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Meetings Calendar 2006
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Informal meeting of Foreign Ministers Ursula Plassnik and Per Stig Møller with leading representatives of Islam in Vienna on 16 February 2006

 

Key Messages of Foreign Minister Plassnik

  • Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and a basic component of a democratic society.  At the same time, due respect must be accorded to religious beliefs and convictions. Freedom of expression and respect for revered values do not contradict but complement one another.
  • Acts of violence such as the recent attacks on European embassies and offices must not be accepted under any circumstances.
  • The events of the last days have demonstrated that a lack of dialogue unfortunately exists between the Western and Islamic worlds. This presents both sides with a challenge. We must not leave the floor to extremists. “There is a danger that the essential dialogue between cultures and societies is being reduced to an angry exchange between the fringes, with each side assuming that extremists speak for the other side as a whole and – in turn – allowing its own extremists to frame its own hostile response.” (UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 10 February 2006).
  • Against this background, the recent joint statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Secretary General of the OIC and the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union represent an important positive signal at the global level.
  • There is an urgent need to promote dialogue between cultures and religions. We must both foster dialogue with Muslims in Europe and dialogue between Europe and the Muslim world.
  • European society and Islamic communities in Europe should cooperate in creating conditions that make it possible for Muslims living in Europe to realize both their religious identity as Muslims and their social identity as Europeans. This will be one of the main topics of the Conference of European Imams that will be organized in Vienna by the Islamic Community of Austria and the Austrian Foreign Ministry on 7 April 2006.
  • European Muslims, many of whom can look back on a centuries’ old tradition on the European continent, can play a key role in facilitating dialogue and comprehension between Europe and the Muslim world.
  • One of the best frameworks to enhance dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world is the Alliance of Civilizations joint initiative launched under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General by the Prime Ministers of Turkey and Spain. The next High Level Group Meeting of the Alliance will take place in Doha in February 2006. Austria has also declared her willingness to host the following High Level Group Meeting in Vienna in May 2006.
  • The European Union and its Mediterranean partners should also make the best possible use of the Barcelona Process for promoting the dialogue of civilizations, in particular through the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria, (Egypt). A Senior Officials Meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership will focus on this issue on 22 February 2006. We will have to pay particular attention to the role of women in the dialogue between our societies.
  • Forthcoming initiatives on the Euro-Med calendar include a seminar on “Xenophobia and Racism in the Media” to be held in Vienna in cooperation with the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in May 2006. The developments of the last weeks have shown that an increased interchange amongst representatives of the media must be made a priority of the dialogue of cultures. We should look at options for a series of comparable events.
  • We should, in particular, aim at a substantially increased dialogue among young people. The UNESCO network of schools might provide a good framework for such efforts.
  • During the last days, contacts between the European Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have proved particularly fruitful. We should intensify these contacts with the option of an EU-OIC Forum in the course of this year.
  • EU Member States and Islamic countries should coordinate their action, within the UN context, in the interest of promoting tolerance as well as respect for religious beliefs, convictions and symbols. Particular emphasis should be given to the role that free media and NGO’s can play in this regard.
  • We have today made an important first step towards the creation of a new network of bridge-builders who can help to bring about a new quality of dialogue with Muslims in Europe and between Europe and the Muslim world.

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Date: 17.02.2006