Vienna, 11 July 2006 - State Secretary Hans Winkler yesterday summed up the Austrian EU Presidency during an event organised by the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and the Austrian Society for European Politics.
"When we took over the EU Presidency on 1 January, Europe was in a pessimistic frame of mind. It was generally thought that the EU was not doing enough and was not sufficiently positive. Our aim was therefore to bring more dynamism and vitality into the European debate," said Winkler. "And we achieved this aim. We attacked and were backed up by a solid defence and strong midfield. We were well organised. We were a team. All government members under the leadership of Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik performed outstandingly," continued the State Secretary.
Winkler recalled the positive public reactions to the Presidency: "According to surveys, two thirds of the Austrian population are proud or very proud of our work during the EU Presidency, which increased their interest in European topics. The Presidency improved people’s taste for Europe. I regard that as a personal achievement."
"The most difficult dossier of our Presidency was the debate on the future of Europe and the Constitutional Treaty. By 30 June we managed not only to reanimate the discussion on the Constitution but also to mark out the path for the future," said Winkler. “Following the EU Council meeting in June it can be said that the principles of the Constitution are basically accepted by everyone. It is now a question of seeing how these principles can be put into practice."
"Of course, the future of Europe is not just a matter of debate about the Constitution. There are a number of measures under the existing treaties where specific progress was made," said the State Secretary, referring to the issues of transparency and a more active Europe.
"Agreement on the services directive is a further achievement of the Austrian Presidency," said the State Secretary. "It is notable that the decisive impulse came from the European Parliament. In this respect our approach during the Presidency of working closely and constructively with the European Parliament from the outset paid off. We were there, we conducted numerous discussions and took part in many question time sessions. It was worthwhile," said Winkler.
"The compromise achieved with regard to the services directive was typical of the specifically European way of life," he said. "It is indicative of the very special way in which we experience the EU together: solidarity on the basis of a healthy economy, environmental protection, energy security, food security and social security," continued Winkler.
"The agreement on the financial framework for the next seven years is certainly a further great achievement of the last six months. Here, too, our close contacts with the European Parliament paid off," said the State Secretary. Winkler devoted the last part of his speech to European foreign policy. "The fact that the Austrian Presidency under the leadership of the Foreign Minister managed to achieve consensus on all sensitive European foreign policy issues is an impressive accomplishment."
"The European Union has always been a peace project. The circumstances are different to what they were 50 years ago, of course, but the project is still in place," said the State Secretary. "It is therefore only natural that the Austrian Presidency turned its attention to the Western Balkans. The Salzburg Declaration confirming the European perspective was a great achievement and has helped the region to mature and stabilise."
In this context Winker referred in particular to the signing of a stability and association agreement with Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the inclusion of Macedonia as a candidate country. "Serbia’s European perspective is naturally still in place," said the State Secretary, adding that the visit by Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik to Serbia on the last day of the Presidency was a conscious signal in that regard.
"We are leaving a legacy that continues the Balkan process and confirms that the states in this region still have a future in Europe," emphasised Winkler. "There can be no shortcuts, of course. Gradual rapprochement is required and all criteria for EU membership have to be met. The ability of the EU to assimilate new members must also be taken into account, as was made clear in the closing statement of the EU Council meeting in June," concluded the State Secretary.
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