European Forum Wachau
Address delivered by the
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
Dr. Ursula Plassnik
Göttweig Abbey, 4 June 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many thanks for your invitation to speak to you here today, and before I start I would like to offer you my hearty congratulations: my congratulations on your 10th anniversary, my congratulations to Governor Erwin Pröll and Alois Mock, the founding fathers of this European Forum.
My sincere thanks go to you, Right Reverend Abbot, for allowing us to enjoy your hospitality here, in Göttweig, on so many occasions. And my thanks also to all the many invisible hands, minds, and helpers behind the scenes who have made it possible for us to conduct these debates here year after year, these European debates at a very high level.
Many thanks to you all! And many happy returns of the day!
The starting point for the European Forum, by the way, was the referendum; the Austrian referendum in which a two-thirds majority of the Austrian citizens gave their assent to this process of European integration.
I would also like to extend an especially warm welcome to the foreign ministers of two countries whose work, as well as their hopes and expectations, are very closely linked to Europe: Vuk Draskovic, Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro, and Abdullah Gül, Foreign Minister of Turkey. Once again, a very warm welcome to you both!
Especially in days like these, when so many people are questioning so many things in Europe, it is perhaps helpful, helpful for us too, to hear at first hand how other countries see the European path; how those who are currently on their way towards this European development outline and describe the course Europe is taking; how they experience Europe.
Vuk Draskovic, writer, politician, witness to a history that has been one of the most difficult on this continent, a history that has led from war to the striving for freedom and peace. He comes from a country that is right now experiencing the pain that accompanies the start of every reconciliation process. He also comes from a country that has a great European future ahead of it, a country that is undergoing an uncommonly remarkable development both in its economy and throughout its entire society.
The European idea also embraces the coexistence and fellowship, the mutual rapprochement, of different dimensions, different cultures. Abdullah Gül is one of those in Turkey who are resolutely forging ahead on the road towards Europe, who are tirelessly advocating the path of reform, the process of reform. We are very much looking forward to hearing your views on today's Europe.
It is of course difficult to define where we stand at this moment in time, and any normal review of the status quo is impossible. The French and Dutch "No" votes have sounded an alarm call that affects the whole of Europe. But along with a great many domestic motives and settlings of accounts, the results of these two referendums also express a feeling of unease which reflects the concerns and fears of many Europeans.
It goes without saying that democratic decisions must be respected. But respecting implies more than just taking note: we have to analyse the causes and implications of these decisions at the European level too, soberly and calmly, but with a willingness to fully understand the multi-faceted and multi-layered motives behind the votes.
We must not give way to the scapegoat seekers, the miracle healers and the know-alls, all of whom are naturally having a field day at the moment. Only if we take the trouble to find really precise answers will we be able to find the right way out of the situation we are facing today for all 25 Member States. For the time being, therefore, the golden rule is that over-hasty conclusions regarding the further fate of the European Constitutional Treaty must be avoided at all costs.
By resorting to technocratic quick-fixes we will only fuel European anger. What we need is a kind of new European internal focus. As committed Europeans, we of all people cannot afford to shirk this task! This internal focus requires energy, and it will also require time. At the same time, however, we have to ensure that this work does not divert us from our work with our neighbours, from our responsibilities in the wider world.
Turning now to the current situation regarding the Constitutional Treaty, first of all let me say a word or two about Austria. In Austria the elected representatives of the people voted in favour of this Constitutional Treaty for good reasons. And we remain convinced that this Treaty better equips the European Union for the challenges that lie ahead, by strengthening the Union's democratic and social orientation, by raising the Union's visibility on the world stage and by offering the citizens of Europe a perfectly clear and comprehensive catalogue of human rights.
Ten Member States have voted in favour of this Constitutional Treaty to date, and these positive results have to be taken seriously too; after all, they represent half of the EU population. 13 states have not yet expressed an opinion. One thing is clear: no Member State can decide this issue for the others. Austrians are Austrians, Frenchmen are Frenchmen, and Britons are Britons. The calls for an immediate stop to the ratification process therefore constitute an inadmissible pre-emption of the rights of other Member States. Even well-intentioned proposals, such as that of breaking down the Constitutional Treaty into its component parts and putting them into effect by means of a special procedure, as a kind of "diluted" constitution, as it were, completely fail to address reality.
Just seven months after the signing of the Constitutional Treaty we have the approval by the European Parliament, three national referendums and nine parliamentary approval procedures behind us. Ahead of us, according to the current state of affairs, we have seven referendums and six parliamentary approval procedures. International law stipulates that the Constitutional Treaty has to be approved by all 25 EU Member States and that all 25 have to decide on the basis of the same text. You can see what I am getting at. There is no easy solution here. Europe is facing a crucial test.
