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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: