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President Barroso's Speech on 'Austria and Europe'

Summary: February 25, 2005: Speech by José Manuel BARROSO, President of the European Commission, on "Austria and Europe: past success and future perspective", at the 10th anniversary of Austria’s accession to the EU (Vienna)

Dear Chancellor Schüssel,
Dear Foreign Minister Plassnik,
Dear Chancellor Vranitzky,
Dear President Lipponen,
Dear Chancellor Kohl,
Dear President Sigmund,
Dear Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

And, may I say, dear friends,

1) I am delighted to be here with you today:

On a day which celebrates a historical decision for Austria and for Europe;

At a time when Europe is facing major challenges which call for a European renewal.

2) The celebration of historical landmarks sometimes carries the risk of complacency: the risk of looking back at what has been achieved, and of sitting back self-satisfied about the past record. This ignores the fact that nothing we have achieved can be taken for granted. As Oliver Wendell Holmes reminds us, “the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving - we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor”.

3) I therefore welcome Austria’s decision to have a “Jubiläumsjahr” and to see it as a year of reflection on the past and on the future rather than as a simple year of remembrance. By taking stock of the past, we should consider our future. This is why I will not limit my speech to celebrate the past 10 years of Austria’s membership in the EU, but also look at what he have to face in the years to come.

4) A few weeks ago, I was at Auschwitz to take part in the remembrance of the 60th anniversary of its liberation. This year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of the 2nd World War, of the defeat of the Nazi tyranny, and of the establishment of Austria’s 2nd Republic. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of Austria’s re-gained full independence through the “Staatsvertrag”. And we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Austria’s accession to the European Union through the expression of the free and democratic will of its people. Let me add that later this year, we will celebrate – as a result of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Communist dictatorship in the Eastern part of our continent – the 1st anniversary of the EU’s enlargement to countries that lay formerly behind this cruel line that artificially divided our continent for several generations: An event which was particularly important for this country.

What an extraordinary story, and what an extraordinary achievement! A continent where men created hell on earth for their fellow human beings is uniting itself voluntarily in peace, freedom and prosperity. But we can celebrate properly only if we remember where our continent comes from – if we do not forget the lessons of the past, so that when we decide on our future we do not repeat the errors that once led to disaster, monstrous atrocities and crime.

The EU’s Member States will decide this year and next year on the ratification of the Treaty establishing a European Constitution. The Constitutional Treaty will both re-affirm and project the values that are at the heart of the ever closer Union that the Member States and their peoples have decided to forge. One of its centre-pieces is the Charter of Fundamental Rights. As we speak, the Commission is preparing the proposal of transforming the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia into a fully-fledged Fundamental Rights Agency. This is one of the many signals of where we are heading, and of what is important to us – and for Austria, host to the European Monitoring Centre from its beginning.

5) Austria’s accession to the EU was an important step in the on-going process of securing peace, freedom and prosperity also for the generations to come. Geography as well as history places Austria at the heart of the re-united Europe. For centuries, Austria has been a bridge between the West and the East of our continent. It was very helpful that the Austrian accession preceded last year’s accession of its neighbours. Austria’s accession was not only important for Austria itself – it brought the EU closer again to those countries, and helped the EU understand that it was about to change in a new and unprecedented way. Let me say that it was for me a privilege as well as a pleasure that I was able to make a modest personal contribution to this accession in my then capacity as Portuguese Foreign Minister. I am honoured and proud that the Accession Treaty signed at Korfu on 24 June 1994 also bears my signature.

When the Austrian government sent its “letter to Brussels”, history was made for the better. Let me pay tribute to all of those who contributed to the successful steering and conclusion of the accession negotiations. Former chancellor Franz Vranitzky is among us today, and I would like to salute him. As I would like to express my gratitude to former foreign minister Alois Mock, who has sent us his message. He is a true European who has done Austria very proud. It is an honour for me that I can count him among my personal friends. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel was a cabinet minister already at the time of the accession. Our good friendship dates back to the time when we were both the Foreign Ministers of our countries. In his different capacities, he has been an active force in EU politics ever since. But let us not forget all the other architects who have contributed towards the accession: the Austrian parliament, politicians and officials on the national, the Länder and the local level, the social partners, the churches and religious communities, the civil society, the journalists and the media, the activists who have supported and explained what becoming a part of the EU means for the present and for the future – and first and foremost the citizens whose allegiance, whose constructive criticism, whose democratic control is the basis of the legitimacy of our common endeavour.

I would like to thank all of them, reminding us that their effort is not over, but needs renewing each and every day. The EU is work in progress. So is Austria’s membership of it. It needs to be re-thought and re-explained each and every day. This is why I am particularly happy to learn that one of the projects that will come to fruition this year is the project of the first “EU school book”. I commend its authors and its editors for this idea which is a fitting example of how to commemorate such an anniversary: the young generation is entitled to learn and to experience about Europe. I am truly looking forward to browsing through the book when it will appear in the autumn. Another commendable initiative is the recently presented logo and slogan “Gemeinsam gut unterwegs” developed by a common platform in an effort to communicate the aspects of Austria’s membership in the European Union on a broad basis. These are examples to be followed and to be expanded.

