Speech given by H.E. Dr. Michael Spindelegger Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria at the meeting of Arab and European Foreign Ministers
Cairo, 13 November 2012
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I would like to thank the League of Arab States for organizing this important and timely meeting of Arab and European Foreign Ministers. We have come together to discuss developments in the Middle East and Europe and how we can enhance and strengthen our cooperation. We listen to each other and try to find solutions through dialogue and reason. Regular dialogue is the basis on which we can build solid co-operation and friendship, as regions, countries or individuals. However, the ultimate success of our work depends on the extent to which we bring similar values and principles to the table.
The Arab Charter on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union both highlight that the respect for human rights and democratic principles are shared values of the League of Arab States and the EU. While diversity of cultures, traditions and religions has to be taken into account, Human Rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. This is of central importance for us and has to be respected by all of us at all times.
The Arab world has experienced dramatic changes since the beginning of 2011. Driven by their legitimate desire for a life in dignity and peace, Arab citizens have successfully pushed for democratic participation as well as for the end of oppression and corruption. These changes are only the beginning of a long road towards the point where democracy and civil rights become ingrained and unquestioned by the whole society. It will however still take great efforts and patience on all sides until the gains won by the courageous protesters can be fully realized.
The welcome changes that have already taken place, would not have been possible without the active and courageous support of women. It is therefore of utmost importance that women can hold an equal share in all spheres of society and that their right to fully participate in all political processes is respected. Democratic transition can never succeed if half of the population is excluded from decision making. The so called Arab Spring has also shown us that those belonging to minority groups warrant our particular attention. Hatred and violence directed against people who belong to a different religion or who have a different ethnic background can never be tolerated. Only in a society that is free of discrimination and that provides for equal opportunities for men and women, will lasting peace be possible.
Let me briefly return to the subject of dialogue. Even as we regularly practice it in the political sphere, we must not forget the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, especially in times of political transformation. I consider it so essential that we have made this topic a clear priority of Austria's foreign policy.
Our dialogue initiatives are designed to promote democracy, the universal respect for human rights and basic human freedoms, including the freedom of religion or belief. By launching and supporting dialogue initiatives we want thus to offer sustainable contributions to building trust and peace and combat the spread of stereotypes.
On 26 November we will have the honor to inaugurate the "King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue" in Vienna. This new International Organization, founded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria upon the initiative of His Majesty, King Abdullah, will become a platform for new initiatives, a meeting place for religious leaders and a hub for the exchange between cultures. Thus, it complements and reinforces Austria's long standing tradition in interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
The most recent of our dialogue initiatives is taking place right now here in Cairo, organized by the Arab League Secretariat in co-operation with the Austrian Foreign Ministry, namely the 2nd Arab European Young Leaders Forum. May I express in this context our appreciation to the Arab League Secretariat for their excellent work in the preparation of the Forum. After a first round in Vienna in 2010, this second round of the "Arab-European Young Leaders Forum" is entitled "Responsible Leadership for Transformation towards Democracy and Prosperity- Innovative Forms of Cross-Cultural Cooperation". This is the first initiative of its kind, focusing on young leaders of excellence and experience in the EU and the Arab world, with the objective to enhance responsible leadership skills. By supporting such future leaders I am sure that the Euro-Arab relations will enhance sustainably in the future.
Thank you for your attention.