Vienna, 19 December 2008 Press release

Spindelegger: "Starting signal to consolidate and expand the basis of dialogue between the EU and the Arab League"

Foreign Minister on the conclusion of the international conference between the EU and the Arab League in Vienna

Vienna, 19 December 2008 - "We can all win if we focus on partnership and cooperation, and we have a lot to lose if we go for confrontation and alienation. This is the 'message of Vienna', following the open and intensive discussions of the last two days", said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger during a press conference held at the end of the international dialogue conference "Europe and the Arab World - Connecting Partners in Dialogue" in Vienna.

The conference that took place upon the invitation of Foreign Minister Spindelegger and the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, brought together representatives from the EU 27, the 22 Member States of the Arab League, as well as experts from the world of politics, business, the civil society, and culture. Participants at the conference included the Foreign Ministers of Oman, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Palestinian Authority, the Egyptian Minister of Culture, the Iraqi Human Rights Minister, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, and the Grand Mufti of Syria.

"This dialogue is a continuation of a long tradition", said Spindelegger, pointing out to Austria’s engagement in the dialogue between cultures and religions. He stressed that the fact that so many countries sent high-ranking representatives to the conference "is a visible expression of Vienna’s recognition as a centre of dialogue and encounter".

"This meeting was a double premiere. The EU 27 and the 22 Member States of the Arab League sat together at the table for the first time to discuss very specific issues: the role of youth and women and how we deal with living pluralism in our societies. Moreover, for the first time we included representatives of the civil society and the religious communities in this discussion together with political decision makers", Spindelegger emphasized.

Despite all cultural and social differences, societies in Europe and the Arab world are facing common social and political challenges. "The aim is not always to look at what divides us, but to enhance awareness over our common challenges. To this end, we must intensify dialogue at all levels and examine the various perspectives for a common future. We want to exploit this opportunity and create a win-win situation for both sides", said the Foreign Minister.

According to Spindelegger, this conference was not a one-time event: "Here in Vienna, we gave the starting signal for gradually consolidating and expanding our basis for dialogue. Today, the dialogue between the EU and the Arab League was placed on new institutional tracks. Our clear objective is to develop specific projects and link national initiatives", said Spindelegger. Therefore, it was decided to organize such high-ranking meetings on a regular basis in the future - the next conference will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2009. A special steering committee was created for the preparation of these dialogue meetings. In order to ensure a regular dialogue in the future, a permanent liaison office will be established in the coming months between the EU and the Arab League in Malta, as well as separate contact agencies in all Arab and European partner states.

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