Migration and the Western Balkans as Key Challenges for EU Foreign Policy

Austrian Parliament, 11 October 2018

International Parliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy during Austria’s EU Presidency

Vienna (PK) – Security, migration, and the protection of the EU's external borders, as well as the Western Balkan enlargement process were all on the agenda today at the International Conference on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), which was held at the Erste Campus as part of the Parliamentary Dimension of the Austrian EU Presidency.

In his welcoming address, President of the Austrian National Council Wolfgang Sobotka advocated a new spirit of cooperation between Europe and Africa and also called for qualified majorities in EU foreign policy. In her address, President of the Austrian Federal Council Inge Posch-Gruska called on the European Union to ensure a balance between social and economic aspects. Andreas Schieder, Chair of the Austrian National Council’s Foreign Policy Committee, spoke of the need to put development cooperation with Africa on a new footing; as Chairman of the Austrian National Council’s Defence Committee, Reinhard Bösch agreed with Mr. Schieder’s statement, also urging increased cooperation with migrants’ countries of origin. High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, who took part in the conference via video link, affirmed the EU's determination to consolidate the Western Balkan enlargement process.

Sobotka: Europe must speak with one voice to ensure its ability to act in foreign policy

Foreign policy also falls within the remit of parliaments, said Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka, pointing out that parliaments are the ones who approve international treaties and, ultimately, the budget for international policy. The Austrian Parliament is fulfilling its foreign policy role and is actively involved both in neighbourhood relations, as well as the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans. In this context, Mr. Sobotka recalled the recent meeting with his counterparts from the Czech Republic and Slovakia in Kremsier, where an agreement on stronger interparliamentary cooperation between the three countries was reached.

According to Mr. Sobotka, a realignment in Europe’s partnership with Africa in the area of migration policy is needed, and that cooperation must between equal partners. As far as Europe’s Common Foreign Policy is concerned, Mr. Sobotka urged Europe to speak with one voice. A rethinking of the unanimity principle in certain areas is necessary in order to allow the EU to take action more efficiently on the global stage, he said.

In his statement, Mr. Sobotka also underlined the central importance of the Western Balkan states for Europe as a peace project. He pointed to the ongoing fault lines in the region, saying that European conflicts have repeatedly originated there in the past. Against this backdrop in particular, it is essential to give the Balkans a perspective that leads to the EU. However, accession must not take place at a “discount rate”, but must be tied to the full implementation of European principles. For example, it might make sense to define a common economic area with the Western Balkan states even prior to full accession. In any case, the Austrian Parliament is doing its part to bring the region closer to the EU, for example with democracy workshops in Montenegro and Kosovo or with a planned scholarship programme for employees of parliamentary administrations.

Inge Posch-Gruska: EU must also provide social protections

As President of the Austrian Federal Council, Inge Posch-Gruska pointed out that the Austrian Parliament’s upper chamber was extremely committed to exercising its parliamentary scrutiny rights and stressed that, compared to other parliamentary bodies in Europe, the Austrian Federal Council is one of the most active in terms of monitoring subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is an important principle in the European Union, but must not be abused to promote short-sighted nationalism, she warned in this context.

For Ms. Posch-Gruska, the most important task ahead is to regain people's trust in the European Union, which has been lost in recent years. The EU must be made crisis-proof, without losing sight of the well-being of its citizens. A Europe that protects must therefore also include social protections and safeguard prosperity, she said, alluding to the Austrian Federal Government’s motto for its EU Presidency. The ability to strike a balance between economic and social aspects constitutes the European Union’s true strength, she said. Brussels must show that economic growth, employment policy and social policy go hand in hand.

However, Ms. Posch-Gruska also warned that people's need for security must not be overlooked either. Preserving security, stability and peace not only in the EU, but also in the European neighbourhood is a challenge everyone shares. This is why a strong common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy is needed, stated Ms. Posch-Gruska, underlining the importance of today's conference.

Andreas Schieder for new North-South relations

For Andreas Schieder, Chair of the Austrian National Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, the migration issue undoubtedly poses major challenges for Europe. However, it is not primarily a question of further expanding “Fortress Europe”, he said. Rather, what we need is new North-South relations that put an end to the exploitation of many countries. Accordingly, Mr. Schieder took up the cudgels for a new kind of development cooperation and advocated fair relations between Europe and Africa above all.

For Mr. Schieder improving the humanitarian situation in Syria is also essential, particularly with regard to refugee flows. As far as the countries of the Western Balkans are concerned, Mr. Schieder called for an inclusive dialogue with the candidate countries.

Bösch: EU must fight against the smuggling and trafficking of human beings

According to Reinhard Bösch, Chair of the Austrian National Council’s Defence Committee, migration has shown just how necessary it is to develop a common, comprehensive European policy in this area. He emphasised that the approaches must cover all migration routes and be based on compliance with international law and European values.

This means protecting European citizens as well as people who have decided to migrate. Mr. Bösch called for increased cooperation with the migrants' countries of origin, but said that there is still a long way to go before all the root causes of flight can be eliminated. That is why fighting human smuggling is important, he said, stressing that those who seek their fortune while fleeing should not do so with the help of traffickers.

Mogherini: EU is looking to consolidate enlargement process in the Western Balkans

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, who participated in the conference via a video link, reaffirmed that the Western Balkans constituted a priority for the EU. This is a great opportunity for the region, especially as EU rapprochement is now accelerating, and there is definitely a strong desire on the part of the European Union to consolidate the enlargement process. Ms. Mogherini pointed out that Bulgaria, Austria and Romania, the three countries currently making up the presidency trio, all have close ties to the region. This is a unique opportunity, as these countries have a particular interest in the integration of the Western Balkans, she said.

In the discussion with parliamentarians, Ms. Mogherini underlined that cooperation with Libya within the context of Operation Sophia and external border protection also includes a human rights component. As far as Ukraine was concerned, Ms. Mogherini said that the country's success would depend on its ability to adopt reforms. The European Union supports the reform process, which includes the key issues of respect for minority rights, transparency and combating corruption. With regard to Russia, she said that sanctions are not a strategy, but rather an instrument for exerting pressure. She added that she is counting on a consensus in the EU for the continuation of sanctions. (Continuation Conference for CFSP and CSDP)

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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