Vienna, 5 July 2006 - At today’s meeting of the Foreign Policy Committee, State Secretary Winkler took stock of Austria’s EU Presidency. "What we have achieved in the past six months is more than what we could have realistically expected. The situation we faced on 1 January 2006 was not a simple one," said Winkler, referring to the negative results of the referenda in the Netherlands and in France and the unresolved issue of the Financial Perspective.
The State Secretary expressed his conviction that "Austria’s EU Presidency had brought new momentum to the European Union. A number of achievements and clear positions on politically difficult developments were accomplished," continued Winkler, emphasising in this context the positive developments in the Western Balkans, in the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and in connection with the agreement on the further procedure regarding the European Constitution. "Success or failure does not depend on the size of a country. In the past six months we have exhausted the full potential offered by the Presidency. Neither we nor another larger Member State can move mountains," the State Secretary added.
"The Balkans were an essential focus of Austria’s EU Presidency, the reasons for which are clearly obvious for Austria. On account of their geographic vicinity, the creation and maintenance of peace, security and stability in the region also have consequences for Austria. The accession perspective for the states in this region is an important incentive for democratic reforms and reforms in the field of the rule of law, which are indispensable for a future accession to the EU. However, the European perspective does not mean that these states will join the European Union in the near future, as all accession criteria have to be met before accession takes place. Progress depends on the reform efforts of the individual countries. Both Austria and the EU have repeatedly emphasised and assured that they would provide long-term support along the way," affirmed the State Secretary.
At the committee meeting Winkler also referred to the concept "absorption capacity of the Union": "It is clear that all possible efforts have to be undertaken in order to safeguard the cohesion of the Union and to ensure that it continues to function effectively. The absorption capacity criterion was already included in the 1993 Copenhagen Criteria and has gained significance as a result of the commencement of accession negotiations with Turkey. The conclusions drawn by the most recent European Council now also contain the absorption capacity criterion. The Commission was asked to submit a special report on all relevant aspects in connection with the absorption capacity of the Union. This specific analysis will also cover such aspects as how enlargement is currently perceived by the EU citizens and how it will be perceived in the future," said the State Secretary, trying to clarify existing misapprehensions.
In his review, Winkler also referred to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. "Some time ago, for instance during the war in Iraq, reaching agreement on a common position on delicate questions of Common Foreign and Security Policy was simply impossible. In the past six months, Foreign Minister Plassnik has succeeded in strengthening the unity of the EU Member States in the Council, particularly with regard to very difficult issues such as Iran and the Middle East. Those who know how difficult it is to find a uniform position for the divergent opinions in the EU also know that this consensus has been a great accomplishment of the Austrian Presidency," concluded Winkler.
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