Zürich, 22. October 2008 Press release

"Learning on the right path, with courage for more Europe"

Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik delivers this year's "Churchill Speech" in Zurich

Zurich, 22 October 2008. Europe - a partnership in peace and freedom, and with responsibility in the world - was the topic of the speech delivered by Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on Tuesday evening within the framework of the traditional "Churchill Speech".

"The basic understanding of our European unification is based on three pillars that were accepted from the very beginning as a matter of course: democracy, social market economy, integration. All three pillars are today the subject of criticism, problems are being expounded and they are being called into question. Indeed, they are subject to subtle erosion. Is our system of coordinates still correct?

The Foreign Minister referred to verifiable facts of immediate topicality: "At the most recent European Council meeting the Union once again had to prove its usefulness in complexity-and crisis-management: in the financial market crisis in terms of economic policy, in the Caucasus conflict in terms of foreign policy. After initially treading on insecure ground, the Union has clearly learnt a lot in both fields. The countries of the Eurozone, in particular, serve as anchors of stability and provide incentives for Europe as a whole as well as at the global level - an important message, particularly for our small and medium-sized EU states. It is also a message that should strengthen our awareness of Europe and our willingness to participate pro-actively in European development."

According to Plassnik, "all this has become possible through a special ability which our continent has acquired since the days when Winston Churchill gave his speech in Zurich: Europe is learning. In some disciplines Europe, as a learning organisation, has achieved a certain mastery, for instance in a subject called "applied tribalism". Our continent is characterised by tribal awareness - from ancient times each people has always been a community of special characteristics and particularities. The European Union offers its stakeholders, so-to-speak, the constitutionally guaranteed certainty that their specific characteristics will be recognised and respected. Indeed, the Union rests on the idea that unity is sought only in diversity - and not in simple-mindedness. The ‘management of diversity’ is a skill specially developed within the EU."

"Our learning process can also be recognised clearly in the foreign policy matters: the Union has learnt to offer a clear and tangible perspective to all states in the Western Balkans to make them turn away from the tragic experiences of the last century and to support them on their new course, to accompany them and encourage them on the rocky path to reconciliation - one of the dimensions of integration and re-integration of our continent.

I am grateful that Austria has been allowed to make a substantial contribution to this process. It is good that history offers a second chance in exceptional cases!", emphasised Plassnik.

"But we still have a long way to go as regards the elaboration of a stable and comprehensive future neighbourhood policy beyond the context of enlargement", Plassnik continued. "It must be possible to develop forms of European partnership that are satisfactory to both sides, allowing the gradual rapprochement with the EU in terms of both time and content. And they will have to meet the specific needs and requirements of individual regions or states", affirmed Plassnik.

"We therefore need the courage to address these themes instead of avoiding clear statements. Turkey is such a borderline case. In my opinion, a specific European-Turkish community could be a realistic and rewarding interim goal. The same holds true for Ukraine. Successful partnerships are based on the basic idea of not asking too much of one another. They are not based on promises that cannot be kept", continued the Minister.

When addressing the subject of women’s policy, Plassnik appealed to Europe’s capacity to learn: "Progress in this field is completely unsatisfactory. Europe, in particular, has to be committed to improvements in the global village. Women are the politically and socially most important emerging power of the 21st century. Their contribution must be publicly acknowledged, their integration encouraged and their potential fully leveraged. We Europeans must therefore be among those who encourage and set positive trends worldwide", asserted Plassnik.

"Europe is learning", affirmed the Foreign Minister. "But all talented pupils have their enemies. All too frequently, in the case of Europe, they come from within. Returning to the national fortress of neo-nationalism is very much en vogue at the moment. What we also experience is an alarming wave of newly disguised but well-known old criticism: subliminal, ambiguous, recognisable only at second glance. It starts with 'We are for Europe', immediately followed by the reservation 'but'. This phoney 'Yes, but…' endangers the support for the European project, quite often because of trivial opportunistic aspirations for power, with powerful connections to the world of business and the media. We have witnessed it in Ireland where a skilful, well-organised and financially powerful campaign to say ‘no’ convinced and impressed the majority. The supporters of 'nay' appealed to anxieties and spread half-truths or even lies instead of presenting facts or figures."

The Foreign Minister pointed out a new specificity: "In Austria and other EU states, the hostility towards Europe is often encoded in the demand for national referenda on EU themes. The Irish example, however, also showed that referenda do not offer a solution in complicated technical matters, such as the Treaty of Lisbon. They create a vehicle with 27 brake pedals - for every national referendum brings all 27 Member States to a halt."

Speaking on the prospects, Plassnik said: "A future offensive for Europe will be necessary if we do not want to surrender to neo-nationalism. The financial market crisis has taught us that there are still gaps where we are looking for more Europe in our own best interest. Which approaches could be pursued?

  • We should learn from crises! Crises have made Europe stronger.
  • We should be willing to contribute to co-shaping the global village! In doing so, substantial goals could include a new order of the global financial system, resumption and completion of the Doha world trade round, a new post-Kyoto target against the warming of the climate which would have to embrace the USA, China and India, and a reasonable reform of the UN Security Council. We do not want a directorate of the big powers, but an orchestra of bigger and smaller states. And we want a world without nuclear weapons.
  • We should strengthen the European life model! We must have the will to maintain our specific European life model and develop it with patience. Not a super state, but rather thinking in smaller units, for instance, by availing ourselves of the strength of local communities and regions.
  • We should have the courage for more Europe! In targeted and well-administered doses, whenever necessary and reasonable, with subsidiarity as a principle of order, a filter of European competence. Since Churchill’s speech in Zurich we have developed the tools and the will to be a positive force in the global village. A force that has a specific, completely new quality.”

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