Speech by Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Spindelegger European Conference of the Upper House of the Austrian Parliament in Graz on Wednesday, 9 May, 2012
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“Bringing Europe closer to the people”
President of the Upper House, Mr. Hammerl,
President of the Styrian Parliament, Mr. Wegscheider,
(more personal addresses)
Ladies and Gentlemen:
· With Croatia, we are welcoming close friends and neighbours into the European family. Austria has always offered active support to Croatia, from the time when it became an independent nation, throughout the difficult years of war down to the conclusion of the EU negotiations. Our citizens are closely connected through a multitude of ties.
· We were also able to assist Croatia through administrative partnerships – so-called twinning projects – in building up its administrative structures. Through cooperation initiatives such as these, we will continue to be close partners in the EU bodies in future. My colleague Vesna Pusic already attends the monthly meetings of Foreign Ministers on a regular basis.
· Austria has no intention of stopping its support of Croatia with the country’s accession to the EU – on the contrary, we would like to continue this excellent cooperation. I am convinced that Croatia will share its expertise and experience with its neighbours in the region to also foster their integration.
Ladies and gentlemen,
· As important as the efforts that are being made on the part of the EU at the moment to solve the present financial and economic crisis are, it is equally important to bring these efforts closer to the citizens and to take into account their worries and anxieties. It is absolutely necessary to strengthenconfidence in the EU’s ability and in the abilities of the member states. Confidence in the fact that we are able to master challenges, to consolidate our budgets and to create new growth incentives for secure jobs.
· The question as to how we should bring Europe closer to the citizens is one of the fundamental questions of the future. I have invited a group of Foreign Ministers to Vienna next week to talk about precisely this subject. The meeting is a continuation of the exchange of thoughts and opinions on the future of the European Union that was initiated by Germany’s Foreign Minister Westerwelle. An increased emphasis on integration, an improved ability to react fast, more rigorous structures and clearer democratic legitimisation are some of the central themes. We want to come up with concrete proposals that we will put up for discussion in the near future.
· The preservation of the principle of democracy is a precious good and the basis of any political legitimisation. The creation of a “People’s Europe” must therefore be our prime concern. The Austrian federal government thus supports all measures that enable our citizens to participate more directly in European decision-making processes.
· Everybody is able to get involved in European issues by using their vote in the European parliamentary elections, the new European Citizens’ Initiative, in citizens’ forums or through social networks. And what we see is quite clear: there is a readiness to participate in political life, for instance to bring the public’s attention to topics such as the protection of fundamental and civil rights or shared concerns relating to consumer protection and public health. This is an important and encouraging development – however, there is plenty of room for improvement.
· Each and every one of us benefits from the EU in highly different ways. However, we are often not even aware of this. We must remember what Europe means for us and for the individual citizen. What is it that touches us? What is important to us? What does the European integration project stand for, today, now? It is essential to inform the citizens of proposed legislation in a comprehensive, timely manner. Decisions on a European level must be transparent and easy to understand.
· From the very beginning, the initiation of a dialogue about Europe with the citizens of Austria has been one of my prime concerns. As part of a listening tour and regular “European Dialogue” events in the federal provinces, I have had plenty of opportunities to engage in a direct discussion of the European Union and I will continue these discussion rounds in a new, exciting format in June.
· Europe has come to a point where we must build on the great achievements of the single market and its four core freedoms to preserve and develop the European model for the 21st century. Today, the joint values of “freedom” and “security” are what constitute the added value of an EU membership.
· We all live in and benefit from the freedoms that the European Union equips us with: the freedoms of the single market, the freedoms that the common currency has given us. However, we also expect certain securities from Europe: stability, growth, sustainability and peace, in particular during unstable times.
· Only if the collective and individual added value of the European Union is once again felt and recognised we will be able to win back the hearts and minds of the European citizens for the European integration project. This is an important task and responsibility for every single one of us.
· The contribution of the regions is also indispensable in this context. For this reason, I also set great store by close cooperation with the state governments and state parliaments in all questions relating to European integration.
· In this spirit, I am looking forward to a continuation of our excellent cooperation on an Austrian and European basis and on a stimulating exchange of thoughts and opinions within the framework of this conference.