Vienna, 8 November 2007 - "We now find ourselves in a new stage of the European integration process: We are working on a common area of freedom and security for almost 500 million people. Yet we are also working to create new and modern fundamental rules for a Union now comprising 27 Member States. At stake is the weight and influence of Europe as a partner in the global village", said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik today during the Austrian National Council’s European debate on the new EU Reform Treaty of Lisbon.
"The result of the reform negotiations in the EU is a treaty text that replaces the old legal principles where necessary. It will also bring a series of innovative structural changes. We Austrians have made our contribution to the success of this first major common project of the Union of 27. We have done so through consistent work, through targeted impulses during our Presidency to restart the debate over the future of the Union, and by paving the way for negotiations leading to the Reform Treaty, for instance during the meeting of foreign ministers in Klosterneuburg", said the Foreign Minister. She stressed that it is especially important to her to provide the citizens with comprehensive information on the contents of the Treaty: "This is a task for all of us: the Federal Government, the elected representatives of the people, and the experts."
Plassnik mentioned the central progress made with the Reform Treaty: For the first time, there will be a clear distribution of competencies between the Union and the Member States - an old Austrian demand -, and the transfer of competencies to the Union will no longer function in just one direction. As a result, the Member States will retain the power over the Treaties. The Treaty will also bring a boost to democracy in Europe, for instance by strengthening the parliamentary element in the Union, and through the European referendum. Plassnik: "Austria strongly supported this initiative." Moreover, the Reform Treaty will for the first time provide the Union with a legal basis for climate protection - "another step toward a Union of sustainability", said Plassnik.
A future issue for which the Reform Treaty will provide more efficient tools is the security of its citizens. Plassnik: "Europe needs more intensive and better cross-border cooperation for the fight against organized crime, people smuggling, and human trafficking. Especially for the area of police and judicial cooperation, the Reform Treaty grants quicker processes without the possibility of blockades through individual states."
In future, the Union’s foreign policy will show one face and speak with one voice to the outside world - with a de facto European Foreign Minister. "The European telephone number finally exists", said Plassnik, also stressing that "of course, an Austrian profile in foreign policy will still remain possible in the future: Our membership in the European Union allows us to co-determine a common European approach and its implementation in everyday policy. It gives our work a European character." In this context, Plassnik also mentioned the targeted impulses, such as the Kosovo Women’s Conference at the beginning of this week, and the tireless efforts to keep the European perspective credible and tangible for the Balkans - especially for the young people of these countries.
At the same time, the Minister made clear that the Treaty will not change anything in Austrian security policy: "Both the commitment to a common foreign policy in solidarity within the European Union and neutrality equally form part of our Federal Constitution. And this will not change. In future, it will still be up to neutral and non-allied Member States to decide in individual cases whether or not to provide any assistance: both on the merits, and on the type and scope", emphasized Plassnik.
In her speech, the Foreign Minister also mentioned the imminent Schengen enlargement, which represents a European quantum leap: "Where the Iron Curtain used to be less than 20 years ago, there will no longer be any border controls in six weeks from now. Border fences and barriers will soon belong to the past. Nothing could better symbolize the epochal changes we are experiencing and can help shape today in Europe. Europe - the new Europe - is a Europe of overcoming borders and dividing lines by peaceful means, through a joint definition of targets and concrete cooperation."
Yet the imminent Schengen enlargement also shows that Europe is not making it easy on itself. According to Plassnik, far-reaching steps such as the lifting of border controls require responsible, persistent, and precise preparation by all sides. "For this reason, the Austrian Federal Government has carefully made sure that all conditions are precisely met without any compromises. I wish to thank above all Interior Minister Günther Platter for that."
"The Reform Treaty is an opportunity for a more democratic and more operational European Union. The new Treaty will be successful if proper policies are pursued based on it, and at all levels", concluded the Minister. The following applies both to the Schengen enlargement and to the Reform Treaty: "Europe gets what it needs to function better. We should have more confidence in what we are capable of achieving - in Austria and in Europe!"
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