President of the Republic of Austria

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 30 January 2003

Mr President, Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen. I thank you, most warmly, Mr President, for your invitation to put to this Assembly some ideas about the paths to European integration and set out some thoughts about co-operation and future relations between the Council of Europe and the enlarged European Union.

Commitment to Europe is an old Austrian tradition. It is based on the painful, but also hopeful, experiences of a country located in a geopolitically sensitive area at the crossroads of the major cultures of our continent.

This commitment has also led to a considerable presence of my fellow countrymen in leading positions in European organisations. This is the third time, for example, that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has been an Austrian and the second time that Austria has provided the President of the Parliamentary Assembly. Furthermore, another fellow countryman of mine is currently President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. As President of Austria, I am pleased to have this opportunity today to greet those fellow citizens who have rendered such outstanding service to the European idea.

Ladies and gentlemen, precisely at this time, when Europe is on the point of overcoming the splits and divisions of the past, it seems all the more important to intensify the dialogue concerning our common European future. This dialogue must be all-embracing and should not be restricted to national or international institutions but must extend right into civil society and include our citizens, for our united Europe will endure only if it has the permanent agreement and confidence of all its citizens. This is a central task of the political opinion-forming process. In this necessary and, I hope, broad exchange of views, the mass media are particularly important and bear great responsibility, and it will be crucial in this context to take proper account of the complexity of European history, especially with regard to our common future.

Our common values were already the basis for a united Europe for the founding fathers of European unification. It has always been, and will remain, important in the realisation of this vision to bear these common spiritual and cultural roots in mind and to preserve and nurture the variety of our cultures, languages, traditions and religions, because they are the source of our wealth and creativity, and therefore the strength of our continent in the globalised world.

This remains the Council of Europe’s task: to work for a Europe that is committed to common values and will continue to extend beyond the integrated Europe of the EU after the latter’s forthcoming enlargement. Given the urgent issues and the many different dangers we face today, it is essential for us to show solidarity across national borders and engage in joint action. Terrorism, everyday violence and intolerance are issues the Council of Europe also deals with intensively today. The Council was the first international organisation to call for human rights also to be respected in the fight against terrorism, and the guidelines it produced last year have now been recognised by the United Nations as a valid standard. I mention this fact to point to the role of the Council as the guardian of humanistic, and therefore original European, values, which are the bedrock of European unification.

The protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the promotion of democracy and the consolidation of the rule of law are still priorities now that the political map of Europe is being reshaped. The proposal that has now been made by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for another summit of heads of state and governments of member states to be held enjoys my full support, because such a forum might provide an important political impetus to the process of adapting your Organisation’s activities to meet the political challenges of our time.

Austria, which was in the shadow of the iron curtain for forty years, and only joined the EU eight years ago, is aware of its responsibility to Europe as a whole. I myself hosted the first summit of heads of state and government of the Council of Europe in Vienna in 1993, and I took part in the second summit held in Strasbourg in 1997. A third such summit could give the 800 million citizens of the Council of Europe family a clear signal that the political will exists for pan-European action when it comes to protecting human rights and democracy from current threats, such as terrorism, political extremism, organised crime and corruption.

Ladies and gentlemen, as the driving force of the Council of Europe the Parliamentary Assembly has a special task in the process of European unification, because it is the only parliamentary institution with a pan-European commitment. Austria values the innovation, flexibility and political influence of this Assembly. It is innovative, for many of your ideas are forward-looking and can be put into practice. It is also flexible, for it has the capacity to react rapidly and appropriately to the prevailing political conditions in Europe. It is not afraid to grasp the political nettle if democracy and human rights are at stake and it uses its political influence to call for the rights enshrined in Council of Europe conventions to be honoured by every member state.

We must increasingly acknowledge that the threat to individuals has grown, in spite of all the progress made by our modern world, and this threat no longer stems only from armed conflict, natural disasters or the situation of the poorest of the poor. The demand for greater security for individuals requires not only a larger measure of international solidarity but also an uncompromising attitude with regard to respect for human rights, which are actually the basis of, and even the driving force behind, the achievement of human security and dignity.

