Wolfgang Sobotka and Inge Posch-Gruska: Parliamentary Involvement in International Politics of Increasing Importance

Austrian Parliament, 19 November 2018
Austrian National Council President and Austrian Federal Council President open COSAC Plenary Meeting at the Austria Center Vienna

Vienna (PK) – Today Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka and Austrian Federal Council President Inge Posch-Gruska opened the LX Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of the European Union (COSAC), which brings together members of national parliaments of the EU Member States and members of the European Parliament. The conference is being held at the Austria Center Vienna within the framework of the Parliamentary Dimension of the Austrian Council Presidency. Both Mr. Sobotka and Ms. Posch-Gruska emphasised the importance of both parliamentary involvement in international politics and the in-depth and constructive exchanges among parliamentarians from the various legislative chambers of all the Member States.

Mr. Sobokta also looked ahead to the upcoming EU elections in May 2019 and, in this context, called for making cyber security a priority, as digitisation may have an impact on the elections. He also said that if the European candidates demonstrate a strong presence during the campaign, it might be possible to counteract this threat, as the spotlight would be on the candidates’ actions and responsibilities.

Wolfgang Sobotka called on parliamentarians to support the countries of the Western Balkans and their EU integration process

Once again, Austrian National Council President Sobotka advocated supporting the countries of the Western Balkans in their EU accession endeavours. The EU has brought Europe 70 years of peace, first and foremost through reconciliation between Germany and France. The Balkan region has been a trouble spot up to and including the 21st century. Therefore it is necessary to provide the region with a clear prospect for accession, Mr. Sobotka said, pointing out that this is not only in the interest of the countries in question, but also in the interest of a peaceful Europe. But Mr. Sobotka also made it clear that there could be no “accession light”.

He expressed his particular concern for this issue, stressing that as Austrian National Council President, he has also designated it as one of his priorities, not only for the duration of Austria’s Council Presidency, but beyond as well. In this context, Mr. Sobotka pointed to the Austrian Parliament’s new scholarship programme for parliamentary staff from the Western Balkan states. Democracy mediation also plays an important role in the Austrian Parliament’s efforts in this area, he stressed, highlighting the example of the Austrian Democracy Workshop. There is already a similar institution in Kosovo and Montenegro; Serbia and Albania have already expressed an interest as well. “It is important to firmly anchor the rule of law and democracy in people’s minds in order to make democracy a wide-spread, living principle and strike a balance between the government and the opposition,” Mr. Sobotka said.

In his introductory statement, Mr. Sobotka also touched on Brexit and the agreement now on the table between the United Kingdom and the EU. The treaty makes a common path possible, as nobody wants to see a hard Brexit, he analysed. However, the difficult negotiations have also made it clear that something that has grown together for 40 years cannot be separated so easily.

Mr. Sobotka also highlighted demographic shifts, digitisation, security and climate change as additional challenges. He said that global awareness is needed on climate policy in particular in order to be successful; it is especially incumbent on parliaments to take up this challenge.

Inge Posch-Gruska: A balance between economic and social aspects is needed

Austrian Federal Council President Inge Posch-Gruska primarily addressed citizens’ loss of confidence in the EU in the wake of various crises. She expressed her conviction that this lost trust could be regained by ensuring that not only is the EU able to act, but is also crisis-resistant, close to its citizens and transparent. The Austrian Council Presidency has therefore set itself the task of bringing the EU closer to its citizens by striving for greater transparency, for example by strengthening the principle of subsidiarity. “Many challenges can be tackled much more effectively in the Member States or in the regions – and closer to the citizens,” said Ms. Posch-Gruska, while at the same time urgently warning against misusing subsidiarity to promote short-sighted nationalism.

For Ms. Posch-Gruska, the EU must above all strike a balance between economic and social aspects, as this constitutes the EU’s strength. “The Austrian federal government has placed the Austrian Council Presidency under the motto ‘A Europe that protects’. In my view, this must also include social protections and prosperity safeguards in order to re-establish the EU as a reliable and stabilising force,” she emphasised.

Ms. Posch-Gruska once again characterised the Austrian Federal Council as a European chamber and a chamber of the future, pointing out that the Federal Council’s European Affairs Committee is highly committed to exercising its right of participation in EU matters and is one of the most active chambers of all national parliaments when it comes to subsidiarity monitoring. (End) jan

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