Speech by Vice Chancellor Dr. Michael Spindelegger Reception to celebrate Europe Day at the Haus der Europäischen Union, Wednesday, 9 May 2012, 1.00 pm
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Vice-President of the European Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
· This morning, Commissioner Hahn and I attended the European Conference of the Upper House of Austrian Parliament in Graz, where we welcomed the President of Croatia as our guest. The conference revolved around Croatia’s accession to the EU bringing the number of member states up to 28. With Croatia, we are welcoming close friends and neighbours into the European family. We have 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. We now greatly look forward to cooperating closely with Croatia in the various EU bodies.
· The central and dominant issue at both European and international levels at present is that of the combined efforts we are taking to manage the international economic and debt crisis. The EU and the Euro zone are called upon to respond by improving the coordination of economic and financial policies and enhancing fiscal discipline. It is also essential that growth and employment be promoted in the EU member states. We are facing major challenges in this respect and new concepts are called for.
· We must now ask ourselves how the Union can emerge successfully from the crisis and be strengthened by this process. I support the initiative of Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who suggested probing various options of improved cooperation between the European institutions to increase the Union’s capability for decisive action. Better coordination and more efficient decision-making processes are essential for shaping the future of the Union. We all agree: We need more Europe!
· I am delighted that the third informal meeting of foreign ministers in the framework of the Group of the Future of the EU will be held in Vienna at my invitation on May 15th. The meeting will focus on democracy and revolve around ways of invigorating the democratic legitimisation of the EU and its decision-making processes and stepping up the participation of citizens at European level.
· Preserving 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 people of Europe are ready and willing to contribute their share to the political life of the EU. This is an important and encouraging development. But this is not to forget that we can still do better.
· What is central in this context is that we not restrict ourselves to providing information about European issues; we need to discuss them openly and engage our people in a lively dialogue. The discussion about Europe has always been one of my central concerns and I have had plenty of opportunities to discuss European issues on my “Listening Tour” through this country and at the regular dialogue events held in the Austrian provinces. On these occasions I was able to point out the many options that Europe has to offer. The EU is of benefit for each and every one of us – in the most varied ways – but often we are not even aware of these options and opportunities.
· I would therefore like to foster direct dialogue further and stimulate more participation of the citizens of Europe in the European project. Together with the Representation of the European Commission in Austria we are now going to reverse the flow of discussion in our “town hall meetings”, as we have called them.It is the people themselves who will start the ball rolling in these meetings; the discussions will all be citizen initiated. The politicians will have the back seat in this process and their job will be to discuss the questions and proposals that have been generated. I am convinced that all the participants will benefit greatly from an exchange of experience on this basis.
· Europe will only be able to enjoy long-term, sustainable success, if it receives support from us all. The Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs and all other departments attach great importance to informing our citizens about the EU. There are many areas where an excellent cooperation has developed between the ministries and interested organisations. Take for example the instruction given in our schools on the whole issue of European integration and common policies. I can assure you that this cooperation will continue to enjoy a very solid basis in the future.
· Ladies and Gentlemen, my best wishes to you all on Europe Day which we are celebrating here together!