Address by FM Ursula Plassnik on the occasion of the Europakongress
Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik
on the occasion of the
Vienna, 25 February 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you here today;
- Mr. President of the Commission,
- our dear European friends, especially our "co-combatants" from EFTA days from Sweden and Finland, and
- particularly all those who have contributed to writing a chapter of European history or, by their work, are doing so right now!
I would like to bid a particularly warm welcome today to all those who thanks to their personal farsightedness, their courage and their perseverance made this latest anniversary in Austrian history at all possible in the first place: the founding fathers and architects of Austria’s EU membership.
As a pre-eminent figure among these august personalities I would like to welcome the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose personal commitment to promoting the accession of our three countries will always be remembered in Austria. Our thanks go to you - together with the message that your efforts have been truly worthwhile!
But it has also been worth the Austrians’ while; their remarkably high vote in favour of membership - 66.6% after all - was obviously an indication that they were aware of the opportunities which have been opened up for our country thanks to the project of European integration.
Austria has gained a lot in the last ten years - Europe has gained a lot in the last ten years. The decision in favour of membership was correct and it was taken at the right point in time.
All economic indicators clearly demonstrate that EU membership has been good for Austria. It has led to an increase in growth and wealth, has resulted in more jobs and greater purchasing power, more choices for consumers and more foreign direct investments. Austria has become more modern, more open and more competitive. Since 1995 Austria has co-determined the face of the European Union, both from the inside and towards the outside world. We have contributed to shaping Europe as partners on an equal footing:
- by the introduction of the common currency,
- by the enlargement of the Union to incorporate our neighbours, and
- by the drafting of the first common constitution.
In our everyday lives the new Europe we live in becomes most clearly perceptible in the obstacles which have been removed and in all the things which no longer exist - or only in very exceptional cases: passport controls, customs formalities, trade barriers, the need to change money, milk lakes and butter mountains - all these are now a thing of the past.
However, a sober stock-taking process also requires us to keep a sharp eye on what has not been achieved, on the frustrations and also on those in Austria and in Europe who feel that they have lost out. In the EU the weather is not always fair and the sun does not always shine for everybody. Over the last ten years we have had to change and adapt, we have had to give up much we had been used to and accept many new things - such as the burden represented by transit traffic or the lack of progress in the field of nuclear safety standards, the mistrust towards European bureaucracies and decision-making processes that lack transparency, or quite generally the feeling of powerlessness - our pleasure at being part of the Union is intermixed with a considerable amount of euroscepticism.
There is no magic cure-all for this. Every single day Europe needs to be explained, substantiated and struggled for anew.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Economic performance and snapshots of the prevailing mood are important, but even more essential is the practical work on the peace project of European integration. Today we are privileged to live in a re-united Europe and may entertain the hope that the violent conflicts in the Western Balkans - the last ones only five years ago - were really the last ever on European soil.
To the countries of the Western Balkans which have been tried by war and destruction we will be partners on their road towards European integration. And we can assist in contributing to democratic reforms and economic development in the countries neighbouring Europe - both in the East and in the Mediterranean area.
This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what the European peace project means in very concrete terms.
But it is also necessary to bundle our forces for the Europe of tomorrow. If we have succeeded today in bringing together concentrated contemporary history in this hall, then we did so with the not wholly unselfish intention of drawing on your experiences in overcoming obstacles and your critical assessment of what has and has not been achieved to gain new impetus for tackling the challenges that lie ahead of us.
It looks as if there is an ever increasing number of problems for which an ever decreasing number of solutions is available at the regional and local levels: terrorism, the dark sides of globalisation and migration, poverty and lawlessness, threats to the environment and our direct interconnection with the various sources of insecurity in the world - to mention but a few.
But also with respect to the struggle against unemployment and for adequate adjustments to the social contract, with a view to ensuring that different cultures live side by side in harmony and to fulfilling the promise of equal rights for men and women - here too we require new approaches, a new mindset and more courage.
No longer are today’s problems ever exclusively those of the "others" - we all share them in this world of common opportunities but also of common burdens.
Europe has to assume its very specific responsibility in the world - as a pioneer of democracy, human rights and solidarity, as a champion of the principles of the rule of law, of the relevant institutions and procedures in international relations. No other institution has more expertise in peacefully transforming societies than the European Union. Nobody can offer more wealth and stability to its partners.
What has made Europe so unique over the last fifty years is the way in which the Union has shaped her cross-border relations. The EU is not only a magnet but a gravitational field that can exert a decisive influence on entire political landscapes. Europe’s focus is now directed towards building bridges, connecting, uniting and reconciling. "Making the just strong and the strong just", as Blaise Pascal put it more than 300 years ago.
Some talk about the House of Europe - as if this term could come anywhere near to reflecting the diversity of today’s Union of 470 million inhabitants speaking 300 different languages and dialects.
Some - either rather pejoratively or from a positive technocratic point of view - talk about the EU as a huge construction site on which some buildings are still shells, some are waiting for the interior designer, and still others already seem to require renovation. Perhaps the Europe of today can best be described as a vibrant city which attracts many (seven further candidates are already waiting) but nevertheless leaves some citizens homeless and estranged. A hub for the exchange of tradable goods, a laboratory filled with ideas and researchers, a place many long to move to - but also fertile ground for some of the darker sides of society (crime, intolerance, inequality). This continent does exactly what is literally meant by the Latin term, namely "holding together", and it holds together many deep-seated and intensive longings:
- for peace,
- for freedom and the rule of law,
- to safeguard a specifically European social model,
- for the opportunity of living in colourful diversity in an area without borders,
- for solidarity and living together in partnership and,
- last but not least, the longing for "good neighbourhood", namely respect for one another and the shared commitment to one another.
Let me conclude by quoting somebody who looks at Europe from the outside - Jeremy Rifkin, who said:
"The Europeans now have a new dream, a dream more comprehensive than the old one: quality of life, mutual respect among cultures, a sustainable relationship with nature and peace with their fellow men."
Perhaps another good way of finding Europe is to talk about its many facets, telling "stories of Europe" - and this is exactly what we intend to do today.