Address by Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Dr. Michael Spindelegger to the Foreign Policy and United Nations Association of Austria,
Austrian Foreign Policy: Taking stock in times of change – a positioning analysis
Check against Delivery
Mr. President, dear Fritz,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Constant and ongoing change is a fact of life. Yet change does, however, create a feeling of insecurity and the urge to retreat into our shells.
Under such circumstances the wish to blank out change, to withdraw into our own small, ideal world where we believe we can manage everything perfectly well by ourselves might well look tempting. And although understandable at first glance, such an attitude will in fact lead us nowhere.
Today’s predominant topic, the so-called “euro crisis” leads some to even call for leaving or forcing others to leave the eurozone. Not only are such calls misleading - but they are dangerous too!
It is absolutely erroneous to believe that the debt crisis would come to a sudden end if only Greece – and probably some other euro countries too – were simply to leave the common currency and if we, Austrians, in turn were to seek salvation by returning to the Schilling or were even to introduce a “Northern euro”.
If the past few months have taught us one lesson then it is how intrinsically close we are linked with each other, how much we depend on each other: in today’s Europe, Irish worries are Slovak worries, Greek concerns are Austrian concerns, Spanish issues are Dutch issues. More than ever before has it become clear that our responsibility does not end at our national borders.
Just as we demand from our Greek and Italian friends that they present credible plans for reform and consistently implement them, we Austrians have to do our homework too. And a key exercise in this context is to undertake every effort towards getting our budget policy back into order. Especially against the background of the current domestic policy debate, I want to make one thing very clear: There is no option but to enshrine a debt brake into our federal constitution. In fact, adebt brake is no mere placebo but a requirement under constitutional law both the current and all future governments will have to observe. One thing must, however, be clear: a debt brake is no substitute for necessary structural reform -in the health care sector for instance, or with respect to early retirement regulations and cost drivers like the Austrian Federal Railways. But it will, however, give us some room for investing in our country’s future. What is more, such a move will provide the opposition with the opportunity to prove that it is able to assume responsibility for the state as a whole and to show that it does not only think along party lines.
We don’t have the magic wand that enables us to instantly conjure away the crisis that is currently holding the European Union in its grip. Riding out this storm requires perseverance and constant and sustainable efforts. And it requires a long-term strategy for a common – strengthened – Europe. I outlined my ideas on how this is to be achieved in the address I delivered at the London School of Economics the week before last. What we need in Europe is nothing short of a change of course. We need more Europe in business policy – not less. And – if necessary – by an amendment to the Treaty that also includes the transfer of certain sovereign and fiscal rights to the European level and that is centred on the European Commission as the leading body.
Let me make this very clear: This “more of Europe” is definitely not a one-way road to Brussels. Europe works best when all levels contribute to it and put it into practice. This is why we also have to examine which regulatory content is better located at the national level. The idea is thus to set the overall directional targets at the European level and leave the detailed implementation to the Member States at national level: national parliaments contribute to this by playing an instrumental role in promoting this common European mindset and approach. We must all contribute to making the European Union more tangible again, ensuring that everybody can contribute to it and again experience the spirit of Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Although the euro crisis is currently the key concern dominating the headlines, I would like to deliberately look beyond the borders of Europe today. Because the world continues to turn – regardless of whether there is a euro crisis or not. In other parts of our world – in the Arab region for instance – developments are taking place at a pace that is faster than we had all expected.
Being paralysed in a state of shock and engaging in navel-gazing will definitely not be conducive to or enable us to make progress. This holds true for both economic and European policy as well as for foreign policy. We have to adapt to the changing environment and live up to the new challenges, looking beyond our European borders and focusing on the bigger picture. The world is changing very quickly, especially outside of Europe. We must not be outpaced by these developments, we have to get involved and actively contribute to shaping this world.
Acting as an individual state we will, however, be less successful in that endeavour. Experience has shown that by joining forces with our partners in the EU we can be more successful and achieve much more. Taken alone we are not really a significant player in the global context. But as part of a group, acting in unison with the other Member States, our position will not only be recognised but we will also be able to make our voice heard when representing common interests on the international stage. What will help us to overcome the economic crisis also holds true for foreign policy: we need more Europe – not less. Expectations of the EU are high – not only from EU citizens but also on the part of the international community. A joint European response is required, on the Middle East for instance, in connection with the recognition of Palestine, or the issue of Iran, to name but two examples.
To this end, we must increasingly speak with one voice. The only result achieved by 27 Member States defending 27 different views is a European cacophony – with nobody listening or even taking us seriously in the international context.
