President of the Republic of Austria

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, and members of the Parliamentary Assembly, as has been pointed out, this year – in these very days – Austria is celebrating its 60th anniversary of joining the Council of Europe. I thank the former President, Ms Brasseur, for her kind invitation to come to the Council of Europe and address the Chamber, and for the opportunity to speak before this distinguished audience. I also thank you, Mr President, for your warm words of welcome.

The key topics of the Council of Europe – democracy, human rights, human dignity, the rule of law, constitutional loyalty and so on – are concepts that I have lived and breathed as a politician. Throughout my political career, they have been with me. My political life actually began approximately 50 years ago. In 1962, I began working for the National Council of Austria, which is the Austrian Parliament, as a legal expert. In 1971, for the very first time I was elected as a member of parliament in Austria. At the beginning of the 1980s for some time I was, in fact, a member of this Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

In April 1956, Austria joined the Council of Europe. I should perhaps add that only a few months later – in other words, in the autumn of 1956 – we experienced the shock of the crushing of the Hungarian revolution, with the concomitant influx of a great number of refugees into Austria. I remember it well. I was a student at the time and I worked in a camp in Traiskirchen where we welcomed refugees. I was very happy to be able to help the refugees and to help to take care of them as they came to Austria.

Right from the outset Austria has been very committed to the work of the Council of Europe. For Austria, the Council of Europe is a unique platform where we can work out new forms of inter-State co-operation at government and parliamentary level, and perfect them. The European Convention on Human Rights has become a crucial component of Austria’s constitutional order. Many of the landmark rulings handed down by Austrian courts can be traced back to the European Court of Human Rights and its rulings. In fact, I visited the Court just a few moments ago.

In April 2014, exactly two years ago, I had the opportunity to come before this august Assembly and say a few words. At the time, I spoke about important stages in the development of the Council of Europe. I will not reiterate what I said then. This time, if I may, I would like to devote my attention to a few topical points.

One topical point is very positive: the European Court of Human Rights has, over the course of the past few years, been able to reduce its considerable backlog of outstanding complaints. We also face another fact, however. Unfortunately, when it comes to respecting democratic standards and guaranteeing the liberties that are so essential for the development of a free civil society, we have to say that these phenomena are not exactly in fine fettle right now. In fact, in some of our member States, the Council of Europe is facing the danger of backsliding, for example on the undermining of a properly functioning constitutional jurisdiction.

Terror is not new in our history. In Europe, however, in the relatively calm years of reconstruction and recovery after the Second World War, we may have got the impression that terror and terrorism were phenomena that could be relegated to the past. This started to change in the 1970s with individual acts of terrorism and hijackings, the purpose of which were to draw attention to the struggle of radical groups of Palestinians. In Germany and in other European countries and cities, small and extremely determined left-wing radical groups tried to use terror and kidnappings to blackmail the States concerned. We believe we have turned the page on that particular phenomenon, but we now have a new phenomenon: a new form of terror.

The new form of terror cannot, of course, be equated with Islam and we cannot pin the blame for it on Muslims, generally speaking. It is novel in the sense that it seeks to cause a great degree of uncertainty and terror by arbitrarily killing as many people as possible, with lives cruelly snatched away. Unfortunately, the strategy is proving successful, and there have been the recent examples of the dreadful attacks in Paris, Istanbul and Brussels. Any sensible and decent-thinking human being will, of course, condemn those attacks most firmly. At the same time, however, we are struggling to come up with the right answers and the right preventive measures. We need to fight against this form of terrorism. That fight cannot take the form of police co-operation alone. We cannot create a police State either. The Council of Europe has developed new legal instruments. For example, the new additional protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism addresses the subject of so-called foreign terrorist fighters. A lot still remains to be done, but our basic values must not be impinged upon in any way in the current context.

As I have already pointed out, I was here two years ago. That was the last time I visited the Council of Europe and I stood here before this Assembly. At the time, the Assembly was discussing the temporary suspension of the voting rights of members belonging to the Russian Federation’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly because of the Ukraine crisis and the situation in Crimea. The hope was that the crisis could be overcome swiftly. Today, two years down the road, nobody can claim that this problem has been resolved. There are, if I may say so, some glimmers of hope. The Minsk talks have been a positive development. They have yielded some results, or at least partial results. The extent of the confrontation has been curtailed and there is now a lower number of casualties. The basic root of the problem is still unresolved, so the situation is still far from satisfactory – and indeed dangerous.

