Vienna, 18 October 2004 - Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner met the new President of the European Parliament, the Spaniard Josep Borrell Fontelles, for talks this morning. Borrell had come to Vienna at the invitation of the President of the Austrian National Council, Andreas Khol. At the centre of the meeting were talks on the European Constitution and the common European initiative "Communicating Europe", as well as issues regarding the Austrian Council Presidency in 2006.
"The EU Constitutional Treaty brings the European Union and its citizens more democracy, transparency and efficiency. It creates the precondition for the enlarged Union to fully live up to its role, both internally and externally," Ferrero-Waldner emphasised, pointing out that it will be of great importance to inform the population comprehensively about the exact contents of the new constitution and communicate to the people its advantages for Europe and each individual citizen.
"The European Constitution is based on an advanced approach to a well-balanced social, economic and currency policy concept. Furthermore, the regulations regarding services of general interest, environmental matters and consumer protection will entail perceptible improvements for Europe’s citizens. EU structural policy, which, for instance, pays particular attention to mountain and border regions, brings many advantages for the citizens of the EU," the Foreign Minister noted. The European Constitution will have to be ratified by means of a parliamentary resolution that requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers. In accordance with the present schedule, ratification is not on the agenda until the first half of 2005.
A further element of the talks with the President of the European Parliament was the "Communicating Europe" initiative launched during the Irish Presidency. As regards the communication of European issues, the Foreign Minister emphasised the particular importance she attributes to a close and flexible cooperation between all EU institutions accommodating the specific needs of individual Member States. "Against the backdrop of the low voter turnout at the last EP elections in June this year and in view of the upcoming referenda on the EU Constitution in some Member States, it is necessary to conduct an open discussion on how to communicate complex and "awkward" European issues to a large public. The objective of the initiative is to acquaint people more closely with the European integration process - an unparalleled peace project for Europe, which for centuries had been marked by war and hatred," explained Ferrero-Waldner.
In view of the Austrian Council Presidency in the first half of 2006, Ferrero-Waldner informed the EP President about the thematic as well as organisational aspects of the successfully launched preparatory work. "During its Council Presidency Austria will play a decisive role in the cooperation between Council and Parliament with the aim of implementing these priorities. I have agreed on close cooperation with President Borrell Fontelles, thus laying the groundwork for Austria’s success in this role", the Foreign Minister emphasised.
In her talks with Borrell Fontelles, Ferrero-Waldner also indicated Austria’s interest in the expansion of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) into a European Human Rights Agency: "The European Council Resolution of 13 December 2003, on the basis of which the mandate of the Vienna-based EUMC is to be expanded to become a European Human Rights Agency, should be implemented as quickly as possible," the Foreign Minister said. "In the Austrian opinion, the Agency’s primary function should be a service function, consisting in the provision of information and expertise to EU institutions and Member States as a basis for future decisions on human rights issues arising both within the Union and in key areas outside the EU," stressed the Foreign Minister.
Also on the agenda was a discussion of core aspects of the future European Neighbourhood Policy as well as the presidential elections in Afghanistan.