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State Secretary Edtstadler: Austrian EU Presidency Highlights Parliamentary Cooperation

Austrian Parliament, 9 July 2018

Priorities of the Austrian Government Presented at COSAC Meeting

Vienna (PK) – Today, parliamentary voices discussing the future of the European Union filled the Hofburg Palace. State Secretary Karoline Edtstadler spoke on behalf of the Austrian federal government at the COSAC meeting held in the Parliament. Before outlining the priorities of the Austrian EU Presidency for the meeting participants – representatives from the parliamentary committees on union affairs from the EU Member States, as well as representatives from the countries of the Western Balkans and representatives of the European Parliament – Edtstadler stated, “We are looking forward to a close partnership in the service of the European idea.”

The Parliamentary Dimension has gained considerably in importance since Austria’s last EU Presidency in 2006, Edtstadler was pleased to point out, adding that this was to be welcomed not least in light of numerous challenges, such as increasingly stiff international competition, migratory movements, terrorism and climate change. The EU must be capable of mastering these challenges, but it can only do so if its citizens support measures taken at the European level. Consequently, the EU needs more proximity to its citizens, Edtstadler stated. “It is our duty to restore trust in European institutions so that the European Parliament and the national parliaments are seen as the ‘mouthpieces’ of their citizens.” The motto of Austria’s EU Presidency, “A Europe That Protects”, is perfectly aligned with this endeavour, as everybody knows that “this is a very key time” – a turbulent time taking place under difficult circumstances. “As a result, we need your support,” said Edtstadler, who described herself as a “fervent European”, and called for close co-operation between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Austrian EU Presidency.

Subsidiarity aims at strengthening Europe

For State Secretary Edtstadler, subsidiarity is key in this context. The idea of “united in diversity” dovetails with the aim of conducting the debate of important issues within the European Union framework and of speaking with a strong voice as one united Europe. However, Brussels would do better to step back from policy areas that are better revolved on the national or regional level, she said. The European Commission has already set up its own Task Force on Subsidiarity, and a corresponding report has already been submitted to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. As the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, Austria is hosting a conference on subsidiarity in November in Bregenz. Furthermore, active citizen participation, as a means of proposing matters for EU policy consideration, must be given more weight, stressed Edtstadler, who also suggested the prospect of completing the revision of the European Citizens’ Initiative before the end of the Austrian EU Presidency. “We can only get our citizens on board if we manage to make the EU’s value-added clear to them.”

Setting priorities in the service of the citizens

Specifically addressing the priorities of the Austrian EU Presidency – combating illegal migration, securing prosperity through digitalisation, stability in neighbouring South East Europe – State Secretary Edtstadler detailed the various agenda items. The European Council on 20 September in Salzburg will be dedicated to protecting the EU’s external borders in compliance with human rights. At the Council, the Heads of State and Government will discuss strengthening the European Coast Guard Frontex, setting up a joint and resilient asylum system and reforming the Dublin system under the heading of “Dublin IV”. “We must find solutions for these people,” as security and migration are inextricably linked. Europe must remain capable of taking action in times of crisis as well. According to Edtstadler, the EU is pursuing a similar goal in its economic policy. Although the EU continues to be a global leader on trade, Europe’s share of global economic output has been declining. A number of dossiers in this area are set to be discussed, such as those concerning fair conditions for competition or taxation of the digital economy together with a “balanced regulatory framework that takes digitalisation in to account.” Defending against cyber crime attacks will require far-reaching measures as well, she stressed.

The Western Balkans as a key European Region

Moreover, Austria is also undertaking efforts to bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU. After all, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo are an important part of Europe in terms of economic and security policy. “Security and peace will only be possible in Europe if there is peace in the European Union’s neighbourhood.” These countries have already proven their reliability in the context of the migration crisis, stated Edtstadler. Now the task will be to work toward ensuring that the countries of the Western Balkans meet the criteria for EU accession. “Austria and the countries of the Western Balkans share a long tradition,” and this spirit should be conveyed to Brussels as well in order to give these countries a genuine EU perspective. In return, the aim is to bring European values to the Western Balkans. Equally, efforts to stabilise African countries must also move forward. In addition, Austria’s sees its role as building bridges with the EU and both preserving and reinforcing democratic awareness.

State Secretary Edtstadler stated that Austria had set its sights on quickly concluding the European Union’s Multi-Annual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 with an eye toward European value-added. “It is in all of our interests to do so.” The estimated funds must be earmarked more efficiently; sectoral areas, such as cohesion policy, require a re-orienting. The possibilities for negotiating the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal from the EU and for finalising parliamentary ratification are subject to a deadline, namely the autumn of 2018. A positive partnership with the United Kingdom should be sought in any case, Edtstadler stressed. Moreover, she advocated the EU’s joining the European Convention on Human Rights.

Migration was a predominant issue in the subsequent discussion. The plenary affirmed the importance of the migration issue, including long-term protections of the EU’s external borders within the context of freedom of movement within the EU and combating traffickers. There were several calls for changes to the Dublin system, which makes the care and accommodation of refugees incumbent on the country of entry to the EU. However, there were also voices warning against dehumanizing the debate on migration and advocating more funding for integration and development co-operation. (Continuation COSAC)

PLEASE NOTE: Photos of this event can be found at the website of the Austrian Parliament at www.parlament.gv.at/SERV/FOTO/ARCHIV.

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