Last week, I visited Moscow as part of an official mission. I had the opportunity to talk, at quite some length, with President Putin. Foreign Minister Lavrov was also present at the talks. The situation in Ukraine was one of the key topics addressed during the conversation. If I may share my impression with you, it is that Russia can hardly be satisfied with the sanctions and the cooling of its relationship with Europe. At the same time, however, Russia is not – or not yet – prepared to pay a reasonable price for a solution. On the other side, Ukraine must be even more dissatisfied with the present state of affairs, yet it is not prepared to, or is not in a position to, pay a reasonable price to reach a solution. By that I mean the exact implementation of the content and chronology of the Minsk agreements, and the ability to find a workable arrangement of self-government.

All parties concerned must understand that there is a correlation between the implementation of the Minsk agreements and an end to sanctions or at least the gradual lifting of sanctions. Austria recognises this fact and we understand this state of affairs. We have adhered to the sanctions and we have been very loyal vis-à-vis the European Union when it comes to the system that has been established. From an Austrian perspective, we believe that this is an incentive to work even harder towards the implementation of the Minsk agreements. I very much hope that all parties understand that.

For me, it remains a basic premise that as far as Europe and Russia are concerned it is good if we have good relations. I would also argue that it would be bad for Europe and Russia if our relationship was bad. In order to improve relations, we need to understand the position of the other side. We need to understand the other. Russia needs to understand what it is that exercises its partners in Europe – what we are concerned about. Conversely, Europe must understand what it is that Russia is concerned about and has been concerned about over the past 25 years since 1991. My personal view – this really is just a personal comment, if I may – is that a policy that would lead us, within the foreseeable future, to Ukraine’s accession to NATO is one that, for Europe, Ukraine and Russia, would ultimately bring more disadvantages than advantages.

The key problem facing Europe is without doubt the crisis in migration and the stream of refugees. Last year more than 1 million people crossed the European Union’s external borders as migrants or refugees and sought protection in European States. Austria was much affected by this phenomenon, and one country alone cannot resolve this crisis: international co-operation and co-ordination must be at the top of the European agenda.

We stand by the right to asylum, but if our common European asylum policy fails individual States or groups of States will be forced to take counter measures at the national level. Over the past six or seven months we have witnessed in many European countries a considerable backlash in public opinion and attitudes to refugees. We must avoid the topic of refugees becoming a fuel, or indeed dynamite, deployed by right wing extremist organisations, by xenophobes or by those who hold nationalist views.

It cannot be denied that there have always been such attitudes. People who belong to another nationality, to another religion, to another faith or who have a different colour skin unfortunately often face general mistrust, but to counter that we need the declaration on human rights and to refer to human dignity – an inalienable right. We can also refer to the exhortations of His Holiness the Pope and to our commitment to solidarity. We can also refer to other world leaders, such as the Cardinal of Vienna, Dr Schönborn, who has spoken of the right to asylum as a sacred right, and to the wonderful dedication and commitment of swathes of our civil societies. That commitment was experienced in Austria after the crushing of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and in 1968 with the crushing of the Prague Spring. More recently, solidarity has stood the test of time.

Two factors have unfortunately contributed to a change in attitudes: the quantative factor – the sudden in increase in numbers, with its concomitant consequences – and the sentiment of inequality, of an unfair burden-sharing system. Germany, Sweden, Greece and Italy are well placed to give us their figures and perspective. From the Austrian perspective, I can say that our country has a population of 8.5 million and that almost 800 000 refugees entered our country in the second half of 2015. Most of them went on to Germany but nevertheless that could not become a permanent state of affairs, which is why I ask for your understanding. Austria received 88 000 asylum applications. That corresponds to about 1% of its population and was higher than the number of births.

That is difficult to explain to our constituents – to our people – when European Union figures show that the total number of asylum applications in 23 member States did not correspond to 0.5% of the total population and that in 15 member States the figure was less than 0.1%. I therefore ask you to understand the measures taken by the Austrian Federal Government to settle the problem and its consequences – including the integration of refugees – for schools, employment and so on. We have tried to resolve the issue in an orderly fashion. We have taken measures including the establishment of an approximate reference value, namely 37 500 asylum applications for 2016. That figure still corresponds to 0.5% of the population and means that Austria is well above the average applied in the European Union as a whole.

