Vienna, 21 November 2007 - "With the Reform Treaty we have created a solid and modern basis for the European Union's future work. Modernising the treaties which basically date back to the nineteen-fifties was an important and forward-looking decision. A backlog of reforms would only reduce our scope for action and our opportunities," said State Secretary Hans Winkler at the first parliamentary debate on the Reform Treaty before the EU Committee of Parliament's Federal Council.
Winkler stressed that under the Reform Treaty national parliaments, including the Austrian National Council and Federal Council, were granted considerably enhanced participation and control rights. "In the future, all proposals submitted by the European Commission will be transferred to the national parliaments, which will then examine the Commission’s legislative proposal in detail; this will take several weeks," stated Winkler.
"There have always been calls for an exact description of the distribution of competencies between the EU and the Member States. This very demand has now been fulfilled. All competencies which are not explicitly assigned to the EU remain with the Member States," emphasised the State Secretary. "It was also clarified once more that public services such as water supply and waste disposal will continue to remain the responsibility of the national and/or regional or local authorities," Winkler reassured his audience.
"Panic-mongering is the wrong thing to do here and only gives rise to insecurity. Decisions will continue to be made unanimously, particularly in those areas that are sensitive for Austria," clarified Winkler, highlighting the management of water resources, security and defence policy as well as the tax system as pertinent examples.
The State Secretary also emphasised that "it is solely up to the Austrian Federal Government and Parliament to decide whether or not nuclear power stations are to be built in Austria, to what extent migration into Austria will be permitted and how Austria’s drinking water reserves will be used."
In his speech Winkler also referred to Austria’s security policy: "Austria is committed to its neutrality in the same way as we are committed to a foreign policy based on solidarity within the framework of the EU and the UN. We cannot use neutrality to simply withdraw from our international solidarity commitments. There are enough hot spots in the world. If we expect others to help us in a crisis, we must help others in order not to be excluded from the circle one day," said the State Secretary, emphasising once more that "it is and remains an Austrian decision whether and to what extent we want to provide support. Nobody can compel Austria to provide military support that contradicts our neutrality."
"The present Reform Treaty is a necessary and important further development of the legal basis which we have had in place so far and which has been adjusted to the requirements of the time. Many bills that are adopted by Parliament have more concrete consequences for the citizens than the Reform Treaty. I regard it as reasonable and the right course for Parliament to take into account the concerns of the population in a careful and far-sighted manner - very much in the spirit of our representative democracy," stated Winkler, speaking out against a referendum in Austria alone, but fully supporting the efforts for a Europe-wide referendum on one and the same day. "It is important to address the Treaty in a critical manner, but this must not be allowed to descend into excessively emotional pessimism and populist misrepresentation," concluded Winkler.
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