Protecting human rights is the task of the European Court of Human Rights, which is the only institution of its kind in the world. Through the individual right of petition against alleged human rights violations, 800 million people have direct access to this court. Where issues relating to the freedom and dignity of the individual are concerned, citizens are increasingly aware of this human rights protection machinery and the number of applications to the European Court of Human Rights is consequently growing all the time. I consider this an important and encouraging signal from Europe and one that I hope will serve as an example worldwide. In order to ensure the Court can continue to cope with its case-load in future, the requisite material conditions for this must exist, and I shall be discussing this point this afternoon. I also support the efforts being made to tighten up the application procedure. At any rate, the right of individual petition, as a key element of human rights protection, must not be subject to any restrictions.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe and the European Union both stem from a single vision, from a plan for peace and freedom in a united Europe based on common values. Although they differ in their structures and methods of operation, they also complement one another. In political practice they are natural partners, especially in their support for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms, including the rights of minorities. Particularly now that the decision has been taken to considerably enlarge the EU, it would seem to be important to review the relations between the two partners and, where this seems sensible, to reorganise them.

It is to be hoped that, in the not too distant future, all European states will belong to the Council of Europe. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – which will in future be known as Serbia and Montenegro – and Monaco are waiting on the doorstep. When Belarus, where, as we all know, a number of fundamental reforms still need to be carried out, is also accepted as a member one day, this pan-European institution will probably have reached its maximum size with forty-seven member states. The Parliamentary Assembly will then be the parliamentary mouthpiece of all the people in Europe, from Iceland to Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation to Portugal.

Therefore, when the European Union enlarges, the Council of Europe, with its Parliamentary Assembly, will have to be regarded as a sound and important partner. If the relationship between the Council and the EU is to be reviewed and reoriented, the same needs to be done in respect of the relations between the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament. Both institutions comprise directly elected members, are close to their citizens, are aware of realities and have a shared responsibility to create a Europe of freedom, security and law. The forthcoming accession of ten states to the European Union, and co-operation with the numerous states that will in future lie on the other side of the new borders of the enlarged Europe will help to bring the two institutions closer together.

A good indication of this happening was the new dialogue between the two institutions that took place here on 24 September last year, during a plenary session. That dialogue, based not least on the Treaty of Rome and on the rules of procedure of the European Parliament, is necessary and should be continued at the same high level through existing working contacts. It is inconceivable to me that in a place like Strasbourg, which has been such a privileged witness to the European integration process, the potential for political dialogue should not be exploited to the full.

The moment when both organisations, the EU and the Council of Europe, are expanding thus provides good reason for consolidating both institutions and further increasing the co-ordination and exchange of information between them – in a Europe of the fifteen, the twenty-five and the forty-four. On the eve of the creation of a new and enlarged European Parliament, MPs from Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, who will soon be meeting in Strasbourg, can count on significant assistance in this context from the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly.

Once the planned enlargement of the EU has taken place, more than half the Council of Europe member states will also be members of the Union. As the EU states have passed sovereignty rights to the Union, and as a violation of human rights, even by supranational institutions, cannot be excluded, the creation of a single European human rights protection system seems to me indispensable. Accession by the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights therefore ought to guarantee coherence between the legal systems of the European Union and the Council of Europe in the area of fundamental rights and freedoms, and I call on EU member states to resolve to take this step.

Another aspect that ought to be taken into consideration in the reorientation of the relations between the European Union and the Council of Europe is the question of the “new neighbours”, that is to say, those countries that will also remain outside the Union after its enlargement, either because they have opted to do so or because they do not meet the membership conditions. The European Union might nevertheless use the Council of Europe as a platform for co-operation with these “new neighbours”. The dream of a united Europe must not end at the Schengen borders.

The common legal area which is increasingly taking shape for all Europeans within the borders of the Council of Europe constitutes a sound starting point for the realisation of a vision that binds the European Union and the Council of Europe together, namely the creation of a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous area without dividing lines. This, like no other plan, is likely to dispel the fears of the European peoples, concentrate their forces and strengthen their cohesion. With this objective in mind, let me issue a warning against creating new dividing lines in Europe. Various models for co-operation and lasting involvement will need to be developed in order to integrate countries with a European orientation, such as Ukraine, permanently into the European unification process. Where other than in the Council of Europe, which I view as a forum for discussing our continent’s future, can such models be analysed and discussed on a broad basis?

