Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 25 June 2007

said that it was a privilege to address the Assembly. He had been a member of the Assembly for more than 16 years, and had even had the opportunity to shape the activities of the Assembly. That experience, and the practice of concluding agreements across political divides, was a great advantage in his current role as the head of a major coalition government.

His role was now to support the Council of Europe in the best possible manner. This year was the 50th anniversary of Austria’s membership of the Council of Europe, and Austria’s very significant contribution to the Council of Europe was illustrated by the fact that there had been three Austrian Secretaries-General and two Austrian Presidents of the Assembly. Those figures were a clear demonstration of the Austrian commitment to the Council of Europe. Austria had played an important role in the early process of European integration through the Council of Europe.

Austria had acceded to the Council of Europe one year after the treaty of state sovereignty. Austria had influenced the Council of Europe since the beginning and it should continue to play a role in the political integration of Europe. Austria’s work on legal instruments at the Council of Europe had had a positive impact on Austrian society.

The Council of Europe had been founded in 1949 after the Second World War and was based on common European values – promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe consolidated democratic stability and preserved cultural diversity. Europe had changed much since the fall of the Berlin Wall. There were currently 47 members of the Council of Europe, while the European Union had 27 member states, all of which were members of the Council of Europe. Last Saturday at the European Union summit members had agreed a new constitutional basis. That represented progress, but it had been necessary to make painful compromises on the Constitutional Treaty, a treaty which had already been approved by a majority in the Austrian Parliament.

A number of issues at the summit were important for the Parliamentary Assembly. The first positive from the summit was on human rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights was legally binding and was one of the most important contributions of the Council of Europe. European Union integration had to be tangible and to mean something to its citizens. The Charter therefore talked of integrated values. The second positive from the summit was the social treaty, a clear statement on social protection, transport, health, education and competition. In particular, free competition was a means to an end, leading to full employment, growth and social cohesion in Europe. The value of the European social model should be developed: there had to be a social dimension to a free market. The third positive was on climate change, which was moving up the political agenda – economic thinking would not provide all the solutions: citizens’ concerns had to be given priority.

There was a new generation of heads of state who were aware of the values that needed to be drawn on for the future. At a time of globalisation there were both new opportunities and new imbalances – social values were again important. Traditional sectors were now experiencing problems which meant that the Social Charter of 1961 was again gaining prominence. In 1961 Austria had played a key role at the Council of Europe in the drafting the Social Charter. When read today it was still topical and at the cutting edge of social issues. Awareness of social cohesion and rights to benefits and social protection should be increased – those were the values on which the Council of Europe and the European Union were built. He himself had been the chairman of the Social Affairs Committee when he was a member of the Council of Europe and he still remained true to its values.

The Council of Europe and the European Union had different structures and different remits, but the same values. The Council of Europe played a key role in human rights issues, a role from which the European Union could benefit. The two organisations had to be closely coordinated and the new memorandum of understanding was a very positive move. Those countries that were not members of the European Union should use the forum of the Council of Europe, the only truly European forum.

It was two years since heads of state and government had met in Warsaw to plot a new course for the Council of Europe. While some decisions had been put into practice, others had not. The protection of human rights was the most important role of the Council of Europe and the system had to remain viable for the future. It was vital to keep a European Court in which European citizens had confidence and which remained efficient. The Russian Federation was the only country that had not signed the 14th protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Russian Federation had to ratify the protocol – only then could all the reforms be implemented.

Around the world countries were forming new regional and economic alliances. The model for those alliances should be Europe, where, in addition to economic considerations, protection of human rights, the rule of law and social justice were fundamental. A decade after the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights there had been clear violations around the world. Europe had to look at its own doorstep. The Council of Europe had to remind its members to act on the principles of the declaration and implement them. Notably in Austria the issue of bilingual place names was being resolved between the Slovenian minority and the German-speaking majority. Austria was moving towards a satisfactory solution which abided by the standards of minority rights.

The Council of Europe had its own role and did not need to be afraid of other institutions involved in human rights. Rather, those other institutions complemented and strengthened the role of the Council of Europe. The Fundamental Rights Agency was fighting on a common front with the Council of Europe and could only be a help to the Council of Europe in that regard.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

said that he would not say too much. The Assembly was proud to see a former member, committed to its values, speaking in other fora with such conviction. He called Mr Ager.

