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Speeches, Interviews

19.04.2006

European Conference on Subsidiarity, Opening Statement by Ursula Plassnik


 

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Presidents,

It was a pleasure for me to be able to participate and to listen most attentively to this conference yesterday. We had very important European speakers here, and I must say that what I saw was a push into a new direction, a conference that has really woken us up and that has given us a lot of new confidence. That is exactly what we need in Europe. We heard many excellent ideas, all sorts of concrete and practical proposals, all of them below the level of constitutional amendments and regulations that we might have to come up with. The European Union is an institution that is able to learn. The potential of the various levels in this new European Union to act together, to cooperate, is enormous and by no means exhausted. I was extremely happy to listen to the words of Franz Fischler, who knows the institutions and their cooperation very intimately and who has come up with an abundance of proposals showing us how we deal with the subject.

Europe should and could be a continent of confidence and optimism, which is what we need. I sometimes wonder if the greatest enemy and impediment to promoting the European project isn’t the fact that we are just too timid. There is one thing I can promise you. We will take along all the ideas we heard, we will try and present them to the Council of Foreign Ministers as best as we can. Just allow me to say a few words in this respect and to point to the greater overall framework of the Austrian presidency and our work in the setting of the European institutions.

We thought, willingly and consciously, that what we would like to do at this stage of building up Europe is to create more confidence. We’re looking for measures to build up confidence and subsidiarity is certainly one of them. Subsidiarity: though the word may not be known to all, I am not worried that European citizens will understand exactly what we mean as far as the substance of the word is concerned. Subsidiarity is a very practical experience that we have made in our lives, it is the experience every one of us has made in his/her family life, at work, in the communities and in a greater context in general. To speak when it is useful to say something, to regulate when it is useful to regulate something at a level where you can really achieve something. It is not all a purely abstract and academic principle.

The second aim of the European presidency was to make sure that partnership is a living phenomenon, not a lip service. I think what we saw and heard here yesterday and today, the cooperation is an impressive expression of this networking, of the attempt, also of the European presidency, to interrelate these various levels and to get the whole thing moving, to be more dynamic, to give a new impulse – which is also one of the functions of the Austrian presidency. And again, that is one of the reasons why we wanted to hold this conference on subsidiarity.

The “Sound of Europe” was another impulse to get things moving again. As far as the Balkans are concerned, we showed our strong commitment and in the enlargement discussion we have stressed some time ago that we want to extend the membership of the community in there. But we have to remain realistic, we should not have any illusions and we should not really try and look at it from only that point of view and to strive for things that are impossible. That brings me to a topic that has already been mentioned, namely the future of the Constitutional Treaty.

Here a clear word of warning: It is not realistic to think that we will be able to get things moving again under the Austrian presidency in June. It’s not the fact that we don’t want to, it’s not the fact that we don’t have any ideas. It is a fact that this discussion has not really been fully carried out in a number of member states and that therefore, as far as the substance is concerned, we cannot yet come up with a solution. But this doesn’t mean that we won’t talk about it. It does not mean that we don’t want to discuss it anymore. I think if we were to refuse talking about it this would be a toxic substance and not a substance for building up confidence in Europe. We do have to talk to each other. We have to talk about the delicate issues as well. We have to say exactly where we want to go and we shouldn’t hold back. In this context I would like to hold an informal meeting with the ministers of foreign affairs in order to look at the extensive topic of future tasks and the future of Europe.

I am doing this not because I am naïve or because I think that we can leave such a meeting with a nice basket of beautiful flowers – the idea rather is that we want to have an open, serious, and ongoing dialogue with the foreign ministers about these fundamental issues.

Subsidiarity from my point of view – and here I would like to come to a close –  is a sort of material that holds the various levels of the European efforts together. It binds – yes – but it does have to be checked so that it fulfils its function properly. That is why we are going to have quite a few important talks on this subject this morning. Subsidiarity, as Prof. Calliess very clearly said yesterday, is also a legal principle, therefore the legal experts are concerned as well. It’s not just a principle of political design which is very important for Europe, but also a legal principle as well as well as a call to communicate.

A year ago, Erwin Pröll said that it would be up to us to make sure that this opposition to Europe will turn into a support for Europe. That is a commitment for me and for all of us. In this context I would like to have a network of mayors and a network of local authorities in order to bring Europe closer to its citizens and not to make them wonder whether it is going to happen from below or from above or elsewhere. Let’s just start doing it, then subsidiarity will be a very good means of combating the deficit of democracy within the European Union.

 

Date: 19.04.2006