Today, not a single, not even the largest EU Member State is able to effectively represent its interests in an increasingly globalising world by going it alone. The global environment has changed much too dramatically to make single-handed approaches a success. The gravity centres of power and growth are increasingly shifting away from the Western world. While we struggle with a financial, economic and debt crisis, emerging countries, like the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) are doing well and developing at an enviable pace. These countries’ economic and geostrategic importance is constantly increasing – hand in hand with their willingness and determination to contribute to shaping international politics.
In the light of these developments, Europe has to reposition itself and its policies – and to bundle its strengths. The Union has responded to this call by starting to build up a special dialogue with these new strategic partners, alongside its long-standing dialogue with our Trans-Atlantic friends. This is an approach it needs to pursue with increasing vigour. If the Union wants to bring its weight to bear on the international stage it has to adopt concerted and coherent approaches. Only when speaking and acting as one will we be recognised as a serious partner by these increasingly self-confident international players.
The Treaty of Lisbon provides for building-up the EU’s own European External Action Service, which is actively supported by Austria.
Many may ask themselves what role Austrian foreign policy is to play in future. Some might even challenge whether we will in the long term actually need our Foreign Ministry and our representations abroad.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the only answer to such questions is: yes, we clearly need Austrian foreign policy and its representations. Nobody could take that away from us - who else would represent our specific national interests – both now and in the future? This ranges from safeguarding Austria’s position in the world and Vienna’s role as the seat and headquarters of international organisations, to our neighbourhood policy and international cultural policy, from defending our economic interests to protecting Austrian citizens abroad. The EEAS has not been designed to fulfil this mission. It is neither equipped with the relevant competences nor does it have the necessary resources to perform such tasks – which are part of the national foreign services’ daily work.
The EEAS is rather entrusted with representing the Member States’ collective view. This is why it is so important for Austria to contribute pro-actively to shaping this collective view by getting involved in the decision-making processes in Brussels. We will, however, only be in a position to form our opinion if we have the necessary information available. One of the most important sources of independent information, particularly from the Austrian point of view, is our own network of representations – designed to focus precisely on these very specific Austrian interests. Only by making competent, well-informed contributions will we be able to ensure that our voice is being heard in the Union’s decision-making processes. And I can assure you of one thing: the voice of Austria is being heard, particularly with respect to the Balkans, the strategy for the Danube region, or issues concerning the Arab world. These are precisely those areas on which we pursue a determined, proactive and clear foreign policy - where we have succeeded in establishing a foreign policy profile that is recognised by our partners and which we continue to develop.
This includes especially our neighbouring region: South East Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the light of our close political, economic, historical, cultural and first and foremost inter-personal links, Austria’s active commitment in the Western Balkans is a core element of our foreign policy. Bringing the countries of the region closer to the EU is the most important instrument in this context. When we speak about extending EU membership to the entire region this is no mere lip service, but the logical continuation of our own interest-driven policy. Accordingly, Austria has always been and remains a constant and consistent supporter and advocate of this region both in its bilateral contacts and within the EU.
Within the next few days, Croatia will sign its EU accession treaty at the forthcoming European Council in Brussels. This is a step Austria has encouraged and promoted for many years now – starting with Alois Mock, who supported the recognition of Croatia’s independence, to Wolfgang Schüssel and Ursula Plassnik, and one which I therefore particularly welcome too.
Croatia’s signing of the treaty at the same time serves to underline that EU accession is a very tangible reality for the countries in the Western Balkans. The Croatian example shows that sustainable reform and socio-political transformation on the one hand and maintaining the perspective of EU accession on the other will eventually produce a very concrete result, i.e. becoming a member of the EU family.
Decisions are due to be made on many other important topics at this upcoming European Council meeting in December. In the lead-up to this summit Austria has made its position very clear: we believe that Serbia should be granted candidate status and that the EU should start accession negotiations with Montenegro. Montenegro is to be rewarded for the efforts it has undertaken. The Union must recognise honest efforts. In my view, it is only counterproductive to present the country with yet another hurdle at the very last moment. The EU too has a duty to keep to its part of the agreement!
I was in Belgrade in October to demonstrate Austria’s support for granting EU candidate status to Serbia. I also made it very clear that I expect Serbia to make tangible progress in the dialogue with Pristina. Good neighbourly relations are in fact the core element upon which the concept of European integration is founded. A frozen conflict on European territory is simply inacceptable. Belgrade and Pristina must clearly understand that the European Union will definitely not import an unresolved source of conflict. At the same time I therefore fully support offering Kosovo a European perspective. From our point of view it is thus not contradictory to continue to support the cause of both Serbia and Kosovo at the political level – quite on the contrary in fact.
Let me add some words on Macedonia. On three occasions, the EU Commission has already recommended starting accession negotiations with Macedonia and every time the decision was blocked because of a 20-year old dispute with the country’s neighbour over its official state name. This situation is absolutely irrational and damages the credibility of Europe’s entire policy on the Balkans. The EU is called upon to finally let its word be followed by deeds and start negotiations, based on the understanding that the name issue is to be solved by their completion.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The EU peace project will not be completed until it has extended to include South East Europe as a whole. I am convinced that the example of Croatia will serve as a stimulus for the entire region. Once Croatia has joined, Bosnia and Herzegovina – where progress has, however, come to a standstill recently – will, for instance, directly border on the EU, making the EU “within its reach” so to speak. I am convinced that this will create an incentive to finally muster up and focus their energies on continuing with reform efforts in order to be able to have a share in the benefits – as the successful example of visa liberalisation has gone to show. With the willingness to cooperate, to make compromises and substantial support from the EU the other countries in the region will hopefully follow Croatia’s example soon – both to their and to our advantage. In fact, we all stand to benefit from the positive effect of guaranteed peace, stability and development in the Balkans. It is thus in our immediate interest that this engine for reforms, the perspective of EU accession, does not come to a halt.
With our commitment in the Balkans we have underlined our willingness to support and promote the development potential in East and South East Europe. Austria’s expert knowledge on this region is highly appreciated by our partners within and outside of the EU. Based on the conviction that with our know-how and our experience we can make a contribution in the Danube area region, Austria together with Romania launched an initiative for greater cooperation and coordination in this region at the European level in 2009. Meanwhile, the Strategy for the Danube Region has developed into a common European core project that opens up new opportunities for the partner countries through the bundling of interests and joint cross-border planning of investments and projects.
We consider the foreign policy focus on the Black Sea region and the Caucasus a logical continuation of our Initiative for the Danube Region. This region at the intersection between Europe and Asia is increasingly gaining in political and economic weight. From a strategic point of view this region is also essential for sustainable stability in Europe. Against this background – and in spite of the austerity course we have been steering in the Foreign Ministry – I set up an Austrian embassy in Baku last year, following the opening of our embassy in Kazakhstan in 2007. In July, Vienna hosted the WEF Regional Forum on Central Asia that met with huge interest.
This foreign policy focus on the wider Black sea region also opens up important opportunities for Austrian companies, not least in the strategic energy sector that is so decisive for our future competitiveness.
The intensification of the EU’s relation to our Eastern neighbours is of particular concern to Austria. The recent Eastern Partnership summit held in Warsaw at the end of September sent out a strong signal underlining the willingness to further strengthen our mutual relations. But for Austria it is clear that democracy and the rule of law are the values the Eastern Partnership is based on and that the degree of progress achieved is contingent on the respect and observation of these joint values.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Another very important partner for Austria in the region is Turkey. In the public perception and also in terms of media coverage, the relations between the EU and thus Austria and Turkey are frequently reduced to the issue of accession negotiations with the EU – which is a mistake in my view. Turkey is independently of these accession negotiations and their (open-ended) outcome a very important partner for us and for Europe.
This holds true both at an economic level, on which Turkey is already strongly involved in the European structures as a result of the customs union and the increasing investment flows, as well as in the field of energy security in whichTurkey is a key country for us and an indispensible partner for the success of the Nabucco pipeline project. At foreign policy level too there are a number of points of contact that advocate close cooperation with Turkey.
Austria, the EU and Turkey, for instance, have a strong common interest not only in stability and prosperity in the Balkans, but also in the developments in the Middle East and the Southern Partnership of the Mediterranean – both regions of decisive importance for safety and security in Europe. The Middle East in particular has again shifted into the focus of public attention over the last few days. Austria has traditionally been an appreciated dialogue partner in this region, a fact that was again highlighted during my trip to Iraq last week. With respect to the Middle East Austria has repeatedly shown that we are definitely not merely an on-looker on the international political stage but rather contribute pro-actively to discussions in line with our convictions. For instance, when the vote was taken on the Palestinian National Authority’s application for UNESCO membership, Austria took a clear position and voted in favour.
Please let me take this opportunity just to point something out here: it is indeed surprising – we are occasionally faced with complaints that Austrian foreign policy lacks in profile, that we are only too pleased to hide among the group of EU Member States. But whenever Austria does in fact adopt a clear position, the same critics seem startled and complain about this determined move. So, what do they actually want? Because one thing is clear: the Austrian position on the Palestinian National Authority’s application for UNESCO membership could not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the matter. The two-state solution is the declared goal of the Middle East peace process. But how is this solution to work when one of the two parties is even denied partial legal capacity with regard to education and cultural matters?
