Vienna, 5 November 2005 - On 4 November, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik made a speech in Berne’s town hall on Austria’s experiences as a member of the EU and the prospects of Austria’s EU Presidency in 2006. In her introduction, she paid tribute to the excellent bilateral relations: "Good neighbourliness is an art which calls for constant commitment. We are grateful for this good cooperation with Switzerland."
First, Plassnik outlined the positive effects of Austria’s 10-year membership of the EU on the Austrian economy, where the results were most clearly visible. Austria had become more competitive, she had opened up, experienced a thrust towards internationalisation and increased her attractiveness as a business location. Exports had doubled. 70,000 additional jobs had been created. The fear that "the labour market would be flooded" had been countered by the introduction of transition periods and other measures.
The most important change for Austria had been her liberation from a peripheral position. The EU membership had resulted in increased security, in particular through improved cooperation in the field of border protection and in combating terrorism and crime. "But in the event of natural disasters or epidemics we are also dependent on each other, and we will pursue a clear common approach in future. The citizens expect the EU to provide extra protection", said Plassnik.
"The key advantage to being a member of the EU is the possibility to participate in decision-making and to co-shape the future", said Plassnik.
Austria had discovered that she could get things moving in community with others. For this purpose it was necessary to seek alliances and partners within the EU, said the Foreign Minister, citing the Regional Partnership as an example.
Austria had experienced her membership of the EU as something that had strengthened her identity. "Unity in Diversity" was the motto of the European Constitution and this had always been undisputed. Diversity was Europe’s greatest source of strength.
Plassnik explained that after the successful year 2004 - the year of the EU enlargement and the signing of the Constitution - the mood had started to change. "We will have to take specific practical measures to re-build trust. We have to listen to the citizens and answer their questions." She herself had provided a stimulus with the "Europe is listening" campaign on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Foreign Minister Plassnik gave an overview of the themes to be dealt with under Austria’s EU Presidency: negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, the financial forecast, employment and growth, the European model of life. European foreign policy will focus on the Balkans, the Middle East, and UN reform, including the establishment of a Human Rights Council and a Peacebuilding Commission, and the fourth EU summit on Latin America and the Caribbean.
Austria would always remain a friend and partner of Switzerland, concluded Plassnik. This would also hold true during Austria’s EU Presidency. Switzerland had a solid position in Europe and was a central partner of the enlarged Union.
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