Vienna, 1 September 2003 - Following the opening of the Ambassadors' Conference in Vienna today, the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner made a presentation to the press outlining current aspects of Austria's foreign policy priorities. These include the future of the European Union, relations with the EU's neighbours, the Middle East, and transatlantic relations as a core factor in Austria's security policy considerations.
"In this context it is an indisputable fact that with the EU Enlargement we are in the process of making an invaluable contribution to ensuring security, stability and welfare on our continent. The EU Enlargement has thus always been, and will remain, a priority of Austrian foreign policy," stated Ferrero-Waldner.
At the foreign policy level, continued the Foreign Minister, it was above all the Regional Partnership launched at her own initiative that had proved to be an important instrument of cooperation between Austria and her neighbours. "Anyone looking at the basic figures on Austria's foreign trade with her neighbouring states, for instance, and the prospects for further economic development in the region, can be in no doubt that Austria's future lies in stronger expansion of her relations with these states," said Ferrero-Waldner.
The Foreign Minister explained that the reform of the EU and its institutions currently represents another key theme in Austria's foreign and European policy, because both the internal functioning of the EU and the EU's future role in world politics were dependent upon the outcome of this debate on the future of Europe. With its draft "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe" the EU Convention had basically done a good job. Nevertheless – and even though there were several states who were unwilling to undo the treaty package - Austria would still be advocating a number of improvements.
"The next great opportunity, on the other hand, is right on our doorstep, namely in South-East Europe," went on Ferrero-Waldner. "Austrian foreign policy is vigorously supporting the EU's negotiations with Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Croatia's application for EU membership." But Austria was also supporting Turkey in implementing her reforms. "In late autumn 2004 we will take a close look at the progress made to date, produce a new evaluation on the basis of this examination, and then reach a decision on the possible launch of negotiations," the Foreign Minister explained.
Furthermore, Austria's commitment to bringing the remaining countries of South-East Europe closer to the EU, inter alia within the framework of the Stability Pact, would continue undiminished. "It is in the interest of Austria and her security that no vacuum develops here in Europe and that the countries of South-East Europe are given a European perspective."
The EU had also taken up a proposal presented by Austria back in the period of her last EU Presidency, namely that with a view to ensuring stability in her immediate surroundings the enlarging EU should pay increased attention to her "new neighbours" - beginning with the Ukraine and Moldova (Belarus might follow at some point if the circumstances are right). "It is very pleasing to see that the EU is now addressing this issue - albeit rather late in the day and under a different name, namely "Wider Europe"," said Ferrero-Waldner.
"I personally have always spoken out in favour of the Dialogue Among Cultures, both within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership as well as under the auspices of the UN, and by organising media seminars have endeavoured to involve the broader public as far as possible in this dialogue. The next seminar will be held in Vienna this coming November. We have seen that this dialogue is possible and that it has a chance of success. We ought to make an effort in this area, and that is exactly what I am doing."
With regard to the Middle East Peace Process, Ferrero-Waldner said she saw no alternative to a negotiated settlement based on rapid and complete implementation of the Road Map. "The clear message of the EU as a partner in the Middle East Quartet is that both sides must continue to uphold their commitment to a negotiated settlement. Every day we see how radical groupings are attempting - literally - to blow this peace settlement to pieces. But this is precisely why we must find a path to peace through negotiations, despite all the problems," stated the Foreign Minister.
"Immediately after the war in Iraq, Austria was one of the first states to pledge its commitment to the political and economic reconstruction of the country. I need only recall the treatment we provided for Iraqi children in Austrian hospitals, the project to establish a Centre for War-Damaged Children and the Adopt a Hospital Project in Iraq. Austria made a very conscious decision in favour of a humanitarian commitment in Iraq," Ferrero-Waldner continued.
The Foreign Minister also expressed her pleasure at the recent resumption of full diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. "This represents a great success for the Federal Government's consistent policy of dealing with the legacy of Austria's history, as well as for the balanced, confidence-building foreign policy Austria has been pursuing in the Middle East in general," she said.
Ferrero-Waldner pointed out that the events of the last few months, especially the war in Iraq but not only this, had led to tensions between Europe and the USA and occasionally given the impression that there was a rift in the Transatlantic Partnership. "It has to be said quite clearly that this was a crisis, but a crisis that also contains a chance for the future," stated the Foreign Minister, emphasising that transatlantic relations are another central issue of Austrian foreign and security policy.
"A Union of 25 Member States with a total of over 45,000 diplomats at its disposal and annual spending of 160 billion euros for military purposes quite definitely has the necessary potential to represent its own interests effectively and contribute to a stable international order; an order in which Austria also has a great interest in terms of her internal and external security," concluded the Minister for Foreign Affairs.