Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 30 January 1991

“Ours is a time for fulfilling the hopes and expectations our peoples have cherished for decades: steadfast commitment to democracy based on human rights and fundamental freedoms; prosperity through economic liberty and social justice and equal security for all our countries.”

Mr President, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, those words were taken from the “Charter of Paris for a New Europe”, signed on 21 November 1990 by the heads of state or government of the thirty-four countries taking part in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Only two months later, we are forced to contrast our hopes and expectations once again with the realities of life. We have to look the devastation of war and violence in the face.

We Europeans who, after 1989, that annus mirabilis, had the impression that war had faded into the far distance, are now shaken and shattered. We did not expect that the new world order of peace and the rule of law would have to be secured in the Gulf by military action. That an aggressor cannot be checked otherwise than by a massive deployment of military might runs counter to everyone’s cherished hopes. The international community has at last returned to active solidarity in the United Nations. The fact that it cannot actually put a stop to war and destruction is for us all, ultimately, evidence of its shortcomings. Force is force, even when it has right on its side.

Blood has been shed in the Baltic, and we do not yet know whether this signifies the final death spasms of totalitarianism or whether it portends future horrors. What hurts most is the knowledge that Europe’s rediscovered union is not sufficient to prevent military conflicts occurring here, in Europe itself. If people have to die for freedom, it means that the conditions for lasting peace have not been created. The undertakings given in Helsinki and Paris should not remain a dead letter. They are binding on the Soviet Union in its dealings with its own national minorities and republics. One central achievement of the CSCE process is to have made redundant the argument regarding non-interference in so-called internal affairs. We must hold fast to this.

Events in the Gulf and in the Baltic states have made it grimly clear that maintaining peace is not simply a matter of routine. The making and preservation of peace and freedom is the great Sisyphean task of all politics. It is also the most difficult. All other tasks seem small by comparison.

It is all too easy to take peace for granted. All too often we forget that European unity was originally seen as an instrument for preventing war and thus ensuring peace. Its nucleus, the European Coal and Steel Community, was originally intended to ensure that the economic potential to wage war would cease to be at the disposal of individual states. This fundamental function of practical peace-keeping should always be borne in mind whenever we reflect on the future of our continent and the world.

The “Europe experiment” has taken several forms, none of which is the only true Gospel. There is much to be said for co-operation among industrial states in the OECD, for the European Community’s internal market, for the scheme for political union, the European economic area, for the wider Europe of the CSCE process, for co-operation among pluralist democracies in the Council of Europe and for regional transfrontier co-operation – each of these endeavours makes a specific, irreplaceable contribution to European unity. And each contribution enhances the others; each is an indispensable part of a large, single democratic process.

It is a truism of the late twentieth century that fewer and fewer issues of common concern can be settled at the national level, because of their very nature. We come across new illustrations of this fact every day. How can we expect to preserve peace, human rights, a healthy environment, a working economy and a satisfactory system of social security, except by joint effort? How can we expect to solve the problems before us otherwise than by a consistent and continual co-operation at all levels and across national frontiers? Where co-operation fails, one is left only with oppression, coercion and violence.

Today we are addressing the demands of the twenty-first century. They would prove too much for us if we turned our backs and directed our commitment not to the world community but to specifically national considerations.

Events in Europe over the past two years have provided an impressive illustration of how many certainties and apparently unshakeable truths can change and dissolve in a short time. It is, of course, essential to recognise windows of political opportunity and use them resolutely. But if people in Europe had not been prepared to engage in radical rethinking and show individual courage and collective determination, they would still be separated by the Iron Curtain, freedom would still be an empty word in Eastern Europe, and Germany would not have been peacefully reunited.

Austrians, Mr President, are often asked how they see their role in Europe, and especially how they reconcile membership of the European Community with their commitment to neutrality. Will Austria co-operate to bring about the political unity of Europe with all that this implies? Will it accept a common foreign policy and a common security policy? Or does Austria pick and choose, as it is sometimes alleged – though not often, I am glad to say – taking only the tastiest morsels from the cake of political options?

