Vienna, 7 April 2003 - "Austria will in any case undertake every effort so that the ten new Member States can belong to the European Union as of 1 May 2004," Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said today in the run-up to the signing of the EU enlargement treaty in Athens next week, on 16 April. Tomorrow the Council of Ministers will resolve to empower the Federal Chancellor and the Foreign Minister to sign this treaty.
"The positive outcomes of the first two referenda in Malta and Slovenia give reason to hope that the majority of the population in the other future Member States will also support accession to the European Union. I would also like to re-emphasise my admiration for the singular result achieved by Slovenia with 90% of the votes in favour of accession. In terms of positive results at a referendum on EU membership Austria was reigning "European champion" with its two thirds of "yes" votes cast at the referendum of June 1994, now it has ceded this title to Slovenia", the Foreign Minister remarked. As early as this Saturday, 12 April, the Hungarian voters will be called to the polls. "I am very confident that in Hungary too, a clear majority of the population will cast their vote in favour of accession."
Ferrero-Waldner also pointed out that the enlargement of 2004 will not be the last step in the European peace project: "An intensified pre-accession strategy for future EU membership has been agreed upon with Romania and Bulgaria, with whom negotiations are still underway. The focus will be on administrative reforms and on the implementation of the Community acquis in the fields of justice and home affairs. The accession of Romania and Bulgaria in the year 2007 has been enshrined as a goal in the new roadmap."
A strengthening of the pre-accession strategy had also been defined for Turkey. "It was agreed to open accession negotiations with Turkey once the European Council to be held in December 2004 has stated on the basis of a report and a recommendation of the Commission that Turkey meets the Copenhagen criteria. A new formulation of the accession partnership with Turkey is currently under discussion which includes very realistic priorities and which clearly outlines the - frankly speaking - long road Turkey still has ahead," Ferrero-Waldner said.
Croatia, which on 21 February 2003 became the first of the "New Neighbours" to submit its application for EU membership, enjoys the full support of Austria, "because the efforts undertaken by Croatia and also the other states in the region to draw nearer to Europe are not only in the interest of Austria. They also serve the lasting stability of our entire continent and therefore merit the intensified attention and support of both Austria and the entire Union" stated the Foreign Minister.
The roadmap Austria has set itself with a view to the enlargement of the EU provides for a swift ratification of the accession treaty: "The government will endeavour to submit the 4,500-pages accession treaty to the Austrian parliament before the summer recess", Ferrero-Waldner pointed out.
As regards the European Convention the Foreign Minister dealt in more detail with those issues where the interests of the larger Member States appear to differ from those of the smaller Member States, i.e. the organisation of the presidency system in the Council or the composition of the Commission. "Here the large states have come forth with ideas which virtually all the other current and future Member States regard as a threat to the institutional balance and the principle of equality among Member States. And add to that the fact that the President of the Convention, Giscard D'Estaing, makes no secret of his preference for such ideas. The fact that the smaller states are joining forces is only a response to that," the Foreign Minister added.
The goal of the discussion held by the foreign ministers in Luxembourg on 1 April had in principle consisted in harmonising positions the states in question want to represent at the meeting with the President of the Convention Giscard d'Estaing in Athens on 16 April. In Luxembourg there had been general agreement on using the meeting of 16 April to clearly communicate to the President of the Convention the message that proposals aimed at a unilateral strengthening of the intergovernmental character of the Union will be met with heavy resistance. "Giscard d'Estaing should not leave Athens with the impression that he has been given the support of the "big guys" and that this is mandate enough to be able to disregard other voices in the Convention," Ferrero-Waldner explained.
"In this spirit, we, the "small guys" want to demonstrate unity and make it perfectly clear that we are standing up for our principles: which are equality of Members States and maintenance of the principle of rotation of the Council presidency, strengthening of the community approach and thus the European Commission, no (full-time) long-term president of the European Council, which would weaken the position of the Commission, composition of the Commission on the basis of the agreement reached in Nice (1 member of the Commission per MS, equal rotation from the 27th MS on), no new institutions, creation of the office of a European foreign minister by merging the functions of High Representative Solana and Commissioner in charge of external relations Patten, qualified majority decisions in the Council and co-decision of the EP as a regular legislative procedure - exceptions only to be granted for certain particularly sensitive and quasi-constitutional areas," added the Foreign Minister.
"On 14 April the status of the discussion in the Convention will also form part of the agenda of the EU foreign ministers' meeting. On this occasion, too, I will firmly state this position," Ferrero-Waldner concluded.