With good control of the European Union’s external borders we will not have to pay so much attention to internal borders. The Brenner border is a sensitive one, for historical, political, psychological and economic reasons. With an unabated influx of refugees Austria will have to address the issue of border checks. Similarly, Germany’s Wasserberg border is sensitive, as is the border between Italy and France around Nice. It is not, however, appropriate to speak of closing our borders or of locking them and sealing them, and I should not want to speak in such terms. Austria cannot and will not seal itself from Germany or any other country, but we must know how many people are crossing our borders and how we can integrate them. We do not want to turn back the wheel of history.

Austria will next year chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), for which it has made good preparations, and our experience of holding the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in 2013-14 will be invaluable.

I should like to conclude with a few personal comments. At the beginning of my address I mentioned the fact that I began to work for the Austrian Parliament in the early 1960s. In the mid-1970s I became leader of the Social Democratic Party in Austria. I then left the parliament for a couple of years and became federal minister for science and research. For 12 years I was Speaker of the Austrian National Council and in 2004 I was elected President of Austria, with 51% of the vote. In 2010 I was re-elected with the support of 79.3% of the votes cast. This Sunday we shall organise the first round of elections for a new Austrian President. I think I am safe in saying that none of the candidates – five male candidates and one female candidate – will receive more than 50% of the votes in the first round. On 22 May 2016, therefore, we shall have a run-off between the two highest scoring candidates, and on 8 July 2016 I shall hand over my responsibilities to my successor – him or her.

I look back on my lengthy career in politics with a great deal of joy and gratitude, and over the next few weeks I shall bid farewell to a number of very dear friends. I am delighted to be here with you today following Madam Brasseur’s invitation and to have the opportunity to say goodbye to the distinguished Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I thank you for your attention and wish you all the best for the future.


Thank you very much, Mr Fischer, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. The first question is by Mr Axel Fischer.

Mr Axel FISCHER (Germany), Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party (interpretation)

President Fischer, thank you very much indeed for those clear words and for the various issues you chose to address. It is wonderful that at the end of your term of office you felt it so important to return to the Council of Europe. That emphasises the importance of our work. President Agramunt has just said that I cannot make a long speech, but I want to say that I think all of your work has been fantastic. As a long-standing politician, where do you think the main responsibilities of the Council of Europe lie in future?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

We are not seeing any kind of watershed or turning point whereby the Council of Europe has to shift its focus. Rather, a number of responsibilities are becoming more urgent, and the Council of Europe now faces more complicated conflicts. In my eyes, the Council of Europe is a body that can make a contribution to peaceful co-existence and development. I feel that it is the guardian of parliamentary democracy and democracy in the round. It is there to espouse the European constitutional principles that are common to many of us and to act as the guardian of those principles. Indeed, the Council of Europe should stress the cohesive nature of Europe. Notwithstanding our national differences, we have certain common goals and aspirations. All of those principles need to be anchored in our consciousnesses. However, the Council of Europe certainly has its work cut out for it in the 21st century.

Mr SCHIEDER (Austria), Spokesperson for the Socialist Group (interpretation)

Mr President, I would like to thank you for what you said today, and particularly your clear words on the Brenner issue. We have achieved a lot in terms of human rights and the rule of law, which are so needed and are being tested. At the same time, some people are calling those achievements into question. How can we maintain our solidarity in the future?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

Behaviour based on solidarity is irreplaceable, but at the same time, it is not enough. In a greater Europe, as represented here in the Council of Europe, we see different parts of European culture clashing with one another. There is no doubt that British parliamentarianism is rather particular and different, and that the south European States have their own habits and peculiarities. Scandinavian and Nordic countries have special aspects as well. Because we have not dealt with that, the differences have become greater. We now need a united European political culture. We have to do what it says in our constitutions, but that is not enough. There has to be a positive spirit based on our constitutions and on experience. We must implement what is in our constitutions, but not everything that they allow for should be done.

We should always look at things by putting ourselves in the other’s shoes. In other words, if you are in government, you should always think, “We might be in opposition tomorrow,” and vice versa – the opposition should think, “If we achieve our targets, we will end up in government.” My aspiration and dream is for political culture in Europe to become one. It should be enhanced so that things that are possible but are harmful to democracy are not allowed to happen. That is what I want.