In this connection, I should like to mention in particular the global dialogue of cultures and religions that is proceeding on many levels. Europe especially, with its religious, cultural and ethnic diversity, is an understanding partner in this respect, so I welcome the fact that the Council of Europe, as the largest European institution, is using these opportunities and has established contacts with the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Austria, as a country with close historical and geographical ties with South-eastern Europe, values the great commitment shown by the Council of Europe in this area and supports all the relevant activities aimed at removing the last white areas from the geographical map of the Council of Europe. Owing to the bloody conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the political changes of 1989 did not happen in the western Balkans until much later. Now we must not let up in our support for the efforts of the countries of this region to draw closer to the European Union, thus opening up for them the path to a prosperous future. The integration of Europe would be incomplete without the inclusion of such important and very European states.

Austria therefore emphatically supports the early admission of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the Council of Europe. This would make a significant contribution to promoting political stability and democratic reforms in Serbia and Montenegro and enable that country to take its traditional place in the European family.

One of the most important partners for a peaceful and stable Europe is no doubt the Russian Federation, so I welcome the contribution made by the Council of Europe’s experts in the office of President Putin’s Special Representative for Chechnya in the search for a solution to the bloody conflict there. As it proved impossible to extend the mandate of the OSCE’s Assistance Group to Chechnya, the Council of Europe’s experts are now the only permanent international representatives in the region. It is to be hoped that their considerable expertise will continue to be exploited in the interests of the preservation of human rights and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Chechnya.

Ladies and gentlemen, seldom are the consequences of a globalised policy and global interlinkage so dramatic as in the matter of war and peace, of conflicts that, despite great geographical distances, directly affect the living conditions of every individual. Where peace and security issues are concerned, the alarming developments surrounding Iraq must be mentioned, even in the context of Europe. There is a serious danger of war in Iraq, with unpredictable consequences. Iraq must be persuaded to comply with all the obligations imposed on it by the UN Security Council resolutions. However, the decision about any other measures against Iraq must be taken by the UN Security Council, which bears the main responsibility for peace and security in the world.

Europe has learned from its painful history that war ultimately does not solve any problems and, instead, brings human suffering, destruction and misery, but also seriously jeopardises the stability of the world economy. Since the end of the second world war, we have committed ourselves to a policy based on dialogue and understanding, and on peaceful means rather than military confrontation. Europe supports a world view in which states and peoples coexist on the basis of the rules of international law and binding treaty commitments, with the global problems of our age solved by multilateral cooperation within the UN and other international organisations. Our vision is that of a multi-polar world and an international order that is binding on all and enables states, cultures and religions to live in harmony with one other.

The numerous efforts by friendly governments to persuade Iraq to co-operate fully with the UN inspectors deserve all our support. Europe has many links with the Middle East, so it would be particularly appropriate for it to help to achieve a peaceful settlement of the crisis. I therefore welcome the readiness of the Greek EU presidency to undertake a peace mission in the region.

Ladies and gentlemen, the enlargement of the EU decided in Copenhagen signifies that the – in every respect – devastating consequences of two world wars and the subsequent division of the continent and the oppression of millions of people have finally been left behind us. However, we have not yet reached the end of the path charted by the founding fathers of the European Union.

In order that we can meet the present pan-European challenges better, some overlap between the various European organisations is necessary. This applies both to combating international terrorism while simultaneously safeguarding human rights and to controlling migratory movements on our continent. It also applies to measures against intolerance, racism and xenophobia and, finally, to defining human rights standards in the fields of bioethics, data protection and Internet crime. The Council of Europe has achieved a great deal in this connection through the treaties it has established, and I therefore also attach particular importance to my signing here today, in person, the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through the use of computer systems, which was opened for signature this week. The sooner a large number of member states accede to this important legal instrument, the sooner it can enter into force.