6) Since Austria’s accession to the EU, Europe has changed and Austria with it.

What was then the Eastern border of the Union, an “EU window” towards the neighbours, is today a part of the heartland of the enlarged EU.

The Danube area is growing, and progressively becoming once again an integrated region, economically as well as socially and culturally. Through a vigorous reform policy, Austria is one of the driving forces of a successful implementation of the Lisbon Strategy aimed at fostering growth and employment throughout the EU: It is the 3rd richest country of the EU and since accession its average growth rate of 3 % has always been higher than the EU average, which certainly sets a good example that is well worth following.

And Austria has provided the EU, and in particular (but not only) the Commission, with excellent personalities and personnel, both at the political and at the administrative level.

As I already said, the EU has certainly benefited from the Austrian accession.

7) But Austria, too, is better off after the accession than before it.

From the Austrian growth figures I just quoted and the fact that the Austrian economy is strongly interlinked with the rest of the EU economy, one can deduce that the EU, its Single Market and its Single Currency provide Austria with an economic environment that is stimulating and beneficial. But accession has not only opened the whole of the EU to the Austrian economy. European integration is not only about market access. The accession has opened the whole of the EU to Austria’s citizens. The accession has made Austria part of a wider political framework that gives its people more freedom and more choice and the possibility to move freely in a Europe without frontiers. Not to forget the fact that it also increases the security of the country and its citizens through the participation in the area of freedom, security and justice currently under construction in the EU. Most importantly, being part of the process of European integration gives your country and your citizens the possibility to influence decisions on a far grander scale than if you stayed by yourselves.

The EU provided Austria with a new multilateral context to help solving difficult bilateral issues. The Temelin case is but one example. And does anybody seriously believe that the solution of other difficult questions, such as the transit across the Alps, would be any easier if Austria had remained outside the EU? I know that it is tempting to dream of being able to do things all alone. But doing things all alone is not a guarantee of solving problems – as is attested by a quick glance across our borders. The membership in the EU means having a say. Austria has had quite a forceful say over the last ten years.

Let me take once again the Alps transit issue. With the active participation of Austria, the EU has launched a constant process of lowering traffic emissions levels, it is promoting important investments for the rail projects in the framework of the Trans European Network – in particular, the Brenner Rail Tunnel – and it is spearheading efforts to move freight traffic away from the road and to help finance alternative infrastructure. I am fully aware that some people (and in particular those directly affected by the transit) feel that this is still not enough. But this is a point of view that can make itself heard in the European institutions. Where would we stand on the Alps transit if that had not been the case?

Or take environmental policy which I know is a particular concern for many of your citizens as it is to me – and it is true that Austria has a lot of beautiful landscape to preserve! Here again, one might think that doing it alone might provide for the strictest standards possible. But not necessarily the most effective! As pollution does not stop at the border, environmental standards make much more sense when implemented across borders, all across the EU and even beyond. Austria has played a crucial role in forming and influencing Europe’s conscience in this respect – which in turn has made the environment better and safer than would have been possible otherwise.

With the accession, Austria has ensured its capacity to be and to remain a player in Europe and beyond it. Who better than former Commissioner Franz Fischler can attest to this reality? He who has, for almost ten years, been a reference, not only in the EU – but through his office throughout the world?

It is precisely because the EU membership allows for this and other kinds of influence that the case for constructive (and of course sometimes critical) commitment to the EU is a lot more convincing than the case for purely negative euro-scepticism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

8) Together, we have made huge progress over the last ten years. And together, we will have to face new, important challenges in the years to come – challenges which demand a strong leadership and a clear vision of the direction in which we should be heading. These challenges demand a true European renewal.

We will have to face economic challenges. In order to expand our prosperity, to preserve and develop our model, it is essential to restore growth in Europe. To this end, we must give a fresh start to the Lisbon Strategy: it needs to be refocused on better defined objectives, and it needs better implementation. This means that we must build a new partnership for change, mobilising European governments, social partners, civil society and most importantly citizens. A partnership that is able to make the EU an attractive place to invest and to work in.

If we want to achieve this, we must set free the EU’s hidden potential:

9) This is the right recipe. But its ingredients are not for free. We need a common effort. Not for the sake of statistics, or balance sheets. We need a common effort because what is at stake is the chance for this and the future generations to live their lives as fully as they deserve. The Lisbon Strategy is not about numbers. It is about people and about their chances to enjoy prosperity and hence to lead a life as they think fit.

Let me make very clear that the focus of the fresh Lisbon Strategy as proposed by the Commission is not at all in contradiction with the ambition of our social policy and of our environmental policy. Growth is a necessary condition for effective solidarity. Without growth, without a strong economy, there will be no sustainable development, be it in terms of social or in terms of environmental policies. I have said it before, and I say it again: Growth is not an end in itself. It is a means to ensure a decent way of living – the European model we want to preserve is characterised by a balance of economic incentives which allow enjoying social protection and living in a safe and sane environment, also for our children and grandchildren.