Mr GOPP (Liechtenstein), Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (interpretation)

I would like to thank you for your very able address. Austria has decided to take a strict view on border controls; I can comprehend that. However, its moves are controversial within Austria, particularly when it comes to tightening up controls on the Brenner pass, which you mentioned. You also talked about the comprehensive failure of European asylum policy. What does Europe now need to do in order to ensure that we do not jeopardise the notion of Europe as being united and showing solidarity?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

I gather that President Juncker was here yesterday. It would have been a good idea to ask him that question, because that, of course, is his job. I am not sure exactly what his response is to that, but my view is that the current Schengen system is predicated on external borders being effectively patrolled. If we cannot secure our external borders, there will inevitably be problems, which is why we must address that first and foremost.

Obviously, I am struck by what Germany has done in recent years. I know why Austria took the action it did. If we looked at trying to stem the migratory flows, if we had more fairness in the distribution of refugees within Europe and if, moreover, it were possible for the whole issue of refugees not to fuel populism and to be exploited for party political purposes, we would already have achieved a great deal. We have to show humanity in dealing with these human beings. The climate in 2015 was one of a lack of preparedness, but those days are behind us now. We are now prepared for what is to come, even though there will be more influxes of migrants.

Ms USTA (Turkey), Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group (interpretation)

Mr President, the new law on Islam in Austria gives people new rights. That is great, but at the same time, mosques and Islamic organisations are not allowed finances from abroad, which is not the case for other places of worship, be they Armenian, Orthodox or Christian. How does it fit in with the principle of equality that only Muslims are affected by this ban on foreign finance?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

I am glad you think that the Islam law is by and large a positive thing. It was a very difficult piece of legislation. As many people will know, back in 1912, Austria was the first European country to recognise Islam as a religious community and to take the necessary legislative steps to protect it. That law dates back more than a hundred years and it needs to be renewed and reformed. There has been a wide-ranging discussion – you may know that there are many different opinions even within the Islamic community – and I have been pushed in all sorts of different directions following the influence of the Islamic community in Austria.

We have managed to find a common denominator in the form of the law, which was passed with a vast majority in the parliament. Parts of the Islamic community see it as a positive thing but some do not. During the process, we had to consider all sorts of aspects, including security. There is a truly independent constitutional court where people can take cases if there is any kind of infringement of the equality rules. If the court finds in their favour, things will change, but a lot of legal experts say that differentiations exist for other reasons – we think that the law will not be found to be unconstitutional in that respect. By and large, it is a good law, and a lot of people from other countries are coming to Vienna to study it.

Mr KOX (Netherlands), Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left (interpretation)

As everybody seems to be speaking German in the Chamber, I will follow suit.

I was delighted, President Fischer, to hear that you had a friendly meeting with President Putin, and that you advocate the normalisation of relations between Russia and the European Union as soon as possible. That is obviously in everybody’s interests, so what prospects do you think there are for the lifting of economic sanctions? How soon do you think they will be brought to an end?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria

We do not have to speak German, so I will try to answer in English.

Austria has supported the sanctions in the institutions of the European Union because it was necessary not to remain without reaction after what happened in the Crimea and parts of the Ukraine. It is our opinion that sanctions are not an end in themselves. Of course, it would be good if we can create a situation where Europe, united, can decide to reduce or end the sanctions. I believe, as the German Foreign Minister does, that we should think in a step-by-step way. It is necessary to make progress on the Minsk agreement. My feeling is that, perhaps in a year, the process of reducing sanctions can start, but we are already further along than we were. That would be fine, but both sides must contribute to such a development.


Thank you, Mr Fischer. We now come to the speakers list. I propose that the questions are answered in groups of three.

Ms WURM (Austria) (interpretation)

President Fischer, I warmly welcome you to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Over the course of its history, the Council of Europe has extended its scope of activities and faced the major challenges of our time, such as through setting standards in combating violence, including violence against women. You have already mentioned terrorism and the convention on the prevention of terrorism. What is your assessment of the responsibilities of the Council of Europe today and over the next 60 years? As an experienced politician, what would you say will be the focal points?

Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) (interpretation)

I want to ask a question about the situation in Ukraine. Mr President Fischer, you mentioned the idea of reducing step by step the sanctions against Russia, but do you have any idea how to push Mr Putin to reverse the annexation of Crimea, withdraw his troops from the eastern part of Ukraine, and release Nadia Savchenko, who is a member of this Assembly? Perhaps you have an idea how to manage that. Will you reiterate your adherence to the territorial integrity of all member States of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg) (interpretation)

Mr Fischer, I congratulate the Republic of Austria on the 60th anniversary of its accession to the Council of Europe. You mentioned that, in four days’ time, the election process to decide your successor will start. At the end of your 50-year career, I want to ask you a very personal question. What is the most important thing in your political career that you have wanted to achieve but never managed?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

I thank Ms Wurm for her friendly statement. The job of the Council of Europe is not one that I can encapsulate in a nutshell. It is too much to ask of me to state that in a few words, so I refer her to what I said at the outset about the founding principles. I hold the Council of Europe in the highest esteem. As Secretary General Jagland has said, if it did not exist, we would have to invent it. Obviously, we must look ahead to see how the Council of Europe will develop.

Mr Ariev asked whether I had a patent remedy for solving the problems between Russia and Ukraine. The annexation has universally been criticised as an infringement of international law, but I do not have a ready-made solution. President Poroshenko and the American President have ideas for a solution, but I would be hoodwinking you if I were to suggest that my suggestions will be followed; that is just not the case. It is my personal conviction that sanctions are not an end in themselves, and I am all for co-operation and for acting as a bridge. I am a representative of a country that has good political relationships with many countries. I think that progress can be made on negotiations on Crimea and the Minsk process. That seems obvious to me. On your question about whether Ms Savchenko will be released, that is again up for negotiation. I do not rule out processes being set in motion that might lead us to where we want to be.

I did not say something that I should have said: it would be a good thing for Russia and Ukraine if they improved their relations. It will be damaging to both if their relations continue to be so poor. We live in an age where all our countries must co-exist in Europe. Ukraine and Russia are neighbours and I therefore believe that co-operation is the only way forward.

Let me deal with Ms Brasseur’s question. I was born in 1938, and as a child I lived through bomb attacks. I sat in an air raid shelter when we were hit by hundreds of bombs. I was very scared and my mother was even more frightened. My overriding political goal was therefore to avoid war and secure peace. War is not the ultima ratio, but the ultima irratio. It was not me but Willy Brandt who said that, but I have been wedded to that sentence. It has not been possible to banish war completely and to preserve peace. That is possibly the reply to Ms Brasseur’s question: the greatest and most important goal that I was unable to achieve, and that no single individual or country can achieve, is banishing the absurdity that is war from the history of humanity.


The international community has recognised autonomy for South Tyrol as a model. We have successful co-operation between Vienna and Rome, and thanks to that we have a structure that allows a minority to thrive. It has proved stable and effective and is indeed a model. Do you think that it could be applied to other international conflicts? Could it serve as an example? Could others adopt it, either in whole or on part?

Mr KRONBICHLER (Italy) (interpretation)

I will speak in your language in honour of your impending departure and because my country, Italy, protects my German mother tongue. Why are you treating the Brenner pass as a normal border, closing it sometimes, and leaving it open when it could be closed? Why does Austria not use that territory as an exceptional experiment to overcome the refugee crisis? Thank you and I wish you all the best.

Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN (Netherlands) (interpretation)

You mentioned 1956 when Austria, along with many other European countries, including the Netherlands, took in many refugees. That contrasts starkly with the current situation. There is a problem about closing the Brenner border, but what will you do? More refugees will come in and we must look at how that chimes with our values.

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

I am very proud of the self-government model in South Tyrol. It took 40 years of negotiations to achieve that. When I am abroad, looking at Kosovo, or on other occasions, I get asked about the details of the model, how it works, what the negotiating positions at the time were and so on. I am asked in-depth questions about it and I am happy to provide information because it may prove helpful in other situations. Of course, we cannot equate the South Tyrol model with what might be applicable in Ukraine, Kosovo, Corsica or any other parts of the continent because historical, geographical and linguistic circumstances all play an important part. Problems can be resolved, concessions and compromises need to be made, and individual elements of the South Tyrol model can be used as an example or inspiration, but South Tyrol, region A, cannot be transferred to another region, region B. It cannot simply be uprooted and transplanted.