As far as we are concerned, the Council of Europe is, and remains, the guardian of European civilisation. In the new era that has now begun, the Council of Europe and the enlarged European Union should, in their efforts to strengthen pluralist democracy and the effective defence of human rights, to solve the current political, social and economic problems and to promote the cultural identity of Europe, work together in partnership even more than before. This is the only way in which the dream of a united Europe – a Europe of peace and freedom – can, step by step, be turned into reality.

Thank you for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr President, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. I will allow supplementary questions at the end only if time permits. They will be taken in the order that we are using now.

The first question is by Mr Davis on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr DAVIS (United Kingdom)

Thank you, Mr President, for your address. I was particularly struck by your references to the need for international solidarity in the face of globalisation and to the need for dialogue between different cultures and religions. Will you use your influence as the President of Austria to encourage the Austrian Government to join the North-South Centre, which is a valuable organ of the Council of Europe? It has responsibility for the aims that you described.

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria

The Austrian Government and myself are trying to promote the unification of Europe. Ten years ago, I established a meeting of presidents from central and eastern Europe. Yesterday, I said goodbye to Vaclav Havel who, together with me, was the founder of such meetings. In May, we will hold a meeting in Salzburg to mark their tenth anniversary and seventeen, instead of four, representatives will be present. Austria is trying to do what it can to promote the unification of Europe.

I must confess that I heard about the North-South Centre only this morning in my conversation with the Secretary General and the President. I will take news of it back home with me to Vienna and will talk to the prime minister and the government. I assure you that East-West cooperation, as well as North-South co-operation, is in the interests of Austria.

Mr VAN DER LINDEN (Netherlands) (translation)

Thank you. Mr President, I think your speech was a very positive assessment of the Council of Europe and I fully endorse what you said.

I actually wanted to ask a question about enlargement and the fact that there should not be any more dividing lines, but you have already answered it. However, you also said Europe should not be divided on Iraq. Do you think that the position of eight European states, which was published today in an Aachen newspaper, is a positive step in this direction?

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria (translation)

I can only let you know Austria’s position, which is, like that of most European Union states, that this is a matter for the United Nations. I think we need a Security Council resolution. If Saddam Hussein does indeed possess chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction, then it is necessary for all of us to take them away from him. The President of the United States has announced that he will provide proof of the existence of such weapons in two or three days’ time.

My country will not take action without a decision of the UN Security Council. We still believe the UN is the guarantor of peace and security. As I said in my speech, war ultimately does not solve any problems.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

Parliamentarians are often interested in domestic politics, so I have a question about Austria. Austria is special because of its tradition of grand coalitions, but it has been argued that populist parties have emerged as a consequence. A new coalition is about to be formed in Austria. How can the emergence of populist parties be avoided in the future?

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria

Three years ago, a populist party achieved 27% in the election, but now it is down to 10% or lower.

As is my right, I requested the leader of the party that came first in this election, who is the current Chancellor, to form a government. I said that I wanted a broad balance in parliament. Nine weeks have now passed, and yesterday the newspapers were full of this story. I urged the Chancellor to decide with which of the three other parties in parliament he would form a coalition. My wish would be that he forms a coalition with the two big parties, because we have many problems to solve, such as constitutional questions, that require a two-thirds majority in parliament. That is only possible with the two big parties. If he chooses a coalition with one of the smaller parties, I shall have to accept that.

You ask about populist parties, and I can tell you that their vote is down from 27% to 10% or even lower, so there is no danger. When Austrian people are asked who, among the ten future members of the European Union, they like best, Hungary is number one.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Mr President, thank you for your support for the holding of a third Council of Europe summit, at which you would of course be present. Do you accept the logic of the Assembly that the summit should be held before the inter-governmental conference next year, so that our summit can take account of the recommendations that the EU Convention on the Future of Europe will be making to that conference? Those recommendations may affect us before decisions are made by the inter-governmental conference next year.