Mr AGER (Austria) (interpretation)

welcomed the Chancellor. He noted that the Chancellor had been a former member of the Assembly and noted his work in guiding Austria. He hoped that the Chancellor would promote the Council of Europe where possible.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria (interpretation)

noted that budgetary problems threatened elements of the Council of Europe’s work. Heads of state should take up their responsibilities to give the Council of Europe the means to function effectively.

Mr MOTA AMARAL (Portugal)

You mentioned the importance of this Parliamentary Assembly in shaping and putting dynamics into the Council of Europe. Do you not think that, within the framework of the European Union, an interparliamentary Assembly to carry out democratic scrutiny of matters relating to intergovernmental co-operation such as federal affairs and defence would be greatly improved if there were a similar interparliamentary Assembly consisting of representatives of national parliaments?

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria (interpretation)

That it is a very interesting proposal. Security should not be limited to defence. It is becoming increasingly important to international relations for us to emphasise the value of political conflict resolution mechanisms. As we know, many conflicts in and around Europe originate from humiliation of human rights, lack of democracy and lack of respect for minority rights. The Council of Europe has enormous expertise in all those issues. I think that bringing together members of national parliaments and members of the European Parliament here in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly to gain a broader view of security issues, in particular, could benefit both organisations.

Mrs DURRIEU (France) (interpretation)

congratulated the Federal Chancellor on his work. Europe was an important focus of social rights and a place of peace. Why, therefore, did it appear that the United States, and not Europe, was taking the lead on the questions of Kosovo and the Balkans?

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

The report by Marti Ahtisaari, in close collaboration with Ambassador Graf, is an excellent basis for resolution of the conflict. That is a matter for debate in the Security Council, but we in the European Union strongly support the report’s intentions. Of course negotiations must also take place with friends in Serbia to embed the overall plan in a more comprehensive programme, but any study of the alternatives will make it clear that none of them is really any better, especially the suggestion that some parties to the conflict should embark on unilateral action. I think that that would aggravate the situation rather than make it better.

The report is a solid basis for debate in the Security Council, and the European Union strongly supports it.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

Austria has been perceived as a country full of commitment to the environment. Recently it has seemed that that could be true, but only as far as the border. To the east, towards Hungary, you are erecting plants that pollute our waters. The River Raab looks like shaving foam, and the smell from buildings is being carried into Hungary. What message is Austria sending to Hungary and others about responsibility for the environment if such pollution affects not just your own country but others? That is my humble question.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

As you might have recognised, this is a bilateral issue. I can assure you that the ecological standards in Austria are as well developed as those in Hungary and all the other countries of Europe. Therefore, everything that takes place – all the industrial activities – is of course within the limits of the law. I have had a look at the situation there. There is indeed a leather factory, which is to a certain extent polluting the water, but to an extent that is within the law. We are now in a dialogue with this company to improve the situation. The problem is that we as a government are not allowed to support it financially, because that would be in conflict with the regulations of the European Union, as you know. Therefore, we have to find another way to improve the situation without violating competition laws.

The second issue in the border area with Hungary is a plant where we are going to burn garbage to produce electricity. Of course, this is another concern for the people on the Hungarian side, but I can assure you that the biggest such power station can be found in the centre of Vienna, and that might enlighten you about the ecological standard of those plants, where we try to get energy and reduce the garbage problem at the same time. We would not put such an installation in the centre of Vienna if we were not 100% convinced that that is ecologically sustainable.

On both issues, we are in a dialogue with the Government of Hungary. The prime minister approached me again just last week on the two issues. Government experts are working on that, and I can assure you that Austria will maintain its unique character as one of the avant-garde countries as far as environmental protection is concerned.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

I am sure that the Chancellor would agree that the environment is not a unilateral issue. I am sure that the legal norms are fine, but there can be no excuse for spoiling the air and water of a foreign country. Thank you for making those points. Please accelerate your efforts, so that Hungarians will continue to perceive Austria as a nation that takes its responsibility for the environment seriously, not only for Austria’s sake but for Hungary’s. Thank you.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

