policy might be implemented vis-à-vis the Ukraine.
It is in this spirit that regional partnerships play a special role in Europe, since they facilitate and enable the establishment of common ties, which unite people across borders.
And in this context, our Regional Partnership, which covers a long and extremely important external border of the European Union, is assuming a special role - one might even call it a task of historical importance.
The crucial question is: Will the Union succeed in progressing along a path characterised by partnership, sharing its peace and prosperity dividend with countries in the Near East, the Middle East and North Africa?
The way in which the Regional Partners succeed in accomplishing their tasks, in resolving today’s regional issues, will show us whether we are capable of coping with these larger geopolitical tasks too.
These considerations also lead me to Turkey. Like any other country which applies for EU membership, she also has to fulfil certain political and economic requirements. And especially in the last few years, Turkey has pushed very strongly for being offered a prospect of accession.
Thus in December 2002 the Copenhagen European Council decided to mandate the European Commission with presenting a progress report on Turkey by the end of 2004, and of course we cannot anticipate the findings of this report.
But what is possible to foresee from today’s perspective? Over the last few months, Turkey has launched substantial reforms in the fields of political democracy, human rights and the economy. At the European Council meeting held in Brussels in December 2003, credible progress towards fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria was noted: at the same time, however, a wide range of areas was pointed out in which further sustained efforts are still necessary. These include the independence and functioning of the courts, the exercise of fundamental freedoms, the shaping of the relations between the military and civilians according to European standards and the rights of cultural minorities as well as overcoming macro-economic imbalances.
Honesty requires us to state that Turkey today is not yet ready for joining the EU. And the EU today is not yet ready for such a step either. Because we must not forget that it is also essential that the Union is in fact able to cope with a country’s accession. At the current point in time, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case, given that we have just completed the biggest enlargement in the Union’s history and are now undertaking every effort to create the adequate institutional structures. But as has been the case in the past, Austria will at any rate continue to fully support Turkey in her further steps towards reform.
A Turkey that orients herself by Europe and undertakes reforms in this spirit will not only be of advantage to Turkey herself but to all of us too - irrespective of a potential accession to the European Union.
Only if it exports stability instead of importing instability will Europe have a safe future. Seen in this context, by offering those countries that want to take this approach an individual European perspective - though not necessarily one that will more or less automatically result in accession in every case - Europe is acting in her own best interest. And in any case it is not in the European interest to close the door a priori on countries wishing to orient themselves by Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me place these considerations in a wider historical context. In his essay "Falls Europa erwacht" (If Europe awakes) the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk reflects on the future of a unifying Europe following the end of the Cold War. And after discussing the sequence of formation of empires on European territory from the historic point of view, he draws the conclusion that being European in a discriminating sense today means understanding the revision of the empire principle as the supreme task of both theory and practice.
I believe that there is much truth in this reflection and especially now that we have successfully overcome the after-effects of the last, probably most terrible attempt at forming a European empire, which tore our continent apart for decades, we must think of a new kind of European future - a future which does not primarily aim at expanding Europe in the traditional sense by extending its territory as far as possible, but one which shares its peace, its prosperity and its values with as many people as possible, including those beyond the immediate borders of the Union in the narrower sense. This has to be the goal of the future, and the road that takes us there must be paved with individual perspectives for cooperation and integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
So far we have mainly discussed issues that affect all of the Union’s Member States. However, the goal of regional partnerships is to specifically focus on questions which do not have to be dealt with at the general European level at all. Indeed, for the resolution of these issues it might also be conducive to involve the neighbouring states outside of the European Union.
In this context, I am thinking, for instance, of the Danube Cooperation Process, which involves Croatia, Serbia, Moldova and the Ukraine; or the CENCOOP, which is short for Central European Nations’ Cooperation in Peace Support and is a regional cooperation mechanism set up by Central European states for peace missions.
Something I am particularly pleased about is that together with our Slovenian friends we will be dispatching a contingent for the international military presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the command of which will soon be taken over by the EU. The special value of this cooperation lies in the fact that it is a regional one - EU Member States cooperate with states that do not form part of the European Union, and NATO members cooperate with states that do not belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Alongside the forum of foreign ministers, the ministers of the interior have also successfully developed the Security Partnership under the Regional Partnership concept. And it is a particular pleasure for me to stress, especially here in Lower Austria, the huge merits the Austrian Minister of the Interior, Ernst Strasser, has earned in this connection over the past few years. At the last meeting of the "Salzburg Forum", where the members of this security partnership meet every July, a comprehensive consultation and coordination mechanism on issues relating to justice and internal security was established – which I consider ground-breaking in two respects:
- Firstly, because this cooperation mechanism focuses on a policy area which is currently playing a particularly important role within the Union, just to mention the fight against terrorism, trafficking in human beings and drugs, and securing the EU’s external borders. That is why we have to undertake every effort aimed at harmonising the individual positions within the EU Council more closely on the one hand and striving for an enhanced practical cooperation at the regional level on the other.
- Secondly, the fact that this security partnership contributes to weaving the network of regional partners more closely is to be especially welcomed. Because regional cooperation should not be limited to the ministerial level alone, but has to be actively implemented at each and every level. And, as has been the case so far, we should continue to achieve this goal without defining any rigid frameworks or introducing additional bureaucratic structures.
Likewise, this kind of cooperation must not be limited to the current borders of the European Union but should reach out beyond them and involve accession candidates and other neighbours of the Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Regional partnerships will contribute substantially to developing the structure and the scope of the Union of the 21st century. And our Regional Partnership, in the context of which we have already achieved so much together, will assume a vital role in this context - in South East Europe and beyond.
The process of European integration has not yet been completed: Europe is still a work in progress. Let me assure you that we will continue to work with the utmost commitment in further advancing this project!