This vote on UNESCO membership does certainly not figure among the highlights of European foreign policy. In spite of longstanding efforts, the EU Member States were not able to agree on a common EU line of approach. It is therefore all the more important that the EU Member States again act in unison and back up the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton as our representative in the Middle East Quartet. With this in mindI hope that the UNESCO vote is also considered a wake-up call in the context of the stalled peace process. At the end of November, the Middle East Quartet presented a roadmap for the return to the negotiation table which provides for the completion of an agreement by the end of next year. In cooperation with the other Quartet partners, the EU High Representative Lady Ashton works untiringly at sounding out opportunities for making progress in these negotiations.
Both sides, Israelis and Palestinians bear responsibility for ensuring a peaceful future for their respective young generations. We call upon both sides’ leadership to finally relegate short-term political reflections, giving precedence to arriving at a permanent and sustainable peaceful solution.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the most significant global political developments of recent years has grabbed our attention over these last few months and days: the dramatic upheavals and transformation processes taking place in the countries of the Arab world. As illustrated by recent demonstrations in Cairo, the process of change triggered by the Arab spring is not yet over. Its impact will remain a focus of our attention for a long time to come and its potential geo-strategic impact is yet to be determined.
The success of a process of political and economic transformation in this region is of key importance for Europe. If Tunisia and Egypt succeed in their transition to democracy and rule of law principles, this could serve as an example for the entire region. Following the end of the Gaddafi regime, Libya too must engage in an inclusive political process aimed at comprehensive reconciliation of all groups of society – a call I also made during my recent trip to Tripoli. In Syria, however, it is necessary to further increase pressure on the Assad regime in order to achieve the handing-over of power and the initiation of a democratic transition process.
The imminent transition process in North Africa is not only an enormous challenge for the countries concerned – but at the same time a responsibility we all share. It is about peace, stability, democracy and the observation of human rights in our southern neighbourhood. The EU’s capacity to intervene and shape as a foreign and security policy player will also be measured by the degree to which we succeed in supporting the transformation process in coordination with other players like the United Nations and the OSCE, and in assuming an active role.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world around us is not an area of peace, freedom and justice. Trouble spots and likely threats of a most diverse nature call for security policy responses and the deployment of civilian and military missions.This enables us to safeguard our own security in advance. Only by making a pro-active contribution to the Common Security and Defence Policy, in particular to missions in our neighbourhood like the Balkans, the Caucasus or in the Middle East, will this actually have a tangible impact.
A head-in-the-sand policy and a free-rider mentality along the lines of a “this is no concern of ours” principle would be short-sighted and naive and would be diametrically opposed to Austrian interests.
Austria will therefore remain active in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo, on the Golan and in Lebanon as well as in Georgia as long as necessary. We must not reduce our efforts and – in spite of the current cost-cutting requirements – we must continue to motivate the competent posting ministries to remain pro-actively committed. Not least to the benefit of Austrians too.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Austria has traditionally been a country that thinks and acts predominantly in the multilateral context –an approach thatmay well be founded in our historical experience or our country’s geostrategic position. Austria considers multi-lateral action a decisive element of international peace, in which particularly smaller countries like Austria are called upon to contribute their experience and convictions.
This attitude is inter alia reflected in the fact that Austria regularly stands as a candidate for seats on multi-lateral bodies. The fact that Austria’s relevant candidacies are regularly successful too is also a reflection of the standing enjoyed by our country and the trust the international community places in us. This does not only hold true for the UN Security Council, of which we were a member for the 2009 to 2010 period and to which we were elected in the very first round, but also for the UNESCO Executive Board, for instance, to which we were elected only recently winning the highest number of votes ever. Austria’s election to the Human Rights Council in May 2011 winning 177 of 181 votes in the UN Assembly General was a clear show of the appreciation Austria enjoys within the United Nations for its consistent support for human rights and its readiness to cooperate and engage in dialogue.
The world-wide enforcement and protection of human rights are core concerns of Austria’s foreign policy. The UN Human Rights Council plays a much more central role than many might assume – as illustrated in connection with Libya and Syria, for instance: in both cases the Council quickly adopted an unambiguous position and set up commissions of inquiry mandated with investigating human rights violations and preparing concrete proposals to analyse and address them.