How we proceed from here must and can only be clarified jointly, by all twenty-five of us together. Our first opportunity to do this will come at the European Council summit in two weeks' time.
At this point, however, I would like to attempt a brief examination of the motives behind the "No" votes, without wanting to pre-empt our Dutch and French friends and the conclusions of their ongoing analyses. To me, several points already appear evident: among other things, those who voted against this Constitutional Treaty manifestly wanted to give vent to their feeling that a lot of things in the past few years have happened too fast - in the world at large, but in Europe as well. And if we look back at the last 15 years, the developments have indeed been impressive: we have had four large-scale institutional reforms - Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, and the current Constitutional Treaty - and the number of Member States has more than doubled; add to that on the global level the liberalisation of the textile trade ten years ago within the framework of the WTO, occasional discord in transatlantic relations, and the emergence of new trouble spots that in many cases are not all that far away from the European Union, not to mention a series of problems associated with the down-side of globalisation.
In an ever-shrinking world we are seeing increasing pressure of migration, dangers to the environment, and the threats posed by terrorism and organized crime.
We have achieved a lot and done a lot in this Europe, but we did it for good reasons. And it was necessary, it was an historic moment just waiting to be seized and utilised to the full. We did seize it, and if we review the outcome - which I would like to do in detail later on, particularly with regard to the Enlargement - then I would say that we have plenty of reason to be proud, despite all the legitimate self-criticism with regard to individual points. Yet when things change as much as they have in our immediate environment over the last 15 years, then people seek security, they seek security in familiar mechanisms, and in case of doubt, they tend to vote against an innovation rather than for it. The Swiss citizens among us, who are most familiar with direct democracy, could probably write a whole book about it. But people also judge the European integration process against stricter criteria the more they feel themselves endangered or threatened in their economic and social security.
This may be perfectly understandable, but it also gives cause for concern, because often, we don't analyse precisely enough, where the risks that worry us are actually coming from. And above all: What are the sensible, practical answers? Saying "no"? We can't stop the ever faster and more tightly meshed networking of the world by simply slamming on the brakes. We have to face the challenges head on.
Look at it this way: would we as Europeans be better off in trade disputes with China or the USA if we didn't have the weight of the EU behind us? And the fact that the EU is being challenged is not something we only found out about last Sunday: Europe must learn anew how to find a language, a language that directly addresses the individual citizen and his or her worries and fears. That is our common task. But we also have to remind people what we owe to Europe, what Europe stands for, because a lot of these things are simply taken for granted far too much these days.
Do we really want to go back to an era of border controls on the Walserberg or on the Italian border? Or to endless changing of schillings into deutschmarks and lire and vice versa? Do we really want to lose the export markets we have conquered?
We have to learn anew how to communicate hard-fought for joint successes. We have to explain that globalisation goes hand in hand with opportunities and risks, but that we can best exploit the opportunities and protect ourselves against the risks by acting collectively, by collectively defining the limits to the "debordering" process, by promoting growth and employment, by investing in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
A year ago the European Union transformed the rift imposed by the Iron Curtain into an internal border like any other in Europe. And in doing so it drew a line under one of the saddest chapters in the history of this continent.
Today is therefore a good opportunity to review this first year of the reunited Europe. And the picture is a positive one:
The economic statistics paint a success story for all states involved. The Enlargement has torn down the barriers and brought a growth bonus for both the old Member States and the new ones. It has not only triggered a surge in trade in both directions, but also boosted investment activity and enhanced joint added value.
The growth rates in the new Member States speak for themselves. And this growth, this catching-up process, is also having an impact beyond the borders of the new Member States: in regions that were stuck in a dead end for decades – and Austria had quite a few of them – bridges are now being built on both sides of the old borders between people, companies, towns and local authorities.
A new cross-border momentum is emerging in many different areas: in environmental policy, in cultural life, in education, in transport policy. And Lower Austria is one of the best and most successful examples of this very trend.
For we in Austria, with our 1300 km border to the new Member States, experienced the whole process from a far closer vantage point than a good many others, and perhaps for this very reason we realised how to seize the new opportunities at an early stage. Our businesses are reviving long-buried economic ties, but the tourism statistics also bear witness to the keen interest with which people are participating in the restoration of the greater Europe in their private lives as well.
So the Enlargement was and remains far more than just a zero-sum game, far more than a mere redistribution exercise. It is a mutual enrichment, a growth engine for the entire European economy, and above all a jointly acquired dividend of peace and prosperity.
Not all the fears have been eliminated, of course: anxieties about migration and commuter flows, organized crime again, or the dismantling of traditional social policy standards still persist.