In the Council of Europe, everyone knows how resolutely we Austrians translated our beliefs into practice in previous decades and that to us neutrality has never meant philosophical and intellectual indifference. Human rights and fundamental freedoms know nothing of neutrality, and economic prosperity can thrive only in an open and free society. Neutrality, for us, is not and never was an end in itself. In politics, we do not go in for “art for art’s sake”. Neutrality for us has always been, and still is, a means of preserving our national security. Obviously, attitudes to security in what used to be a small country situated on the divide between opposing systems in a bipolar world were, of necessity, fundamentally different from those prevailing today and in the Europe of tomorrow. Neutrality at the confluence of legal and political elements is not a rigid concept, but a living and evolving one.

On this basis we are determined, through our accession to the European Community, to work for its political aims. As Jacques Delors said in his speech to the European Parliament in 1989, the European Community is more than just a large market, and joining it is tantamount to signing an indivisible marriage contract.

The people of Austria have never regarded Europe as ending at their country’s eastern border. We are, certainly, proud of all we have achieved, but we are also humble in the knowledge that history has spared us from sinking into servitude and poverty for decades like our neighbours to the east.

Perhaps this is why we have the feeling that doors should not be thoughtlessly shut or maliciously kept closed. The Europe of tomorrow must not be an exclusive club for the privileged few. Jean Monnet once said “We do not want to create a coalition of states but a union of peoples.” We none of us have any right to withdraw behind our achievements and use them as weapons to repel those who sincerely wish to travel the road with us towards tomorrow’s Europe.

I therefore welcome the debate which your Assembly, as the statutarily competent organ, is conducting today on the admission of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. In Austria, we have no doubt that the CSFR should be brought into the circle as quickly as possible. Like all other states of Central and Eastern Europe, the CSFR has a long and extremely difficult way ahead of it. But the people of that country have taken the first, decisive steps of their own accord and by their own efforts. For this they deserve our respect, our admiration and also our active support. We have every reason to bid them welcome and hope that we can all accomplish the next stages together.

Now a word about the Soviet Union. The tragic events in the Baltic states illustrate that freedom and non-violence are still on shaky ground in that part of the world. Having condemned this development, we should not just leave it at that and move on to the next item. This statement is no ill-mannered threat, and should not be taken as such. We are talking about published facts. In a Europe whose countries are coming closer together, house regulations must be observed as this is to the advantage of all.

In our concern and consternation over the use of force in the Baltic states, we should not, despite our very clear position, suddenly become confused. It is not by isolating ourselves and shutting ourselves off that we will help to establish democracy in the Soviet Union, but we must engage in sustained dialogue and remain open minded and co-operative.

I do not underrate the multifarious political and practical problems that will result if the Council of Europe steps up its co-operation with the Soviet Union. But if our Organisation cannot make available the full breadth of experience that is indispensable for a working democracy, for a community organised according to the rule of law, for tolerant co-habitation with minorities and the practical realisation of human rights, then who can? Where can this inherent know-how of pluralist democracy be learned, if not from the Council of Europe? And those who today wag their forefingers from a safe distance as they judge events in the Soviet Union should remember that, in Western Europe too, many have failed to tread the path of democracy unswervingly and that no one in Europe, West or East, is or ever will be sheltered against intolerance, violence and bondage.

If, then, the Council of Europe cannot provide the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with directly usable aid for the reconstruction of their systems of justice, the organisation of their local government and the training in democratic procedures, then who can? The Council of Europe is fully aware of this responsibility. Its quick reaction was due in large measure to the drive of its Secretary General. But for these new responsibilities it also needs additional resources.

On the occasion of the European Conference of Ministers of Justice, in the summer of last year, Switzerland announced its intention of placing a donation for a special account at the Council’s disposal, and encouraged other countries to follow suit. We are doing this now. I am happy to inform you that Austria is making 5 million Austrian schillings available for the “Demosthenes Programme” of the Council of Europe.

Now that the Iron Curtain has collapsed, the great pan-European challenges that have to be faced are slowly emerging. I should like to take this opportunity to discuss just two of these problems with you, as representatives of the European political conscience. They are both of fundamental significance for our co-habitation: the first is the need to maintain and, where necessary, restore, a healthy environment; the second is the problem of migration within Europe.