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria

I was the President in 1993 in Vienna when the summit was held, and I was present in Strasbourg. I will support whatever you decide, whether it be in Vienna or elsewhere. In my speech, I explained the importance of the Council of Europe together with the European Union and the European Parliament. I am in your hands as regards the time frame.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

Nato is carrying out an enlargement process, and there are many non-aligned countries in the Council of Europe and the European Union, such as Austria and Finland. What positive role can military, non-aligned countries play to safeguard the European security architecture?

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria

We have a constitutional law on neutrality. You have a different name for it, but it is more or less the same. Finland, Sweden and Austria are in a similar position. We have participated in almost every action sanctioned by the United Nations, including peacekeeping and peace-enforcing operations. Finnish and Austrian contingents were together in the Balkans and even in Afghanistan. We are surrounded by Nato members, and Sweden and Finland are surrounded by Baltic states that will become members of Nato. My view is that we will have to contribute to the building of a European security policy, a foreign policy and, ultimately, a defence policy. At that point, we will have to decide what we do about neutrality. At the end of this year, we will have the draft of a constitution for Europe. We will have to check whether the Austrian Constitution complies with the European Constitution. I believe that we will have to have a referendum and ask the people about neutrality – not whether we should be a member of Nato, but about common defence as a member of the European Union. I think that that is also the position of Finland.


Mr President, you support a third summit of the Council of Europe, and you raised the interesting point about a united system for the defence of human rights. Can you be more specific about that idea, given that we have two different codes and two different instruments? Who should take the initiative in that area, and how should that initiative be discussed? Do you envisage that there should be one code and one instrument? What role would you like to play in that area?

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria

In that context, the Council of Europe has an important role to play. The unification of Europe and the enlargement process are not finished. Ten new members have been accepted, so membership will rise from fifteen to twenty-five, but that will continue. We members of the Council of Europe must be sure that our standards on democracy and human rights are accepted by the countries that I hope will at some time in the future also become part of Europe.


Is Mr Ekes in the Chamber, because I do not see him in his place? He is not here, so I call Mr Pangalos.

Mr PANGALOS (Greece)

Mr President, you said that any action in Iraq should be based on the UN Security Council resolution. Just before you arrived, the Assembly, with an overwhelming majority, took a decision on the same lines. Yesterday, eight prime ministers were called to London by Mr Blair, and they published a declaration under the title “Europe and America must stand united”. They opened the way for a coalition that has the will to act without a UN resolution. What is your view on that, and what impact could that initiative have on the European Union decision-making process?

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria

My opinion, and the opinion and decision of the Austrian Government, is very clear. Without a UN Security Council decision, nothing should be done. I said in my speech that I welcomed the initiative taken by the Greek presidency of the European Union to see what could be done to prevent the war. The resolution of those eight countries does not mean that the European Union is divided. It is the answer to some remarks that came from Washington which were perhaps not very diplomatic. I think that Europe is united. It should have – and has – a common foreign policy, and, as I said, we support the Greek initiative, while holding the presidency, to find a peaceful solution to the problem. It does not look good, but you should try to find such a solution if possible.

Mr GÜLÇIÇEK (Turkey) (translation)

Thank you. Mr President, on 1 January 2003, the amendment to the Immigration Act came into force. This act contains the so-called “integration agreement” that provides for compulsory German courses for nationals of non-EU member states. I have been informed that this agreement applies to people who entered Austria after 1988 and that they must provide proof of having attended such a course within four years.

This new amendment is worrying for most Turkish citizens who have been living legally in Austria for some time, have jobs and are making their contribution for the benefit of Austrian society. May I ask you to comment on this?

Mr Klestil, President of the Republic of Austria (translation)

Honourable member, I personally have the best of relations with the umbrella organisation of associations representing Turkish people in Austria. I know how important and how hard-working Turkish citizens in Austria are. The purpose of the regulations you refer to is to promote the integration of those citizens who intend to stay in the country. We want this to happen, and this is why we are offering language courses. When the Turkish associations come to me, I naturally do not speak Turkish to them but German, because they speak my language, and we want to enable all Turkish immigrants to do so. We welcome them and very much need them, and we want to help them to integrate into Austrian society.


That brings to an end the questions to the President. I thank him most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for coming to Strasbourg, for his statement and for the remarks that he has made in the course of the questions.