But Europe has answers to these fears, it has found answers – with transitional agreements, with labour market controls, with improved police cooperation, of which there is a very recent example: "Schengen III", in which a series of countries have joined together to pioneer the exchange of data in police matters. Our Minister of the Interior Liese Prokop has made sure that Austria is involved. In this context we are deriving direct benefit from a security dividend that can be statistically proven, showing that the investments in this area are more than justified. Compared to last year the number of criminal offences in Austria has gone down by 8,400, crime in general has declined by 4 %, and there has been a simultaneous 29 % decrease in applications for asylum. Here too we have shifted into the heart of Europe, and here too we have been able to achieve improvements by entirely practical means.
As a matter of fact, the central issue at stake now is the safeguarding at European level of the achievements of the European nation-state, namely the European way of life, which – like no other – is based on a system of social security, on justice and solidarity, on sustainability and respect for diversity. The Enlargement process is the best proof of our own ability to adapt repeatedly to new framework conditions. But it is important that this process of adaptation proceeds carefully, conscientiously, step by step. At the end of the day, the European integration process can only be successful if it fosters the growth of a feeling of oneness. And this requires us to have confidence in one another; it requires Europe to have confidence in itself, for all of us have good reason to be proud of Europe.
The reconstruction of Europe is not yet complete, Ladies and Gentlemen! Five years ago the European Union granted an accession perspective to all the countries of the Western Balkans, and in doing so it also formulated the prerequisites that must be fulfilled by all candidate states, the points on which no concessions will be made: respect for all the Copenhagen criteria, willingness to implement the Stabilisation and Association Agreements, and willingness to cooperate with the other states in the region.
Today, five years later, an interim appraisal shows that overcoming the consequences of war and crises has proved to be an extremely laborious process, that the path to rapprochement with the European Union is sometimes a stony one, and that the speed of progress varies enormously among the individual countries; but that the chances of the individual states of the Western Balkans are still intact. Precisely in the coming months we expect to see a new impetus for further steps towards realising this goal. We will work on a solution for the Kosovo issue. This very week the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed the personal envoy who will now review the implementation of the Standards for Kosovo on his behalf, thus initiating a process that is certain to preoccupy us intensively during the Austrian EU Presidency too.
Our aim is to utilise and – where possible – intensify whatever positive momentum is generated in the region during our Presidency of the Council next year. In this context it is clear that the quality of the process must take precedence over its speed: we will not be over-hasty, we will not take any short-cuts and we will grant no concessions. But at the same time we also want to make an unwavering contribution to ensuring that the European perspective of the Western Balkans takes on concrete forms, piece by piece.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure that my Turkish counterpart is also here among us today. Whatever the concrete aspect of the new chapter we are about to open in our relations with Turkey: I am convinced that Austria will be among those EU states whose bilateral relations with Turkey will be particularly close.
There are many factors that favour such a development: our geographical proximity, the great importance of the Turkish community in Austria and our closely knit social and economic relations and political contacts, as well as a large number of shared historical experiences.
Turkey also plays a particularly important role in the relationship with the European Union's closer and more distant neighbours. She is a major stabilisation factor in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, indeed in the entire Middle East.
The start of the access negotiations with Turkey is no longer far away. The date set by the European Council is 3 October. By then we will have to agree on a general negotiating framework within the European Union.
It is a well-known fact that Austria was a very strong advocate of keeping the objective of the negotiations open-ended.
It is imperative that the negotiation process be worked through in a professional and conscientious manner, step by step, chapter by chapter. Besides the candidate's fulfilment of the accession criteria, another condition affirmed by the European Council is, of course, the Union's capacity to absorb new members. I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the remarkable reform process that has taken place in Turkey over the last few years. Abdullah Gül and I had the occasion to comment on this at a press conference yesterday, but here today I would like to convey our recognition of Turkey's achievements in this respect to him personally; these reforms are far-reaching, these reforms will be lasting ones, and we will lend you our support throughout this process, even though we are well aware that the negotiations with the European Union will take some time, and that they will perhaps not always be very easy.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
In concluding my address, I would like to draw your attention to a remark that has affected me very deeply over these last few days; a remark that has affected me very deeply because it was made by someone who is truly recognized as one of the great Europeans, one of the great European politicians and experts on Europe, namely Jean-Claude Juncker. What Jean-Claude Juncker said was: L’Europe ne nous fait plus rêver. Europe is no longer the stuff of our dreams.
I must honestly say that I agree with him on a lot of things, but on this point I do not. I am not prepared to adopt this undertone of resignation, even though it stems from the current crisis; certainly not for me and perhaps not for us either. I am convinced that the European dream, our work on the European dream, this laborious, realistically-minded, down-to-earth work with our feet firmly planted on the ground, has lost none of its power and none of its fascination.
We will face up to this task. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it."