Of course, all the people who live in the area, both on the Austrian and on the Hungarian sides, are equally affected. Therefore, you can understand why on the Austrian side there would be some kind of popular initiative if things were really that bad, because we have a long history of protests against different types of plants, even water power plants. There is a broad variety and the Austrians are very sensitive. It is not an issue of polluting the Hungarian side and not the Austrian side. The factory and the plant that will be built are clearly on the Austrian side. I can guarantee that we will follow this issue in the proper way. I would warn against making this a symbol of a bilateral dispute, because that would help neither Hungary nor Austria. Until now, the development in the area on both sides has been very successful economically, culturally and politically. People are always getting closer to one another there. We should also bear it in mind that the entire situation of the people living together should not be endangered by any conflict. As long as things are done on a rational basis, they are okay and such things should not become symbolic.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

As we all know, one of the most important reports of this session is that on the secret detention centres. As a long-time member of the Parliamentary Assembly, I would like to get your advice, Mr Chancellor, on how we can get our governments to co-operate. This naturally also concerns NATO. We have asked questions of NATO, which seems to carry the main responsibility on the secret detention centres. How can we get them to co-operate a little bit better?

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

As you know, Austria is not a member of NATO, so by definition our influence will be limited on that issue, but of course we all follow what is going on with great concern. It is very important that the Parliamentary Assembly has taken up that issue, because our people, not only in Austria but in the other member states of the Council of Europe, always feel a little bit insecure if they get the impression that secret activities are going on behind their backs. This is therefore also a question of transparency and of political responsibility, and I very much look forward to the debate on the report in the Parliamentary Assembly and to the recommendations that the Assembly will make.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (interpretation)

said that the best discussions took place in Europe when the market was civilised. That happened when global institutions were set up with a more humane ethos.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria (interpretation)

said that the point about humane institutions was an important one to make. In his experience, he had noted differences between those international institutions that dealt with governments and those that dealt with parliaments and parliamentarians.

He wondered about the idea of having a parliamentary assembly for the United Nations. Generally, he was in favour. However, at present there was perhaps more to be said for setting up parliamentary assemblies for the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Those institutions made very important decisions. In Austria he had spoken in favour of assigning parliamentary assemblies to those bodies. Parliamentary assemblies made decisions and processes more democratic and transparent. They opened them up to public scrutiny and, in addition, tended to allow global institutions to give a human face to globalisation. He therefore suggested that the process should start with the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF and then focus on the United Nations.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (interpretation)

asked the Federal Chancellor to expand on his reply.

Mr PANGALOS (Greece)

It is a pleasure, Mr Gusenbauer, to see you among us. Yesterday, there was a strange phenomenon in European capitals. The press and independent observers were sceptical about the European summit, but it seemed that all the European leaders, including Mr Blair, the Polish twins, Mr Sarkozy and even the Greek leader, returned to their capitals victorious and satisfied. The decision on the new system for the European Community will finally be implemented in 2014 – seven years from now. Many members of this Assembly will not be members of their national parliaments at that time – some of us might not even be alive. Are you satisfied with the outcome of the summit, Mr Gusenbauer? Is Austria victorious following its conclusion? I ask that because your country was among the majority group that ratified the previous treaty.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria

First, let me say that I am happy to see that my friend, Mr Pangalos, is present. It should be noted that the Parliamentary Assembly was, in earlier years, also the site of the European Parliament. For many years, I supported Austrian entry into the European Union and I was present in the gallery here when the European Parliament decided on Austrian entry into the EU. One of our strongest supporters in those days was the Greek Foreign Minister, Mr Pangalos. I remember very well that, when that vote was held, the first thing that Mr Pangalos did was to come up to the gallery and offer congratulations on Austria’s entry into the EU. I will always connect with my friend, Mr Pangalos, especially when we are here in this room.

To answer the question, Austria would have preferred to have the treaty as it was, because we ratified it in the Austrian Parliament with 182 votes in favour out of a total of 183. However, the problem is that the Constitutional Treaty was decided when the pro-integrationist movement in Europe was at its peak, especially after the frustration of the Nice Treaty. Since then, things have gone, and are continuing to go, in the other direction. National states are trying to become more important and stronger in the EU. Therefore, I asked myself a question: should we wait, and will the situation get better or worse? My judgment was that it would get worse, so we had to save the utmost from the original Constitutional Treaty. That is why I fought until the morning so that we could reach a compromise.

