Budapest, 11 October 2007 - "Hungary is a good friend and neighbour to whom we are connected by a particularly close and solid partnership. Between us there is a densely woven, strong network of ties - be they economic, political, cultural or interpersonal," stated Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik today during her official visit to Hungary. In Budapest, Plassnik met with her counterpart Kinga Göncz, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and President László Sólyom. On the margins of the political talks she opened the Friedensreich Hundertwasser exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts together with State Secretary Karoly Manherz.
The talks were devoted to the preparations for the second joint Austro-Hungarian government meeting, the enlargement of the Schengen area and bilateral questions. Other issues included the EU reform treaty and developments in the Western Balkans. "We are two medium-sized EU states with great potential. Our joint government meeting on 29 November will provide an opportunity not only to deal with common projects but also to demonstrate our solidarity and the varied and dynamic nature of our relations," stated the Foreign Minister.
"I know how important the enlargement of the Schengen area is for the Hungarian people. A successful enlargement of the Schengen area is also in Austria’s interests. Our joint goal is to overcome the boundaries with our neighbours. Once our Schengen boundary no longer exists, our European neighbourhood will assume new dimensions that were long regarded as impossible. We want this common space of freedom, security and rule of law with our direct neighbours - in the interests of our citizens and our common security," said the Foreign Minister. "I count on being able to welcome our Hungarian partners as Schengen partners before the end of this year," continued the Foreign Minister.
In this context Plassnik referred to today’s signing of four bilateral agreements by the ministers of the interior of Hungary and Austria, Albert Takacs and Günther Platter, at the Nickelsdorf - Hegyeshalom border crossing: "We have provided consistent support for the impressive efforts of our neighbours in their Schengen preparations. Today’s agreements are further proof of our close partnership-based cooperation in this field. They contain highly practical measures for increased cooperation for the time before and after the abolition of border checks," said Plassnik.
"I am also proud of our ever closer cooperation in the consular field, which is a tangible and innovative example of successful neighbourhood. With the joint visa application offices in Chisinau and Podgorica we have become pioneers in the EU, and this role will soon be emulated. There are already concrete considerations for further joint projects in other third countries. Following the enlargement of the Schengen area we will be able to fully leverage the potential of our cooperation," emphasised Plassnik.
In her talks the Foreign Minister also highlighted today’s proposal by Federal Minister Martin Bartenstein to abolish the quotas for 50 occupational groups as of the beginning of 2008 and thus substantially open the Austrian labour market to foreign skilled workers. "This is a sensitive topic for all sides, and in particular for our Hungarian neighbours and friends. It is necessary to approach this issue in a responsible manner and on an equal footing. What we need is a policy based on precise facts - which is exactly the course pursued by my colleague Martin Bartenstein. It is a further example of our considered policy of opening tailored to the needs of the Austrian labour market," stated Plassnik.
"It is only natural that our close proximity gives rise to some friction along the way. However, we must not let that obstruct our view of the big picture. Our close friendship has developed over many years and cannot be so easily undermined," said Plassnik, referring to the public discussions of the past weeks.
Asked to comment on the current debate over OMV’s takeover bid for MOL, Plassnik advocated more objectiveness and less emotion in the debate. "It would certainly be advantageous if our countries’ energy enterprises succeeded in pooling their forces, perhaps also in conjunction with our neighbours. This would be in line with the overall European trend. However, the decisions are up to the enterprises concerned, without any state interference. Our aim is not to fuel fears, but to build confidence. That is the future," concluded the Foreign Minister.
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