Linz, 21 November 2003 - "Europe is not so much a geographic area as a cultural continent", said Minister for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner, opening this year's Conference of the European Ministers for Cultural Affairs in Linz with the words of Oskar Kokoschka. "The awareness of the historical power of its Christian traditions is one of Europe's crucial cultural foundations. Therefore it is my concern that the future constitution will not deny the Christian traditions of European history", said the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Addressing this year's conference topic of EU enlargement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs went on: "The 1st of May, 2004 will mark the final chapter of the East-West post-war order and create a new basis. No longer will the external border of the European Union run along the lines where the Iron Curtain once ran. For the first time the European Union will encompass Slavic member states, and the whole Central European world will again become a central part of Europe. Europe will be richer. At the same time the message of the enlargement is also one of hope and opportunity for those countries in East and South-East Europe which will not yet become EU member states this coming year."
The Minister for Foreign Affairs stressed that Austria was an ally in advocating more culture in Europe, not only due to her history and geographical position, but also on the basis of her assessment of future European prospects. "We have got to live with history and geography; there is nothing we can change about it. The future, however, we can shape together", Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner said. "We must use culture and its soft impact by way of the arts, the media, lifestyle and tourism to foster peace and justice in international relations, leaving no room for the 'hard powers', that is to say military clashes, to come into play. This is an important mandate for the European culture. For foreign policy among the states of Europe, cultural exchange must be a method of enhancing or restoring confidence and sympathy among states, regions and cultures, effectively as well as symbolically."
On Europe's way into the East and South-East there will be challenges and chances for Austria. As examples of new forms of Austrian foreign policy, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner mentioned inter alia an initiative launched more than ten years ago to establish Austrian libraries in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries. "Since 1989 our international cultural cooperation has clearly focussed on Central Europe, in an effort to bring to life the new possibilities of the neighbourhood on a cultural level", the Minister for Foreign Affairs emphasised. "We have launched the majority of our programmes in the 'Regional Partnership' countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia) in order to create cultural networks that are apt to overcome the after-effects of decades of ideological separation in Europe. In the years to come we would like to use these positive experiences gathered from intensive cultural work for the future of South-Eastern Europe too."