Growth is also one key factor for security. European citizens want the freedom and the mobility made possible by the EU. But, at the same time, they also want to be protected against terrorism, crime and natural catastrophes. Now to cite but one example, projects like the integrated management of the EU’s external borders, which figures among our highest priorities for the years to come, require appropriate resources. Here again, the further vitalization of the EU’s economies is a pre-condition for our ability to put forward optimal solutions.

Finally, growth is also a necessary condition for the EU’s ability to take on its responsibilities in the world. Greater political coherence in the EU’s external action is indispensable at a point in time when we must pave the way for a new phase in transatlantic relations, when we must support the new opportunities for peace in the Middle East, when we must make renewed efforts to improve the development of poorer countries, notably in Africa. The visit that US President George W. Bush has just paid to Brussels is just one indicator of the recognition of the growing role of the European Union as a global actor. And in these challenging times, I am happy to have with Benita Ferrero-Waldner an experienced and world-wise Austrian in my team as the Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy.

10) To face these challenges, the EU needs a better institutional framework and adequate financial means.

The Constitutional Treaty has the potential to provide this framework, when the ratification process, as I hope, will be successfully completed. It will strengthen democracy, through a stronger role of the European Parliament as well as the national parliaments. It will provide more transparency, better participation of citizens, and wider dialogue with civil society. It will improve the coherence and the efficiency of both our internal and external policies. In short, it will allow for effective decision-making in an ever closer, but also ever bigger EU, whilst leaving no doubt about the fact that the legitimacy of the EU is based on its Member States and its peoples. The Constitutional Treaty caters to a Citizens’ Europe that works, to a Europe where the big and the small Member States have an equal chance to be heard and to participate. It is a resounding refusal of a bureaucratic super-state.

At the same time, the EU needs adequate means for the actions it is committed to performing. The Commission’s proposals for the next period of financial programming, the so-called Financial Perspectives from 2007 to 2013, send a clear message in this respect. There can be no mismatch between what the Member States and its peoples expect the European Union us to do commonly at European level, and the resources between what they the Member States and its peoples are ready to provide.

This being said, the Commission is fully aware that resources are scarce, that major budgetary consolidation efforts are underway in nearly all Member States, and that growth requires stability, certainly also regarding public finances. This is why its proposals are aimed at supporting national efforts through measures that maximise Europe’s added value. Budgetary proposals that would simply add European expenditure to national expenditures, thus maximising total expenditure, would indeed be indefensible. What we aim at are budgetary proposals that reinforce the effect of national expenditure, or that render national expenditure in a certain area less necessary whilst providing more value for the same amount of money. For example, proper protection of the EU’s external border; or investing in peace and stability in the Balkans; or helping rural communities flourish and protecting the countryside that surrounds them.

11) Our aim is a final package that is of balanced benefit to all the Member States. This is why I regret that the discussion has focussed so much on so-called net contributions or net receipts. I do not think that this vision of the EU does justice to its workings and to its benefits. Think only of the welfare gains that export-oriented economies like Austria reap from the existence and expansion of an efficient Single Market throughout the continent, or from expanded and functioning Trans European Networks! I therefore remain optimistic that a good compromise can be found, and can ensure you that the Commission will do its best to contribute to it.

12) The process of European integration, our common project, has progressed admirably. “Mega projects” like the completion of the Single Market, the introduction the EURO, and successive enlargements have been accomplished. But we must take care that the “engine” does not move at too high a speed, leaving the citizens behind. We are aware of this risk, and this is why my Commission will make a particular effort for a clear and strong new communication strategy. But explaining EU matters and listening to citizens’ expectations and concerns about it is not only a task for the EU institutions, but very much also a task of the Members States and civil society actors – so please allow me to take the liberty to call on you to join in the effort to communicate this grand project better to our fellow citizens!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our past success gives us cause to be realistically optimistic about our future perspective. The European project continues to have great promise. We need not doubt our capacity to steer it towards enduring solutions for the challenges I have just mentioned. I have said that it is time for a European renewal. I am very confident that the EU can continue to count on Austria to do its part in this renewal on the path towards a better Europe.

Vor fünfzig Jahren begrüsste der damalige österreichische Aussenminister Leopold Figl den Staatsvertrag mit den Worten: „Österreich ist frei!“ Was für ein Weg ist in den fünfzig Jahren seither gegangen worden. Was für eine Erfolgsgeschichte ist in Österreich und in Europa geschrieben worden. Heute können wir froh und stolz sagen, dass ein freies Österreich Glied eines freien Europas ist. Es ist unsere Verantwortung, und unsere Ehrenpflicht, weiter zu arbeiten so dass auch künftige Generationen sagen können: „Österreich ist frei! Europa ist frei!“

Ich möchte Ihnen und uns zu 10 Jahren österreichischer Mitgliedschaft in der EU herzlich gratulieren. Die österreichische Mitgliedschaft ist gut für Österreich und gut für Europa. Vielen herzlichen Dank.

  • Ref: SP05-226EN
  • EU source: European Commission
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 25/2/2005

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