We need a responsible environment policy, and one which will benefit all Europeans. From the beginning this must be closely associated with the building up of the economy of Central and Eastern Europe. Europe’s prosperous industrialised states have a particular responsibility here: they must take resolute steps to enable the eastern part of the continent to break out of the vicious circle of industrial backwardness and ecological despoilment. This means that the necessary resources for building up environmentally benign economic structures in those states must be made available, possibly by means of a European fund for the environment. Such an investment would also in the long run make a practical contribution to peace-keeping, because the necessary social consensus can only be maintained if the present glaring discrepancies in this area are ironed out.

Last October, a pan-European conference was held in Vienna on this very subject. The parliamentarians present urged the Council of Europe to step up its commitment in this respect. Above all they suggested that the governments should appoint very swiftly a working group to draft a European environment charter which would provide a framework in international law for endeavours to solve environmental problems on a Europe-wide basis.

The Council of Europe has done pioneering work with the European Convention on Human Rights. It has made its Social Charter a significant instrument for the further development of social policy. Why not do the same for the environment?

A second challenge for our society, which, whether we like it or not, must be faced without delay is that of East-West migration in Europe.

This problem is complex and potentially explosive from the standpoint of domestic and foreign policy. And it is becoming daily more pressing.

Austria has been endeavouring for some considerable time to place this question on the European agenda. We have been pressing the need for the problem to be addressed internationally, torn as we are between our desire for open frontiers and our limited capacity for taking in immigrants. The ministerial conference held in Vienna under the auspices of the Council of Europe was the first stage in a process which could lead to agreement and close co-operation between the countries concerned. Without ignoring the worldwide dimension of migratory movements and their North-South components, we are convinced that the Council of Europe is the most appropriate forum for discussion of matters of immediate concern arising directly out of the political changes in Europe.

Here again, we have to contrast the ideal of freedom of movement throughout the continent with the reality of our capacity for absorption, and treat it accordingly. But at the same time we must also come to grips with the origin of the problem, namely the economic and social conditions which cause people to emigrate within Europe. Furthermore, we have to build up confidence in the possibility of improving these conditions and offer people once again a worthwhile prospect for their future through generous and extensive co-operation.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as your guest here, I am most grateful for this opportunity to discuss one or two points with you. They concern problems which are politically delicate and strike at the root of our system of values. There is no panacea. I have confidence in our ability to apply ourselves with far-sightedness and endurance to the search for convincing solutions. The Council of Europe has a valuable contribution to make here, as experience last year clearly showed. It is a matter for concern for all of us, but it is also the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that this chance is used.

Thank you for your attention. (Applause)


Thank you, Mr Chancellor. Your speech has touched on most of the important tasks before Europe and the member states of the Council of Europe. You represent a country which is situated in the centre of Europe, with a long experience of Central and Eastern Europe. As Chancellor for that country, you are well fitted to play an important role in the construction of a new and undivided Europe.

Eight members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you, Mr Chancellor. I remind them that it must be a question and not a statement, and that, according to the rules, they have only half a minute for each question. I call Lord Mackie of Benshie.

Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE (United Kingdom) (translation)

Mr Chancellor, you have already touched on my question, which concerns migration. You gave a long-term solution – to build up the hopes of the people for a better social life. Nevertheless, in the short term there are predictions that millions of people will move across Europe, and Austria is a traditional pathway. Have you a prediction in mind regarding the number of people who may migrate in the near future?

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

So far, we are mainly faced with predictions, and such predictions lead governments to take action. Various measures have been taken already and we need to decide which measures to take in the future. Austria’s approach is to open her borders to those who wish to come. We shall not impose limits on those who are politically persecuted and seek asylum, or who approach us for any similar reason. Those who wish to work in Austria or to live there in order to improve their standard of living will find our borders open, but with certain limitations which will be calculated on our ability to offer them job opportunities and a decent standard of living. It would not be honest or fair to accept any more of them than we could eventually manage.

We have set up various programmes to cooperate with our eastern and south-eastern neighbours. That co-operation consists mainly of offering them a means of jointly developing their economic, social and welfare systems. We have already set up a few new instruments to help them financially. In the short and medium term, as Austria is one of the front-line states in this respect, we expect to be able to handle the migration that we foresee.