Over the next three years, until the end of 2012, we want to use our membership in order to take concrete steps towards improving the human rights situation worldwide. We will undertake every effort to ensure that human rights issues are addressed whenever necessary and not only when it is easy to do so. A strong and effective Human Rights Council must clearly condemn human rights violations, stand up for and defend victims and contribute to ensuring that those responsible be called to account.
We are also determined to make concrete progress on some other priority issues. These include the protection of religious freedom and of religious minorities, the promotion of the freedom of the press and the protection of journalists as well as the promotion of children’s rights and protecting children against violence and exploitation.
Particularly the protection against religious intolerance and violence against religious minorities – not least directed against Christians andin fact, 70 per cent of people who are persecuted worldwide because of their religious beliefs are Christians – is a matter that is particularly important to me personally and which I openly address during my trips abroad. I did so, only last week, for instance, in Iraq. In our relevant efforts we are able to build on our long-standing experience in intercultural and interfaith dialogue and the contacts already established. The establishment of the Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna and our hosting of the 2013 Alliance of Civilisations summit in Vienna are just two hallmarks of the consistent manner in which we continue this tradition.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We also used our UN Security Council membership - that ended just one year ago - in order to set some thematic highlights with respect to international humanitarian law, the rule of law and the protection of civilians in armed conflict. On top of that we were able to strengthen Austria’s position as a “hub for peace”, as reflected in the talks held in Dürnstein on the Western Sahara conflict, the Afghanistan implementation colloquium in Baden and the Sudan talks held in Vienna and Baden, for instance.
Austria has every right to be proud of being the seat and headquarters of numerous multilateral institutions: beside the OSCE, the OPEC and other agencies, we host first and foremost the United Nations, the IAEA and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, to name but a few. In the last 2 years we have succeeded in further strengthening and upgrading Vienna’s role as the seat and headquarters of international organisations. The International Anti Corruption Academy IACA, the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, the office set up by the International Peace Institute, the liaison office set up by the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs and the Centre for Dialogue established only recently are some of the most important examples in this respect.
The thematic focus of our relevant activities is a broad-based and very comprehensive concept of security. The Vienna-based organisations have contributed to developing the Austrian capital into an international “security hub” whose focus ranges from nuclear safety to the indispensible dialogue among cultures and religions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the topics that will continue to gain in importance and therefore requires increasing attention is disarmament and the non-proliferation of arms and weapons. This is at the same time one of the areas in which Austria has succeeded in building-up a strong profile over the last few years.
Progress made in the fields of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is not only of overriding importance for international peace and security but also the basis for any sustainable development. We therefore undertake every effort to ensure that the multilateral disarmament fora work effectively and produce tangible results.
This relates, for instance to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose first preparatory conference will be held in Vienna in May 2012. It is now time to implement the NPT 2010 Action Plan to which Austria made an instrumental contribution: especially with a view to the developments in Iran and North Korea. This also holds true for the entering into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), whose organisation is also based in Vienna. It is also about revitalising the Geneva Disarmament Conference which we energetically support.
Let me take this opportunity to be very clear about Iran. The situation is becoming increasingly serious. The latest news on the Iranian nuclear programme is alarming. It is essential that international pressure on Iran be kept up. Iran is urgently called upon to undertake every effort towards regaining international trust. The mere fact that the option of a military strike has again become a topic of public discussion should set alarm bells ringing.
Another important concern is the strengthening and further development of international humanitarian law, which is directly related to our priority of protecting civilians in armed conflict. Here too, Austria is one of the most active states. Over the last 15 years, Austria has contributed pro-actively to fighting anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions in which context the Ottawa and Oslo conventions have enabled substantial progress. Both conventions were co-shaped by Austria and resulted in the international ban on these most inhuman arms systems. Both are, however, subject to repeated attack. Only recently, for instance, have a number of states tried to undermine the strict ban against cluster munitions through parallel multilateral negotiations. Together with like-minded states like Norway and Mexico, for instance, Austria remains resolutely opposed to such backward steps.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Concluding, I would like to come back to the beginning of my address: everything changes, everything is in motion. Globalisation progresses steadily, the global village is getting increasingly smaller. Against the background of these developments, Austria must refrain from isolating itself or battening down the hatches. In fact it must adopt the opposite approach: Austria must become active at all levels in order to safeguard and further increase our standard of living and our internal security through our international commitment.
In order to be able to successfully tackle these constantly changing, ever new challenges and to find answers to the latest questions we need our friends and partners – in Austria, in the EU and, generally, in the international community.
Ensuring that all this is guaranteed – thus ensuring Austria is well prepared to successfully manage the future – is the task of Austrian foreign policy and my responsibility.
Thank you very much for your attention.