Mr Kronbichler spoke about the Brenner border. You said that it was not a normal border in terms of the checks and measures that could be applied there. I attempted to explain what the Brenner border is. I have also talked about concepts, language and objectives. I often hear these points being made in Austria, and I often reject them because, to date, although we have not had a break or a reduction in the influx of individuals or goods, if we are talking about 100 000 or 200 000 refugees, what can I say? It cannot happen at the Slovenian border, the Hungarian border or the Czech Republic’s border, yet at one particular border, can all the regulations be inapplicable and void? Can any country stand up with a clear conscience and say, “We have one border where we simply turn a blind eye. Anyone can come in. Different rules apply, not the usual ones that apply to border traffic”? I mentioned 37 500 asylum applications that we could accept this year as a reference point. It is one of the highest numbers in Europe. We will not get positive feedback from the Austrian population if we say, “Let’s take maybe 5 000, and that’s it; there’s no room for anyone else.” Others might say, “Why are you limiting the figure to 37 000? What about 100 000?” You have to look at the picture as a whole and in context. The Brenner border is important and special. I am in touch with the Land governor, but I cannot say that all provisions, arrangements, regulations apply at all borders except this one. That would be a pull factor.

In a way that is also a reply to Ms Oomen-Ruijten from the Netherlands. People often accuse me of defending a certain type of culture – a welcoming culture – and I say that welcoming foreigners and people who are seeking refuge and shelter is part of our political culture. We have to treat these people in a dignified way. We also have to rely on our traditions. That said, of course in the co-operation between individual European States we cannot have too much deviation in what we do. Refugees from Syria, the Near East and Afghanistan look particularly at Germany, Austria and Sweden. Saying, “Let them all go to these countries and that solves our problem” is too facile. That is not a way of resolving the issue. So I ask for your understanding. I hope I do not have to defend myself on both fronts: to those would prefer borders to be pretty much sealed up or at least closed a bit, and to those on the other side who say that numbers do not matter at all.

Ms KAVVADIA (Greece)

President Fischer, I come from Greece and I know that on several occasions you have presented a clear and brave stance on the refugee crisis, not hesitating to criticise the overall European policies on the issue, as well as the recent European Union -Turkey agreement. In this light, I would like your view on the following questions. First, do you think that the unilateral sealing of European borders is an adequate response to the refugee crisis that is compatible with our common European values and the European and international framework for the protection of human rights? Secondly, do you think that the European Union -Turkey deal presents a proper response to the issue, given the dismal record of Turkey regarding the brutal violation of human rights and basic democratic principles?

Mr ŠEPIC (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Mr President, thank you very much for your brilliant contribution and service to the policy of peace and development, not only of Austria but the region and the entire European Union. Bearing in mind your great political experience, how do you see the future of the European Union and the western Balkans in the next 10 years?

Mr Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria (interpretation)

I say to the colleague from Greece that I believe that the unilateral sealing of the border is not sound European policy. However, in view of the fact that the external borders are not working, European States have to perform certain checks because we need to know roughly who is coming in and how many, so we cannot just not check at all, as I said earlier. The European Union -Turkey deal is a deal that all the European Union countries have agreed to, including Greece. It is an agreement that controls unregulated migration, at least to some extent. I said on Austrian television that I have some doubts about whether that agreement is going to work in the way it is planned. I say it again here in the Council of Europe: I have some doubts about whether it will work as planned but it is a unanimous decision and, as President Juncker said yesterday, we will keep a close eye on this. My successor will keep a close eye on it in Austria.

To the gentleman from Bosnia I say that I have visited Bosnia many times in the past 20 years and I have always felt a great sympathy for it. It is not the easiest of places. Sarajevo is a city with a very interesting history. I was very sad that repeatedly in the past 10 years reforms and changes to the constitution have been broached and then, because of the different structures, things have fallen on stony ground. I had hoped in the past 18 months that the situation was improving. My position and the Austrian position is that the enlargement of the European Union is becoming more problematic and the hurdles are becoming higher but we believe that the European Union is not complete if the western Balkan countries are not members as well. They should become members and then that area will become more stable and conflicts can better be avoided.

I thank everybody very much for their patience and their questions. I wish you every success.


Mr President, thank you very much for your inspirational speech. I wish Austria another 60 years of successful membership of our Organisation.