You are right, Mr Pangalos, that in some respects the final outcome is far from spectacular. On the other hand, there is a certain logic in choosing the year 2014, because in that year the Commission will change – it will get smaller as only two thirds of member states will be represented, and the rotation system will start. It is not fundamentally illogical for there to be both a change in the Commission and, in parallel, a new voting system for the European Council. Of course, I would have preferred to have this in place earlier, but we have reached a useful compromise.

If we draw comparisons not with the hypothetical treaty that is not in place but with the current situation, we must ask ourselves whether the compromise of last week is better or worse than the Nice Treaty. In my judgment, the compromise is far better than the Nice Treaty, if we consider matters such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the legal personality, the social rights that are in place and the extension of the majority decision-making process. Therefore, many elements of the compromise will make Europe better than it was under the Nice regime. That is why this compromise is acceptable. You, Mr Pangalos, and I both know that the history of Europe in peaceful times is one of compromise.


Thank you, Mr Chancellor. I could not agree more that the Eighteen had a very good position, but a compromise was necessary, and I hope that we can now break the deadlock in the EU. That would also be in the interests of the Council of Europe.

I call Mr Margelov.

Mr MARGELOV (Russian Federation)

I wish to ask Mr Gusenbauer a brief and simple question. In this Assembly, we often debate relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union. Sometimes we are happy with those relations; more often, we are not. How do you envisage relations being between the two institutions in 10 years’ time?

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr Chancellor, now you are being asked to gaze into the crystal ball.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria (translation)

As Chancellor, I must sometimes impress in a wide range of activities, but sometimes I am asked to deliver more than I can.

The question that I have been asked could be reformulated: how do we intend the relations between the two institutions to be in 10 years? Given recent EU decisions, there is a good basis for co-operation. The EU will never be able to extend its activities into the human rights sector to the same extent as the Council of Europe. I am talking about the entire system in Strasbourg that ends in the Court. It is an excellent system, and the European Union will never be able to set up a similar one. There is also no necessity for it to do so, because human rights issues must extend far beyond the EU and be embraced by Europe as a whole. Therefore, there are no grounds to fear that the Council of Europe will not have a fundamental right to exist.

I am more concerned about whether the institution has the financial resources it needs to carry out its duties. We must work on that. It is not good that everyone talks about fundamental rights and human rights – and they are now legally binding within the EU – when the institutions that have to implement them do not have the necessary resources.

I invite all colleagues to get together with their governments at home to press for the necessary economic resources. If the Council of Europe is strong in the human rights field, co-operation with the European Union will be much more balanced than it is perhaps today.


I underline the necessity of investing in the best system, which is an excellent system. The budget of the Council of Europe Assembly is more or less the same as that to build a 4 km or 5 km highway in Austria or the Netherlands. It is worth investing much more in human rights than governments are doing today. To our mind, the biggest danger is if they put the money to one side, but still ask for the implementation and the monitoring of those standards. That is a kind of friction. In Mr Gusenbauer, we have an excellent defender and promoter of the Council of Europe.

I give the floor to Mrs Barnett.

Mrs BARNETT (Germany) (interpretation)

welcomed the fact that Mr Gusenbauer had spoken in favour of the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. Was it not the case that the European Union had no legal personality of its own, and that that would pose a problem? Was it not also true that the devil was in the detail, and that it would make sense to follow the example of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna?

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

That was an important question. I call Mr Gusenbauer to reply.

Mr Gusenbauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria (interpretation)

said in answer to the first question that the fact that the European Union had no legal personality was of no relevance to the United Kingdom’s opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The European Union would eventually acquire a legal personality. It should also be noted that the United Kingdom had taken on a significant number of the fundamental rights despite its opt-out.

Turning to the second question, he noted that the Court of Human Rights should indeed be given the appropriate resources to function. It would also be a great help if Russia were to ratify the 14th protocol. Anyone dealing with issues of human rights and the rule of law would understand that institutions administering the rule of law had to be given appropriate resources to do so. The issue was primarily political.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

expressed his heartfelt thanks to the Chancellor, and noted that the Assembly had received the Chancellor with warm applause and gratitude. He was now representing the interests of the Council of Europe at the Council of Ministers in Brussels and worldwide. One would hope that the recent European Union summit would live up to expectations.