Vienna, 6 December 2007 - "It is without any doubt a demanding mission for both domestic and foreign policy, which we have prepared with the corresponding care and precision," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik during today's "question hour" in the National Council on Austria’s mission in Chad. "This EU Bridging Mission is designed to help the people in the region, not France," said Plassnik, pointing out to the clear dividing line between France's military presence and the EU mission. "There are no doubts as to the non-partisan and impartial approach of the EU. I did not make myself very popular with our French partners during the negotiations on the mandate. I persistently demanded that there is a clear political framework for the mission. This includes the mission’s strict independence, clear time limits, and close links to the United Nations."
The Minister pointed out to the "multidimensional international presence" in Chad, which was established by UN Security Council resolution 1778 (2007) and consists of the following components: the UN Mission (MINURCAT) aimed at improving the security of the civilian population and guaranteeing international human rights standards, which will train the Chadian police force to protect the refugee camps, and the EU Bridging Operation, which will create a secure environment for the return of the refugees and internally displaced persons and for the implementation of the UN Mission.
"The new EU Reform Treaty will not change our neutrality," reiterated Plassnik, answering repeated questions with regard to the future Treaty of Lisbon. "Even in the future, Austria cannot be forced to participate in an EU military campaign. Both the commitment to a common foreign policy in solidarity within the European Union and neutrality equally form part of our Federal Constitution. And this will not change."
According to Plassnik, the same applies to the area of water supply and water resource management, an issue of great importance to Austria. "Unanimity is still required in this respect. No changes can or will be made here against our will." The Minister also stressed the additional protection provided by the EU Reform Treaty, which clearly states the responsibility of national states for services of general interest, including, for instance, communal water supply.
"I do not want to imagine a European Union without Carinthia, and I cannot imagine Carinthia without the European Union," said Plassnik on a question concerning the signature campaign against the EU Reform Treaty organized by the BZÖ in Carinthia. The Minister reminded that especially Carinthia, according to the words of Provincial Government Member Josef Martinz is a "European champion in collecting EU subsidies" and has received approx. 1.9 billion Euros worth of direct aid from the EU since accession. "Popular support for the signature campaign is not convincing. In any case, I will continue to patiently and persistently inform the people of Carinthia on the EU and the new Reform Treaty. I am convinced that it will be perceived accordingly."
The Minister emphasized the continued international concern over the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. "The latest report by the US Intelligence Services is not a reason for relief or for cries of triumph. It is now important for all sides to pull themselves together to finally establish a climate for negotiations. A parallel moratorium - stop of uranium enrichment and suspension of sanctions - could pave the way for negotiations."
When asked about developments in the Middle East, the Minister pointed out the "energy boost" given to the peace efforts by the Middle East conference in Annapolis: "There is now a chance for concrete progress. A peace roadmap containing all core issues is already on the table. But the political will must ultimately come from this region." There is a risk, however, that extremist forces will attempt to undermine such progress, said Plassnik. Therefore, it is now particularly important to remain engaged and convince public opinion in the region. "I particularly supported this approach in Annapolis. It is also important to involve the women and the youth in the region in this process. We need a broad and sustainable alliance of all moderate forces."
In this context, Plassnik also referred to the follow-up to the Women's Conference on the Middle East that she organized in the spring: "We will organize a media seminar with female journalists from the region in Vienna in late January, we support concrete women’s projects in the Palestinian territories as part of development cooperation, for instance in the area of health, and my Greek colleague Dora Bakoyannis will organize a follow-up conference in the spring of 2008."
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