Vienna, 2 September 2013 – During his opening speech at this year’s Ambassadors’ Conference which took place on 2and 3 September before the assembled heads of Austrian embassies, representations, consulates and cultural forums abroad, Foreign Minister Spindelegger once more emphasised Austria’s engagement in the Middle Eastern regions. "Two years after its onset, the Arab Spring is threatening to culminate in an Arab Autumn. We must not let these setbacks discourage us from our position behind the democratic powers in the region and their efforts for a better future. No one ever said that the democratisation process in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region would be easy. Especially during this difficult phase, Austria and the EU must show our partners a perspective based on the fundamental values of democracy, rule of law and human rights." In this context, the Austrian Vice-Chancellor stressed the importance of the EU taking a joint stance. "Many of our partners tell us time and time again that the European Union could play a much greater role in the Middle East – but this depends on it being able to speak with one voice."
The same holds true for the ongoing crisis in Syria, Spindelegger continued: "The world is holding its breath, waiting for the imminent military strike. Especially in a situation like this, the onus is on us to pursue a policy based on humanitarian and international law. This also includes pointing out alternatives to the use of military force, such as a referral to the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council on the basis of objective and reliable results from the UN inspectors in Syria. From our point of view, there is no such thing as a military solution to the Syrian conflict. Negotiation is the only way of resolving the conflict in a sustainable manner", Spindelegger concluded.
The Vice-Chancellor named the stabilisation of the Euro zone with a targeted growth policy, the rigorous continuation of expansion policy on the Balkans and the reform of the EU and its treaties as the three most important challenges that the European Union would have to face in the near future. "In 2014, we must move away from crisis management towards the development of long-term perspectives. I continue to advocate a Convention to be held immediately after the European parliamentary elections, with the goal of strengthening the citizens’ democratic rights of participation, for instance by introducing a direct election process for the President of the Commission." New approaches also needed to be found for the Common Foreign and Security Policy: "EU foreign policy is still too ponderous, with the slowest member of the convoy often setting the pace. If we want to be heard in a globalised world, we will have to do better than that", said Spindelegger, who also argued in favour of increasing decisions taken by qualified majority in the CFSP.
In this context, the Vice-Chancellor voiced in no uncertain terms his commitment to the comprehensive range of tasks of the Foreign Ministry, from questions on Europe to Austrian Development Cooperation, from the Citizens‘ Service to cultural representation abroad. "For all these topics, the Austrian Foreign Ministry remains the centre of competence and service. I absolutely refuse to even contemplate the breaking off of individual elements, such as EU competence", Spindelegger emphasised.
Furthermore, the Vice-Chancellor confirmed that Austria would continue to rigorously pursue the priorities of its foreign policy. Smaller nations such as Austria again and again faced the challenge of having to make their positions heard at an early point, relying on networks, creative approaches and the specification of unambiguous goals. "We have achieved a lot in this context. Our clearly defined profile in the question of Balkan expansion, our successful campaign for a macro-regional strategy for the Danube region and the setting up of a benchmark in the UN Human Rights Council for the protection of journalists are just a few examples." Spindelegger emphasised that Austria would continue to drive forward its foreign policy, for instance when taking over the Presidency of the Council of Europe in November 2013 and the Central European Initiative from 2014, or within the framework of the initiative for a new EU strategy for the Alpine region.
The Vice-Chancellor underlined the growing importance of consular services for Austrians abroad, also appealing to Austrians to remember their personal responsibility: "It is good that our citizens are able to rely on our help during emergencies abroad. However, ignoring travel warnings is simply irresponsible", Spindelegger concluded.
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