However, there are some endeavours in the countries of origin to work against a new flood of emigrants. How successful they will be remains to be seen.

Mr ESER (Turkey)

As you mentioned in your speech a few moments ago, Mr Chancellor, a new conference on East-West migration in Europe has been held in Vienna. Within this changing environment, do you perceive any new co-operation in Europe to meet the imminent vast migratory movement from the South, which might in the long run affect Austria too?

Did the Vienna conference foresee any measures to protect the existing rights of legally resident migrant workers in Western Europe against the possible negative consequences of migration from both the East and the South?

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

The Vienna Conference, under the guidance of the Council of Europe, agreed on the principle that Europe as a whole should try to find solutions to the migration problems. The first approach would be that all European countries should adopt more or less the same principles and conditions to meet those problems. The rules and conditions that already exist in the European Community should be the point of origin.

Regarding the second part of your question, Mr Eser, about the rights and standards of people who have come to our countries to work and who have been there for many years, I see no danger that their rights may be curtailed.


I, too, should like to ask a question on a subject that was dealt with during the ministerial conference on East-West migration held in Vienna last week. It concerns a matter that constitutes a similar problem for Austria as for Turkey. As we all know, our two countries are, and are likely to remain – although perhaps not in a similar dimension for Austria – the foremost receiving countries for asylum-seekers. Such people nearly always leave everything behind, so to give them decent conditions and to allow them to continue to other countries, as they often wish to do, is a humanitarian duty which necessitates the implementation of the principle of burden sharing.

What measures have been taken in this respect, and how would you suggest, Mr Chancellor, that we convince other Western countries which, unfortunately, are often not so keen on doing so, to take their share of the burden?

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

First, I repeat what we repeatedly state, that there are no limits whatever on the admission of asylum-seekers to Austria. Secondly, in so far as financial burdens have to be carried by Austria, they are carried. Thirdly, I am not aware so far of an internationally working system of burden-sharing. There are some, probably modest, contributions by the United Nations High Commissioner in this respect. No other measures have been taken so far with any visible success.

Mr BASIAKOS (Greece)

Austria is well known for its natural beauty and its clean environment. As the environmental issue is of international concern, and of particular importance to Europe, it would be useful for us to know about the main environmental problems of Austria and the measures that have been taken.

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

As you correctly said, Austria has been one of the most successful countries in maintaining or restoring a sound and clean environment. It would, of course, be an exaggeration to say that everything has been done and that new threats are not facing Austria. I shall try to summarise. In the structure of nations living together in Central Europe, the environment is becoming more and more an international issue because air pollution, for instance, often travels from one country to another and even back. Therefore, international measures will be necessary to a much larger extent than before. That is one of the reasons why, in the framework of the European Council, we have submitted proposals and suggestions to arrive at an international order and ruling on the basis of an international environment charter.

Secondly, international traffic, especially trucks and lorries, is becoming more and more a major threat to a sound environment. Those Central European countries which mainly offer transfer over the Alps are most burdened by international traffic. We have imposed a number of restrictions in Austria and we are also trying to deal, trade and negotiate with the European Community finally to arrive at an agreement about restrictions on heavy traffic. Restrictions are not the only measures, because there will be a programme to try to shift heavy traffic from the roads and highways to the railways.

Thirdly, there are many other tasks, and one of the most important, at least in my country, is to maintain clean water in lakes. We have been quite successful in that. Our next step is to ensure clean water in rivers, and we are dealing with a ten-year programme.

Fourthly, we are on our way, quite successfully, to restructuring our industry by changing to low raw material and low energy production. The fifth major element is a programme to deal with rubbish, not at the end of the process but at the beginning. That means avoiding it as much as possible. There is legislation in that field.

Mr LOPEZ HENARES (Spain) (interpretation)

pointed out that the European Community now played an important political as well as economic role. In the light of this, would Austria be prepared to change its historical position on European integration in order to be accepted for membership of the EEC?

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

Briefly, in approching the European Community, I do not think that Austria needs structurally to change her foreign political attitude or her attitude to European integration. Throughout the years, Austria, in a positive and constructive way, has always supported and contributed to European integration. Therefore, I do not think that we need to change structurally the various approaches of our policies.

I was asked about our Constitution. As I said in my address, we do not consider the European Community to be a vast export-import club. We are well aware of the fact that this is a dynamic undertaking with an objective, a final goal, of European integration defined as a political project. Therefore, it is quite clear to us, and we would not have submitted our application if it was not, that in becoming a member we have to and wish to subscribe to the political principles of the Community that were written into the Treaty of Rome and thereafter.

As soon as the negotiations have finished, a consequence of what I have said is that giving away some elements of today’s sovereignty would mean a change in our Constitution or in parts of our constitutional set-up. In accordance with Austria’s constitutional framework, that would mean calling for a referendum. Not only will we have to negotiate and finish negotiations, but we shall have to ask the Austrian people to say by means of a referendum whether they agree with the negotiators. As I have said, we shall have to change some of our constitutional framework.

Sir Russell JOHNSTON (United Kingdom)

I thank the Chancellor for his thoughtful and wide-ranging speech. He referred to Austrian neutrality. In that context, could he say whether it is true that Austria has refused to allow military aircraft that are engaged in the war with Iraq on behalf of the United Nations to enter Austrian air space? If that is true, what is the argument, and will the Chancellor be kind enough to say a few words about the Austrian position and contribution in respect of the Gulf conflict?

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

It is not true. Ever since August 1990, we have been approached by the allied forces to allow their aeroplanes to overfly Austria. Only a few days ago, the Austrian Parliament passed legislation in which it was made clear that those aircraft crossing Austria would also contain military equipment.

Apart from the contribution towards fighting the aggression against Kuwait, we were one of those countries which, from the first moment, participated in international activities concerning embargoes, and so on.

On the question of neutrality, I take the opportunity to tell you that Austrian neutrality is not interpreted by the Austrian Federal Government as running counter to the activities and measures taken on the basis of United Nations resolutions. Neutrality would be violated if we were asked to participate in a bilateral

war between, say, Iraq and Kuwait, but neutrality is not violated, according to the interpretation that we have been taking, under the guidance and on the basis of United Nations resolutions.

On the question of other contributions made by Austria, we have made a number of financial contributions and contributions dealing mainly with humanitarian activities and the care of refugees coming from the front-line states. Most recently we have also made it clear that we are dealing with humanitarian problems in connection not only with the front-line states but also with Israel.

Mr PAHTAS (Greece) (translation)

Mr Vranitzky, on the occasion of your presence here in this Chamber, allow me to express my gratitude to the Austrian Parliament, your government and you yourself for the invitation last October to Vienna. It gave the people of Europe the opportunity to meet on common values relating to the principles for the protection of the environment and allowed us to reach very constructive conclusions for the world as a whole.

You have shown that we can always lay down the new and revolutionary principles needed for the lives of generations to come.

I should like to know, Mr Vranitzky, what efforts you are making and what international initiatives you are taking so that ecology can become a force for collaboration among the countries of the continent, a force which will give politics a moral force, new objectives and new social strategies for the whole of Europe.

Mr Vranitzky, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

In the long run – which I hope will not be too long – environmental problems will not be limited to dealing with industrial or traffic matters, related to technology, but will become more and more concerned with democratic questions, such as the living together of people. The political dimension will become more dynamic and accelerated, and will definitely influence our political way of life.

What we have done – and we wish to improve and extend it – is to arrive at bilateral agreements or trilateral agreements within our region, and probably beyond. Secondly, on my initiative we have prepared a kind of draft for an international charter to protect the environment, which we hope in the not-too-distant future will serve as a basis for a charter adopted by the United Nations, comparable to previous United Nations charters in connection with peace and human rights, and so on.


Thank you very much, Mr Vranitzky.

That concludes the questions of the Chancellor of Austria. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank you, Mr Vranitzky, for the way in which you have answered questions from the Assembly. Once again, let me say that we are very glad that you took the opportunity to come to Strasbourg at our invitation. We know that you and other prime ministers have heavy schedules. I know that you had important meetings yesterday, and that you will have important meetings tomorrow with your colleagues from various parts of Europe.

We wish you and Austria all the best for the future.